MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan., July 22, 2014 —
The “chuka chuka chukka” sounds from a needle punching through fabric cease momentarily. The Air Force enlisted man working the sewing machine wipes the sweat off his brow and dives right back into his passion.
Air Force Senior Airman Devin Litton, 22nd Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman, has spent hundreds of hours developing his sewing skills since he was introduced to the needle and thread. When he was waiting in the recruiter’s office three years ago, he said, he did not expect running a sewing machine to be part of his job description.
“When I first learned to sew in technical school, I really found myself enjoying it,” Litton said. “I thought it was one of the coolest things, and it’s [become] 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 aircrew flight equipment 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,” he said. “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-mask cases, aircrew flight equipment airmen help to keep aircrew members mission-ready around the clock.
Litton came here in 2011 as an aircrew flight equipment 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 said, when he crossed paths with coalition service members and other airmen who were actively supporting troops on the ground.
Litton said he 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 to the rafts he works on, he said. This made him curious, he added.
“I got back in October and invested some of my savings in a nice sewing machine,” he said. “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 him feedback, Litton said, and others write encouraging comments. They both help him to improve, he added.
While his online audience has grown beyond expectations, his reputation goes beyond social media. He networked with a tactical air control party airman from the 11th Air Support Operations Squadron, part of the 3rd Air Support Operations Group. Litton designed and hand-crafted call-sign patches for squadron members and is working on several other equipment modifications for them.
Litton said his contribution to the 11th ASOS proved that he has even more to offer than the 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,” he said.
Litton’s coworkers and supervisors are impressed with his enthusiasm for sewing.
“He’s definitely gone above and beyond with his job,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Tyron Jones, 22nd Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment 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 for Litton 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,” he said.