“It looks like Tony Stark’s basement” – An Operation Next Success Story

“I just thought this was the coolest place. It looks like Tony Stark’s basement, so I said, ‘Let’s do this!’”

That was New Jersey native turned Michigan resident Staff Sgt. Cameron Homburg’s reaction to his first visit to LIFT, the Detroit-based Department of Defense national manufacturing innovation institute, as he considered what his civilian career might look like as he retires after serving 20 years in the United States Marine Corps.

But after a tour of LIFT from Jihad Mims, manager of the institute’s Detroit Learning Lab, and learning about its Operation Next program, which provides free certification opportunities for active-duty service members who are retiring from the service, along with National Guard and Reserve and veterans, Homburg decided to take on learning CNC machining.

The problem was, after working in artillery in the Marines and the Fire Direction Center for 16 years, there wasn’t a direct correlation to a civilian job.

“It was kind of a shot in the dark,” said Homburg, who had studied welding in high school. “I love artillery and there is no artillery in the civilian world. There is one job in Colorado, which is avalanche control, it’s seasonal and it is almost on a volunteer basis.

“My wife’s father has a fabrication company (in Michigan), and I loved working there with him. He had a CNC plasma cutter and he talked about programming it and lathes and mills, and I really, really like the idea of being able to break something and make my own part – being that self-sufficient. I really like the idea of that.”

Since visiting the facility in February and subsequently enrolling in Operation Next, Homburg is more than halfway through the four CNC certifications he hopes to earn – CNC Lathe, CNC Mill, Safety and Floor Operations. He plans to complete all four certifications by August.

It turns out he was able to find a connection between what he did in the Fire Direction Center, and he was into what he was learning at LIFT after all.

“Just being analytical, looking at multiple factors, compensating for tool age and things like that. That is everything I had to do in FDC and artillery,” Homburg said. “We had to ask, ‘How old is that Howitzer tube?’ What’s the weather like? What’s the weight of our rounds? What’s the weight of the fuses?’”

“Analyzing all of the information in a data sheet, I am able to adapt and take the right action steps. Rather than just training me to operate the machines and pressing the buttons, LIFT is actually making sure I have a comprehensive, real-world understanding of why it works that way, how it works that way, and getting it to do what you want it to do.”

That is where Homburg credited Louis Bianchi, LIFT’s on-site CNC instructor.

“I thought I was going to come in here and learn how to use the machine, but it has been a huge advantage to have someone like him who wants to push you to know it even more,” he said. “That is how I taught my Marines – don’t just be a pin plotter or map spotter, let’s figure out the whys and the how’s of what we are doing in here so when something goes wrong, we know how to fix it.”

As for the future, Homburg wants to learn everything he can about CNC machining and programming to help companies make the new parts they’ll need.

“I’d like to be more independent and source out programming skills,” he said. “People need parts, I can program the part for their company. I want to get into this from the operator’s perspective, all the way to the programmer, all the way to the designer who has the ideas and wants to come up with the part. I want to see the whole thing.”

For his fellow service members who are getting set to retire, Homburg has two words of advice – be bold.

“I would tell them that if you are in a position like me where your job doesn’t translate directly into the civilian world, be bold. Start scouring the world for what you like and pursue that. Don’t be afraid.” He suggested. “I was dragging my feet with no idea what I was going to do. But once I found this program and it was close to home and there was just a spark of interest, I was like “Let’s do it” and I just committed.

“It has been a great experience being here and I really appreciate what this facility has to offer.”