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Amazon Warriors give back
Employee veterans group cleans up Castle Air Museum
Amazon at Castle 1
Turlock Amazon employee Martin Arriola pulls weeds in the area surrounding the B-17 Flying Fortress on Wednesday at Castle Air Museum in Atwater (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

The Amazon distribution facility in Turlock is not yet open for business, but that hasn’t stopped its team members from already making an impact in the community.

Nearly 50 Amazon employees from the Turlock and Fresno fulfillment centers volunteered their time Wednesday at the Castle Air Museum in Atwater.

Many of the volunteers were part of the Amazon Warriors, a group of veterans and spouses within Amazon.

Amazon at Castle 2
Amazon employee Josh Payne, a former Captain in the U.S. Army, hoses down a B-17 Flying Fortress (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

“The majority of our volunteers today, about 35 or so, are from Turlock,” said Craig Norris, general manager of the Turlock facility, known within the company as MCE 1. “At Amazon, we have what we refer to as Affinity Groups, which are internal networking groups. The Warriors help other vets as they come into the company, and it ties in well with this project.”

Located on what was once Castle Air Force Base, the museum is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the base, which was shuttered in 1995, and the history of military aviation.

With approximately 25 acres of grounds and more than 80 planes on site, there’s always plenty of clean-up work to be done by the nonprofit organization. 

That’s where volunteers like the Warriors come into play.

“We usually get individuals volunteering to help,” said Joe Pruzzo, executive director of the museum. “And from time to time, some small group or association will volunteer their services, but this is one of the largest groups we’ve had out here.”

The Amazon group spent the morning pulling weeds, pruning bushes, raking flower beds and spraying down the aircraft.

Amazon at Castle 3
Employees of Amazon fulfillment center MCE 1 pose next to a B-52 Stratofortress as Amazon spokesperson Nicole Banke snaps photos (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

Josh Payne, who attained the rank of captain after 11 years in the U.S. Army, was on hand to help in any way he could.

“Actually,” Payne confessed as he was hosing down a B-17 Flying Fortress, “I thought we were just here to get a tour. But I’m glad to help.”

After the work was completed, Pruzzo gave the volunteers a guided tour, which started with the B-24 Liberator, a plane that served in all theaters during World War II.

“It was truly a global bomber for us during World War II,” said Pruzzo. 

The B-24 needs about $50,000 to $60,000 worth of work to maintain its 1940s appearance. Amazon donated about half that amount with a check for $25,000.

“It’s amazing to work for a company that enables us to get involved in the local community and give back to local organizations,” said Norris. “Being from Atwater myself, and having gone to the museum my entire life, it really meant a lot to me to have the opportunity to volunteer with my team and have Amazon donate $25,000 to Castle Air Museum.”

Other highlights for the Warriors included seeing the B-58 Hustler — “a very touchy plane with a very high accident rate,” according to Pruzzo — and the RB-36 Peacemaker, a behemoth that weighs more than 350,000 pounds, has a wingspan nearly 80 yards wide and propellers that measure 19 feet in diameter.

“It took 11 railroad cars to transport it to Castle,” said Pruzzo, “and two and half years to reassemble it.”

However, the star of the show was the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a plane so fast that it outrun a surface-to-air missile. 

“It once flew over the state of Nebraska in 6 minutes,” said Pruzzo. “It was built in 1962 and it remains the fastest plane ever built ... that we know of.”

The group finished their day with a peek inside Air Force One — this particular version carried presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, every vice president from Water Mondale to Dick Cheney, and every first lady from Rosalynn Carter to Laura Bush — and a visit to the restoration hangar to meet the veterans who do the work preserving the aircraft.

“It was an honor to meet the veterans who restored these planes … for future generations,” said Norris.

The MCE 1 fulfillment center, located at 3200 Fulkerth Rd. in Turlock, will open later in 2022.