30 a-e-mag.com A&E NOVEMBER 2011
For 21 years, Andry West performed those duties while serving his country in the United States Air Force. West loves the Air Force, and leaving was not an easy decision for him. However, the choice he made for his post-military career has made the transition from military to civilian life very smooth. This is the story of that decision.
AIRMAN ON THE MOVEWest was only 17 years old when he
joined the Air Force. During the next 21 years, the Air Force sent him from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again, with stops in between. They sent him all over Europe, where he spent time in Italy, Germany, Spain and France. Eventually,
Imaged Awards: THE MILITARY MULTI-MEDIA SPECIALISTS
The United States military is one of the largest organizations of any kind, anywhere. As such, it requires its members to perform the variety of duties that any large corporation, or city, might provide. Most of us imagine a military career as the life of a soldier training for warfare, and for many, it is. However, the military also needs doctors, lawyers, accountants and a stag-gering number of other professionals, including photographers and multi-media specialists.
By Kristian Steven Wieber
Imaged Awards does engraving, photo portraits, sublimation, large-format printing, custom mats, framing and more, including shirts, laminating, mounting, shadow boxes, and banner signsanything in the multi-media field.
West was sent to Homestead, Florida, and that is where he was in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew struck with devastating force. The destruction was so complete that many of the bases members were moved by the military, simply to give them a place to live.
The Air Force let West choose his next station, and West chose Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland (its official name is now Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington, but most still refer to the base by its original name). If it sounds more familiar than most bases, it should. Air Force One has its home base of opera-tions in Andrews, and it is frequently men-tioned in news reports about President Obama.
West has been on Andrews Air Force Base ever since. He served the final 13 years of his Air Force career there, and he has set up his business, Imaged Awards, on base.
A LOGICAL CHOICEAs a professional, West was forged from
training that, on the surface at least, seems to be composed of two opposing disci-plines: visual art and military efficiency. However, Wests story makes one wonder how opposing those two forces truly are. After all, most artists are known to strive for perfection, and the military demands it. Throw in the Air Forces expectations of organization, discipline and produc-tionthe military has no patience for the
epic procrastination often associated with artists, not a bad fault to eliminateand the result just might be a recipe for artistic success.
One thing is for certain, it has worked for West. For my entire 21-year career, I was a multi-media specialist, so I was a graphic artist, photographer and vid-eographer. It was an easy transition from that work to my store. Here, we do a lot of things in addition to engraving, although that is a major part of what we do, he says.
West received his six-month training at Lowry Air Force Base, which was located in Denver, Colorado, before being shut down and turned into a housing development in 1994. Technical training was the primary
Carolyn Mays, Ramie Rice and
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function of Lowry, though from 1954 to 1958, it was the home of the United States Air Force Academy, until its permanent location in Colorado Springs was finished. He also received some instruction at Fort Mead, in Maryland.
While training at Lowry and Fort Mead, West learned about photography and the use of light and different lenses. He learned about video, photojournalism and computer graphics programs, and he learned to use both the cameras and software programs well. Yet, it seems the most valuable lesson West picked up was learning how to learn, and its a good thing he did.
West began his training in 1984. Think of the changes he has seen in the tools of
his craft over that time. In the world of technology, it often seems as though the only products updated more frequently than graphics software programs are the digital cameras used to capture the pic-tures perfected in Photoshop. If West had not learned how to learn so well, his career would have taken a different path long ago. That ability has proved useful in his career as a business owner as well.
THE ACQUISITION OF EQUIPMENT & CUSTOMERS
In the course of his Air Force career, it became apparent to West that he wanted to continue to do the same type of work beyond his military duty. He soon began to prepare for life after the Air Force, and he did so with the methodical approach one would expect from a career military man.
I used all of my money for equip-ment, says West.
He saved his money wisely, and when he found a good deal, he purchased machines, a printer here, a printer there, software, cameras, etc. The result was that West was able to start his own part-time business based in his basement the last six years of his Air Force career.
I have been in business for six years now, but I worked out of my home the last six years I was in the military, says West.
At one point, he decided he would need a laser engraver as well. To obtain the money to invest in a laser engraver, West made a tough decision. He sold his Mercedes and bought a GCC LaserPro.
Earlier, it was asserted that West started a business that complemented his training and skills with multi-media because he enjoys the work. That is true. However, West also has a keen busi-ness eye, and it spotted a recurring sales opportunity too good to pass up.
I had been on this base, Andrews, for 13 years, and I knew that we had an awards program on this base. Every quarter, every single unit on base gives out quarterly awards. They also give out annual awards for every unit on base. Its pretty substantial. I knew that because I was a photographer, and I had to photo-graph all of the ceremonies all over the base, recalls West.
Andry West with a customer, CMSgt Catellano, who is picking up a job.
Though he had already obtained var-ious printers, West also knew that person-alizing all of those awards would require an engraver. I knew I needed to get a laser engraving machine, but I didnt have the money to get one. However, I did have that Mercedes. So, I sold my Mercedes, and I went to Pennsylvania and bought a second-hand GCC LaserPro.
West had worked with printers for 20 years at this point, but a laser engraver was something new, something he thought would require a learning curve to pick up. True to his training in learning to learn, as well as his methodical approach to business, West took a week of vaca-tion time to learn to use his recently acquired GCC LaserPro. West worked with printers for years, and after working with printers for so long, he admitted that he was somewhat intimidated by the idea
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Carolyn Mays about to output one of many Air Force collages
created by Imaged Awards.
34 a-e-mag.com A&E NOVEMBER 2011
of working with a laser engraver. But, after digging into his laser and prac-ticing with it, he decided that there would not be much of a learning curve after all.
I went through the books, and I
was shocked to see how easy it was to use, remembers West. It was just like printing. I was amazed. Other than the power set-tings, there really wasnt a learning curve. Of course, it helped that he was already very proficient in how to use CorelDraw and Photoshop.
Once he retired from the Air Force, West opened his own shop. The shop was off-base, and although the shop was suc-cessful, West was working with a partner, and after a short period of time, it became clear that the partnership was not going to work out. West soon decided to start a new business with a new name, Imaged Awards. This time, he chose a location at Andrews, and making good use of his con-tacts and reputation, he began working with a customer base he knows very well. And while he does the occasional onesy or twosy award and gift orders, the bulk
of his business is engraving quarterly and annual awards for the different units at Andrews.
West started a new business in a new location, and it could be argued that he also began working with a new partner. His fianc, Ramie Rice, works at Image Awards with West and one other employee.
PRODUCTS & SERVICESAs mentioned earlier, West began
buying equipment long before his busi-ness door opened officially. Since then, he has continued to purchase new machines and personalization processes, making his shop very diversified.
According to Rice, Imaged Awards does it all. We do engraving, photo por-traits, sublimation, large-format printing, custom mats and framing and more.
West adds, We do shirts, laminating, mounting, framing, shadow boxes, banner signs; we try to do anything in the multi-media field.
One process that takes advantage of all of Wests training is sublimation. We do a lot of sublimation here. A lot of people love sublimation for gift items. He adds that sublimated tiles are one of his best-selling items.
With the lone exception of the shadow
(above) Ramie Rice using the CNC machine.
The companys work area.
Andry West inspecting an acrylic piece that has just been engraved.
boxes, all of those products are completed in-house. I have a couple of good guys who do my shadow boxes for me, says West. He states that he not only has a good relationship with the shadow box supplier but with all of his suppliers. It is a very good idea for any small business to develop great relationships with their suppliers.
All of my suppliers, even with some bigger ones like JDS and American Acrylic, everybody knows me. I have good relationships with all of those guys, says West.
RETIRED?Throughout his interview, West
referred to himself as being retired. Of course, he meant retired from the Air Force, but it was still interesting to hear him describe himself as such when he is so clearly anything but retired. In fact, he is busier than ever. In addition to running Imaged Awards, West is opening another shop, and a wedding to Ms. Ramie Rice is in his near future.
When it is all laid out before him, West laughs and it is impossible to imagine anything other than the most content of smiles on his face, Life is good right now.
Yes it is, good and getting better. A&E
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