Carving out Moody’s Legacy

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Courtney Sebastianelli
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

Leaning over a workbench, their hands coated in sawdust, a man and woman meticulously refine the surface of a wooden award piece. The brightly lit workshop is infused with a distinct, earthy aroma of fresh wood and is surrounded by stacks of lumber scraps, an array of workstations, and a collection of finished projects. 

Crafted by the skilled hands of John and Gail Fischbach, 23rd Force Support Squadron recreation woodshop team, the polished award is just one among many they have hand made. The wooden plaque will be presented during an on-base ceremony. The recipient, with pride, will shake, take and salute, perhaps never fully comprehending the dedicated artisans behind the creation of the award that illuminates their achievement.

The creative couple behind making the pieces at the Moody AFB Woodshop is on a mission to create lasting memories for Airmen on base. While most may never meet them, both John and Gail demonstrate a work ethic that highlights over 25 years of dedication to their craft while working together to overcome barriers within the woodshop. 

“We love it,” Gail said. “We love bringing joy to the Airmen and seeing them happy. It’s what makes up happy. We’re both old. I’m 70, and John is 72. Really, we could retire, but the joy that this job brings keeps us getting up every morning.”

Gail went on to share that with aging came the diagnoses of macular degeneration, an eye disease affecting the retina causing loss of central vision. Gail described her current vision as having thick cellophane over her eyes. Eleven years ago, with her eye sight worsening, John and Gail decided it was best to no longer have her stay home alone. 

“I always enjoyed coming here and I love people,” she said. “It seemed only natural to come volunteer in the shop while John works. The reason I can get around as well as I do is because for years, I would come to the shop to see John work and we would have lunch together. I knew the layout of the shop from his years here so I could get around and I could do things. I think with my hands now and I know what the texture of the wood is supposed to feel like when it’s properly sanded down.”

While Gail has spent the past 11 years smoothing down the surface of each wooden piece to an even finish, John has dedicated over 17 years to the detailed cutting, construction and craftsmanship at Moody. 
He developed his passion for woodwork as a child. Growing up in Bradenton, Florida, John would find old fruit crates and turn them into wooden toys to play with. As he grew into an adult, his passion with wood work developed into a hobby.

“I’ve been doing woodwork for over 45 years,” John said. “My first workshop was in the cold upper peninsula of Michigan. I was stationed at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in the late 1980s. I lived in base housing then and I set up a woodshop in the garage to make shadow boxes for other Airmen.”

What was once a way to unwind from work has become a lifelong trade for John. His work can be seen in different places around Moody. He has had a hand in everything from the Moody Field Signs, Georgia shaped wooden plaques, to bullet tips he carves then attaches to A-10 300 mm shell casings. His talent extends beyond the basic award plaques. He will take on almost any request to create a military member’s idea.

Throughout various squadrons on base, John and Gail’s work showcases heritage and history. A few of John’s creations are also displayed inside the office of James Petersen, the 23rd Military Personnel Flight site manager. Shadow boxes, custom baseball racks and framed memorabilia showcase the talent of the creative couple. 

“I’ve known John and Gail at least 10 years, if not longer,” said Petersen. “John is a master woodworker, and Gail can always recognize your voice. They are inseparable. I’m never disappointed when I take any idea to them. Whenever I ask for something, it comes back better than what I expected.”

Petersen went on to share how John continues to create an array of woodwork despite challenges. 

“He does a lot of the retirement shadowboxes for people, and unique pieces,” Petersen said. “He really can create so many things. He overcame some health problems. You may not know that he had a heart attack and he lost a lot of weight and at one point was thinking about retiring. But he doesn't want to wither away so he just does something that is so worthwhile to the base.”

Despite challenges, both John and Gail share an outlook that reflects the importance of perusing meaningful endeavors. 

“When you get old like we are, you got to keep moving,” said John. “You have to keep doing something. You have to keep your bones moving.”

The couple’s passion for woodwork and their shared determination to contribute to Team Moody exemplifies a lifelong mission of selfless service.

When the day is done, the shop is swept and the lights are switched off, the pair leave knowing the memories created in the dusty workspace will forever be cherished by those who served at Moody.