No longer on the battlefield, still in service to their country
Their life stories are different. Stephen Hilliard is a farmer’s son who loved playing war in the woods. Chris Lucas grew up the son of a pastor and had a keen interest in intel and taking toys apart to see how they worked.
But both men share a few common bonds, most notably, a family tradition — one they both continued — of service to their country.
“I always knew I’d go into the military,” said Hilliard, an Army veteran who served in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “It was in my blood – as far back as I looked, I had family in three out of four branches of the armed services.”
Lucas joined the Air Force as an operations intelligence apprentice and remains in service as a reservist.
Though both are no longer active duty, they continue to serve their country and fellow armed forces servicemen and servicewomen in the private sector by developing and creating supplies that save lives on the battlefield.
Hilliard is director of product development for Blue Force Gear in Pooler, near Savannah. Lucas is production manager in the fabrication department of JCB in Pooler, just a mile down the road from Hilliard’s facility.
Both are the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s (GaMEP) November Faces of Manufacturing.
The manufacturing sector remains a critical segment of Georgia’s economy. Lucas’ and Hilliard’s stories, and that of others profiled in the “Faces” series, illustrate how each and every one of the 365,000 Georgians who work in the industry contributes to the strength and continued economic vitality of their local communities and the overall Georgia economy.
On a more personal level, both Lucas and Hilliard say they find deep satisfaction in knowing the work they do here in Georgia helps those still in uniform.
Lucas, for example, manages the team at JCB that produces the HMEE (High Mobility Engineer Excavator), an armored backhoe loader that is deployed with military convoys.
“We had received a letter from a soldier who drove over an IED (improvised explosive device) in one of JCB’s HMEEs,” he said. “He said the outside of the vehicle was heavily damaged, but he walked away without a scratch. His letter thanked our team for taking the time to build a product that saved his life.”
Hilliard, who designs products for Blue Force Gear, a maker of military weapon slings and load carriage equipment, received a similarly moving letter from an injured Marine. The Marine lost one arm and several fingers from his opposite hand on the battlefield. But because of the design of Blue Force Gear’s load carriage vest, that Marine was able to get to his own trauma kit and start applying self-aid, which ultimately saved his life.
“You can’t get a better reward than using our hands to make items that protect the people who protect us.”
— Péralte C. Paul