MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT N.C. --
Common to Marine Corps lore and tradition is the concept of: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
It’s a notion that exemplifies Marines’ role within society – that even after they hang up their uniforms, they continue to do the right thing and get the job done.
Nearly 5,000 civil service employees come on the air station each day to work in different departments, ranging from food services to aircraft maintenance.
Many of these folks are former Marines, who live up to the “Once a Marine, always a Marine” motto.
One such leatherneck, Lavon J. Vance, serves as the Visiting Aircraft Line supervisor for Cherry Point’s Airfield Operations Department.
Vance retired from the Marine Corps in 1999 after 20 years of service as a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter crew chief.
Despite having retired from the Marines, Vance is still directly in charge of eight Marines, handling everything from their individual growth, training and combat readiness.
“As the senior enlisted Marine for air operations, I don’t have to worry about the VAL Marines with Lavon in charge,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Ivor R. Pardee.
In all respective measures, Vance is the senior staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the VAL Marines.
“I never really took off my uniform,” said Vance. “I just dress a little differently, don’t shave as often and flaunt a bigger gut.”
In addition to leading his eight Marines, Vance is also in charge of 18 civilian employees.
“He’s the type of leader that can pull everyone together, whether they’re military or civilian, and get them on the same sheet of music,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth L. Asbridge, Cherry Point’s airfield operations officer. “He exemplified this during the 2010 Cherry Point air show.”
In preparation for the 2010 air show, “Semper Fi over the Carolina Sky,” Vance and his team set up the barricades and fences that ensured the safety of air show performers and spectators alike. They also staged, moved and managed all ground support equipment required to execute flight operations for the air show.
Vance personally organized an entire committee of air show staff members throughout the planning and execution phases of the air show, which contributed to the overall success of the air show.
Following the air show, Vance and his VAL team ensured the safe and orderly departure of air show static and performer aircraft, along with arranging for additional maintenance support for a broken-down Blue Angels jet.
“The maintenance support that Vance coordinated for the Blue Angels, along with all the other flight line support he arranged for them, had a lot to do with the Blue Angels nominating the 2010 MCAS Cherry Point Air Show as the 2010 Blue Angels Air Show of the Year,” said Asbridge.
For his leadership and effective organizational skills during the air show, Vance was presented the Meritorious Civilian Service Medal Dec. 17 by Cherry Point’s commanding officer, Col. Philip J. Zimmerman.
“It’s not my medal, it’s a VAL medal,” Vance said humbly. “You take any one person out of the equation and that medal isn’t there.”
Vance attributes his spirit of teamwork and sense of leadership to his collective experiences of serving with and among Marines.
“If it wasn’t for the Marine Corps, I wouldn’t be in the position I am today,” said Vance. “Being a leader always comes into play when a mission needs to get accomplished. I feel as much satisfaction today as I did when I was active duty, because I’m still working with Marines and I’m still part of a team that accomplishes important missions each day.”
Vance and his VAL crew support an average of 3,000 visiting aircraft each year by coordinating their maintenance support, refueling, offloading, embarkation, etc.
Many of these aircraft are en route to support II Marine Expeditionary Force operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe.
“I’ve got at least another 10 to 15 years left in me,” said Vance. “I’m not going to quit this anytime soon – I love it too much.”