An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : Media : News : Article View
NEWS | Aug. 9, 2023

From welder to problem solver: New Metal Trades Council president's welding career began with an interest in art as a high school student

By Ben Hutto, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

Looking across the water from Port Orchard, Wash., Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance looms large across the distance. For Mark Leighton—like many residents of Port Orchard—PSNS & IMF was a huge part of his life.

Leighton, the current president of the Bremerton Metal Trades Council here at PSNS & IMF, had multiple connections to the shipyard in his daily life. His father, uncles, aunt, grandfather and friends were all threads that connected him to the command.

“If you live in the area, odds are you know someone who works in the shipyard,” he said.

It was a connection that had a profound effect on him as he attended high school and began thinking about his future.

“You never really stop hearing about the shipyard as you grow up,” he said. “I’ve known people that have worked there their whole lives. I’m not saying everything I heard about the shipyard growing up was positive, but I understood there is good and bad with any organization. There is a reason people work here their whole lives.”

As his professional goals began to take shape, it was Leighton’s interest in art, which began in high school, that eventually led to his future career in welding. As Leighton explored the medium, he found he was reaching his limits on what he could create in a kiln. Looking to expand his ability, Leighton took an instructor’s suggestion to begin working with metal.

That attempt to expand his artistic ability eventually led Leighton to join friends and family working at the shipyard as a welder.

“It was a great choice,” he said. “It took me on a path I would have never foreseen.”

As a welder, Leighton continued his passion for creating, but also found a meaningful way to provide for himself and his family. As his ability to weld expanded, so did his job responsibilities. As more was asked from him, he began to lean into the experience of the welders around him to help him learn and grow.

“I was mentored here at the shipyard,” he said. “When I asked questions, my mentors were always forthcoming with information. Maybe they didn’t know the answers to all my questions, but the answer ‘I don’t know answer to this, but I know someone who does’ illuminated leadership for me. It’s not just knowing your job, but knowing how to find the answers you may not know.”

A quest to create with his hands soon began to morph into a need to help his fellow craftsmen find the answers to their questions.

This past January, Leighton was elected president of the Bremerton Metal Trades Council. The organization is made up of nine different unions serving the 14,800 bargaining unit members that work at PSNS & IMF, Defense Logistics Agency, Navy Supply Systems Command and Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

“I decided to go into leadership because I kept finding myself answering more questions than I was asking,” he said. “That told me I was in the wrong position. I felt I needed to be where I could help more people.”

Leighton transitioned from a welder that fuses metal together to a problem solver who helps workers and their management come together and overcome obstacles.

Leighton compares the problems he faces to knots. In his opinion, most differences between PSNS & IMF workers and their managers can be solved by carefully working through issues and untangling perceptions with appropriate facts.

It can be an exhausting role, and it sounds complicated, but Leighton said he believes it just comes down to helping people understand their rights.

“Often times, it’s just finding that middle ground,” he said.

Educating supervisors and workers isn’t always easy, but Leighton’s feels his job is essential. Educating managers and employees means fewer problems and fewer hurdles to getting work done.

“If employees aren’t dealing with problems, the work goes smoother. If the work is going smooth, management is happy and workers are happy—the union’s job becomes infinitely easier. It all combines to positively affect the culture of the shipyard.”

During his years at the shipyard, Leighton has turned his childhood passion for creativity into a fulfilling career that allows him to lead from the front and help develop those around him. He has overcome barriers and removed obstacles for employees who look to their chain of command for guidance. By doing so, he has illuminated the path for many mechanics who seek to develop themselves. The work, effort and time he puts in, he said, is all in the hope that, one day, he can pass the torch confidently to those he has mentored and represented.