Threading the needle

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class John Linzmeier
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Sounds from a needle punching through fabric can be heard down a hall, 'chuka chuka chuka.' The noise ceases momentarily and the Airman working the sewing machine wipes the sweat off his brow and dives right back into his passion.

Senior Airman Devin Litton, 22nd Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, has spent hundreds of hours developing his sewing skills since he was first introduced to the needle and thread. He did not expect this to be a part of his job description when he was waiting in the recruiter's office three years ago.

"When I first learned to sew in technical school, I really found myself enjoying it," said Litton. "I thought it was one of the coolest things, and it's became such a useful and lucrative hobby ever since."

Sewing is a craft that requires precision, patience and discipline. It's a skill used frequently by AFE Airmen like Litton, who does not use it for making quilts.

"A lot of guys may think 'it's not the manliest thing to do,' but sewing really can have its masculine aspects," said Litton. "There's a lot you can do with a sewing machine, you'd be surprised."

From stitching harnesses and canopies for emergency rafts to repairing oxygen masks cases, AFE Airmen help to keep aircrew mission-ready around the clock.

Litton came to McConnell in 2011 as an AFE apprentice. His job was to learn the basic mechanics of his career field: maintaining emergency equipment, taking inventory, sewing and more. His appreciation for the sewing aspects of his job grew even deeper when he deployed in the summer of 2013.

He crossed paths with coalition service members and other Airmen who were actively supporting troops on the ground. Litton, was fascinated by their tactical equipment and realized their whole culture is held together by stitches.

Each pouch was sewn with precision to make lifesaving equipment accessible when it is most needed, similar the rafts he works on. This made Litton curious.

"I got back in October and invested some of my savings in a nice sewing machine," said Litton. "From there, I started playing around with all sorts of materials and made replicas of some of the equipment I encountered on my deployment."

From ammunition holsters to counterweight battery pouches for night vision goggles, Litton's collection of hand-made battle gear grew by the dozens.

He became more proficient with his projects and decided to showcase his work using social media, where he received a fan-base larger than he anticipated.

"Since January, I've made over 1,500 followers," he said. "It's hard to believe how fast it's grown. It's cool to think that some of the things that I'm making appeal to so many people."

Some followers leave Litton feedback and others write encouraging comments. Litton said they both help him to improve.

While his online audience has grown beyond expectation, his reputation cannot be measured from just followers.

He networked with a tactical air control party Airman from the 11th Air Support Operations Squadron, under the 3rd Air Support Operations Group. Litton designed and hand-crafted call sign patches for members in the unit and is currently working on several other equipment modifications for them.

Litton's contribution to the 11th ASOS proved that he has even more to offer than his mission-essential work at his day job.

"I would love to be able to make larger contributions to other military units and, hopefully, one day make official improvements to widely used tactical gear," said Litton.

In the meantime, Litton's coworkers and supervision are benefitting from his improved stitching methods and enthusiasm toward sewing.

"He's definitely gone above and beyond with his job," said Staff Sgt. Tyron Jones, 22nd OSS AFE craftsman. "I've never seen an Airman so devoted to his sewing work before. It's made me want to become better at what I do and that goes for some of the other Airmen here as well."

What started out as work, evolved into a pastime and eventually ended up becoming a way of life.

"It really is something special, that I could take something that I learned from my work in the Air Force and turn into something that I will probably always want to do," said Litton.