Sorry Nike – Stick to Making Running Shoes

September 25, 2020

I have been wearing boots since I was a little kid and in fact one of my earliest and best memories was a visit to the local shoe shop to buy a pair of Red Wing leather boots. As soon as we returned home, out came the mink oil and the weatherization process began. When you grow up in the Northwest of the United States, life outdoors is the norm and a good pair of boots is critical.

Issue Black Leather Boot

Fast forward to the late 1980’s and imagine my excitement when I get to have more boots and this time free, as part of my initial entry processing in the US Army during basic training. Basic black leather boot with a lug sole. The boots were pretty basic in construction and took some time to break in – which in todays world is not the expectation. Service Members want to put on a boot and have the fit already dialed in and go.

So what’s the complaint against Nike boots? Well lets first review the parts of boot and from my friends at https://www.militarybootsdirect.com/ there are four main parts of a military combat boot:

Cut Away Belleville Boots
  • Leather and nylon mesh upper: primarily constructed of thick, hard grain, rough out leather
  • Comfort insole: designed to help with ventilation and perspiration, but also to increase the comfort of the boots
  • Soft midsole: soft rubber layer, which absorbs shock and promotes comfort when the boots are worn continually, for long periods of time
  • Hard outsole: built to last a very long time and to protect the feet from the impact of rocks and other sharp objects

Because of the long wear, the design of combat boots has the hard leather upper supplemented with areas of woven nylon to promote ventilation, reduce perspiration and weight.

Issue Tan Combat Boot Grain Out

Where I really learned a lot about boots was beginning ins 2005 during my assignment with PEO Soldier and as the Assistant Product Manager for the Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI). In this capacity I was responsible for procuring boots that were issued to combat brigades deploying to and from both Iraq and Afghanistan. So how many boots did we buy and was that enough to become an “expert” in military boots?

A little history is helpful as published by The United Stated Military Academy June 2007. Summary – “The Rapid Fielding Initiative Business Case Analysis, Army Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) was developed in response to equipment shortages for Soldiers and military units supporting the Global War on Terror in Afghanistan in 2002. Support development teams that were sent to visit units and Soldiers both during operations in Afghanistan and after redeployment made three key findings:

(1) units were insufficiently funded to purchase needed equipment that was available either commercially or through normal supply channels;

(2) current fielding plans were not meeting the needs of the Army;

(3) Soldiers were subsidizing the Army’s underfunding of Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment (OCIE) by individually purchasing commercial-off-the-shelf equipment.

In response to the findings, the Chief of Staff of the Army tasked the program executive office for Soldier systems (PEO-Soldier) with equipping all deploying forces with the Soldier as a System (SaaS) Integrated Concept Team (ICT) equipment list to support Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF).”

Then MAJ Long; Issuing Equipment in Kandahar Afghanistan

Boots: “140% of the required number of pairs of boots is sent to each fielding site in a distribution of sizes because Soldier boot sizes are unknown prior to the actual issue. Additionally, boots are manufactured by three different vendors and sizing varies between the vendors, further complicating the matter.” So lets say a 5,000 person brigade was deploying to Iraq and each service member received two pairs of boots x 140% = that is 140,000 pairs of boots for one unit. By June 2006 the US had 14 combat brigades in Iraq, for a total of 127,000 troops. Lets assume they all got “RFI’ed” so 127,000 troops x 2 pair boots x 140% = 355,600 pairs of boots for 2006. That’s just one brigade and a lot of boots!

Danner Combat Hiker

In addition to being involved in the RFI procurements I contributed a little bit to boot development and creation – specifically by LaCrosse Footwear, Inc.’s / Danner boots Combat Hiker. The new boot was to be full-grain leather hiker designed with a rugged Vibram outsole for traveling over uneven terrain while carrying heavy loads, has a breathable Gore Tex lining and rubber surrounding the entire lower boot to protect against abrasion and damage from rock and scree. The boot provided tremendous ankle support while carrying packs. The rocks in Afghanistan are a lot different than the sand and dirt in Iraq and I wanted Danner to know that – so while waiting a flight to Kabul at Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan I boxed up a bunch of rocks and scree and sent them to Danner for insight (completely cleaned of debris and organic matter). I know the product team keep that box as a reminder to how different that operating environment was from those of their hunting or logging market segment.

Shoe Last

Back to Nike’s entry into the military boot market. One review from the company US Patriot reflected the following: “these boots ran a half size small, which I am told is not uncommon for Nike shoes. This provided a more snug fit than I desired. I found that I wasn’t a fan of the insoles on either rendition of the boot as they are basically the same thing. The padding location at the balls of the foot was thick enough to push my foot up into the roof of the boot. With the already snug fit, this added discomfort.”

Nike Military Boot

Well I didn’t know about that review during my visit to the Jungle Warfare Training School in Hawaii and I bought the normal size 11 M that I do for all military boots. Here are the issues I had then during training and more recently after my dependable Oakley’s finally wore out – the Nike’s became my daily wear for walking running 3 to 5 miles.

The primary issue I have is fit – the Nike boots don’t fit well and its not boot length – its how the boot fits over the mid foot where the metatarsal bones are located. While the fit on the heel was fine and the space for toes more than ample, the area over the bridge of the foot was poorly fitted and painful to walk in let alone run.

Bates Jungle Boot (developmental)

The other criticism I have is again near the mid section of the boot and how the leather structure of the laces is cut very wide so that the majority of the boot is the nylon or polyester fabric instead of leather. My issue is when wearing during wet or rainy conditions as the foot bends very wide gaps occur which let the water seep in uncontrolled. A very poor design given the intended environment is likely to include rain or wet footing conditions. For instance the Bates Jungle Boot pictured here has a nice enclosure over the mid section of the foot and the nylon fabric is sewn inside to prevent water from entering the boot directly.

Oakley Military Boot

My last criticism is the material that the lug sole is composed of. In comparison to my Oakley, Bates or Bellevue boots; the selection of material for Nike boots is an extremely hard and non flexible material in comparison. Although I did not wear them in cold conditions my guess is the material will harden further and result in an increased danger of slip. A better selection might have been a variant of the Vibram FIRE & ICE compound formulated for extreme applications while maintaining its performance values in a wide range of temperatures (from -20C to +250C). The formulation provides flexibility and traction at -23C. Tis is applicable to areas where at one elevation you are in a temperate zone and the next you are walking in snow (or spring time in Grafenwöhr Germany where you can experience all four seasons in one day!).

Gucci Fashion Boots

Boots are tools not fashion accessories. Not to be too technical about why talking about boots is important but according to the Army Public Health Center, Musculoskeletal injuries which are caused by acute (sudden) incidents as well as chronic repeated stresses to the body (overuse), are the single biggest health problem of the U.S. Military – most to lower extremities (ankle/foot).

  • Almost 50% of military experience 1 or more injury each year.
  • They result in over 2,000,000 medical encounters annually across military Services.
  • They require 90-120 or more days of restricted work or lost duty time, in addition to the cost of treatment.
  • Most are overuse strains, sprains, and stress fractures; most to lower extremities (ankle/foot, knee/lower leg).
1970’s Era Jungle Boot
Operational Environment 1970’s

Closing our friends at Olive-Drab summarize it well: Combat boots issued by the Army or Marine Corps (and the Navy, AirForce and Coast Guard) differ from commercially available outdoor boots that are used primarily for hiking. Military boots are used for running, jumping, climbing, crawling, marching, hiking, as well as other activities. Also, hikers are largely expected to stay on trails and do some hill climbing on rocky surfaces, whereas Soldiers and Marines may be required (change that to Will Be Required) to take off-trail routes through dense forest, brush, mud and water. In addition, issue boots are used in built-up areas featuring paved surfaces, stairways, and building interiors. Unlike hiking boots, the issue boots are used for a variety of physical activities performed in a wide range of environments.

So while Nike may take a second look at how their boots are constructed, for me their boots remain “military inspired” but not military grade.

Why Military Dress Clothing Is So Hard to Make?

September 17, 2020

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) recently conducted research to determine industry capabilities for Military Dress Coats. The research is a normal part of the process prior to soliciting competitive procurement(s) for in this case Military Dress Coats. The award(s) are anticipated to be Firm Fixed Price (FFP) Indefinite Delivery-type contract(s) with a period of performance consisting of a 12-month base term with one-(1) or two-(2) 12-month option periods for each end item. The information for the Cloth material provided and unlike procurement in the past, the Government will not be purchasing the fabric so that rolls up into the bid price. 

New US Army Service Uniform

Sound good so far? I mean there are more than 20 excellent manufacturers of US Military uniforms – so it should make sense that at least some of these manufactures should be able to do dress clothing, or so I thought. I was wrong – there are currently only a few manufacturers who remain in the dress clothing business supporting the Department of Defense – none of the manufacturers who produce combat uniforms, bags or packs produce dress clothing. Why is that?

Patterns and Size Grading

Garment production in the USA has become a lost art following the rampant off-shoring of the textile industry in the 1990’s. If not for the Berry Amendment (statutory requirement restricting the Department of Defense (DoD) from procuring clothing, fabrics, fibers, yarns, other made-up textiles from non USA sources established first in 1941) we would have little or no manufacturing capacity. Capability and creativity we have – although most of those working in the non fashion segments of the textiles industry are senior.

So what is the issue with military dress clothing? From my vantage point as involved in the tactical side of the industry since 2005, dress clothing is much more complicated an item to make and the quantities are much lower. Garment costing is based on fabric utilization and the number of minutes required to sew a garment – a dress jacket can require up to 255 minutes to construct with more than 20 different cut pieces.

lets take just one simple example – the USMC Dress Uniform with red piping and look at the unique sleeve cuff. Such a unique design element but did you ever wonder how its made? I did so I took one apart – simple enough to do.

USMC Dress Blue Cuffs

What I found is that the cuff is made up of a piece of red wool fabric and a blue fabric that has a fused lining (interlining is fused onto the material to keep it shape saving time and labor). The assembly then has three small holes “punched” through to allow for the insertion of the button shank. pretty straight forward but lets look at another example –

The USAF Class A Jacket

The USAF Class A jacket has gone through numerous changes over the years but still retains several unique construction elements, the pocketing being one of them.

In order to retain a smooth appearance the pocket (flap pocket) is actually constructed separately from the suiting material and is located inside the jacket. The pocket is accessed through a separate opening that is stitched and trimmed. Lets talk a bit about the pocket and its shape because within military clothing the last garment produced must match the first garment produced in terms of size, dimensions and shade.

USAF Class A Pocket

My take away from visiting dress clothing manufacturers is that its necessary to have a number of different customized tools for cutting and shaping pockets, lapels, sleeve cuffs and collars. For instance the tool that is needed for the USMC dress jacket pocket is different than that for the USAF or US Army. A manufacturer would need numerous specialty tools for each service garment and size. That brings up another important characteristic of dress clothing – fitting through the 5th to 95th percentile and what that really means. The current military standard was produced in the 1990’s and built on work that had been completed in 1966 and earlier back to WWI. Today about 17% of the US Military are female which differs significantly from the 1960’s and 70’s where woman composed less than 5% of the US Military. Today all services provide uniforms that are fitted for men and woman with the US Army adding a female design as late as 2010 (Army Combat Uniform). The point being that dress uniform manufacturers must provide garment designs for both men and woman and they are different.

USMC Female Marines Stand Inspection

Last – where a single award for a combat uniform might require 250,000 garments per year (and there are multiple awards) an annual award for a military dress jacket might be as high as 58,000 jackets of one service type and 41,000 for another – to a low of 2,000 – 4,000 of yet another type of service jacket. The challenge is clothing manufactures need to maintain a steady and stable flow of production. Sewing operators don’t get paid to come in and sit behind a machine – they have to be sewing. If an order generates business for a year or less without an expectation of follow on options then its very difficult to convince a plant owner to make the investment in time and resources and more importantly the commitment to a workforce that they will have a job after six months. Starting and stopping lines; hiring then laying off sewing operators is very expensive so any profit generated from a previous contract can be spent very quickly on a short term production – that’s why companies don’t respond: from a business point of view its not worth the risk.

The challenge from the governments side is the wear out rate for dress clothing is much, much slower than for day to day utility or combat uniforms. Combat uniforms by their very nature are expendable items and need to be refreshed every six months to a year (they just wear out). Dress clothing which is worn very infrequently lasts for years and does not need to be replenished as often. The expectation is that a non FR combat uniform will cost the government blouse and trouser about $100.00. The Army Service uniform jacket costs from $130.00 to $210.00 and slacks from $85.00 to $110.00 – so top and bottom from $215.00 to $320.00. When a manufacturer looks at a decision to participate lets compare:

QuantityPrice AveMarginContract valueGross ProfitLine Operation in Months
Combat Uniform250,000 $  100.008% $         25,000,000 $            2,000,00025
Dress Uniform40,000 $  267.008% $         10,680,000 $               854,4004
Assume monthly production capacity 10,000 garments

While this is a purely notional chart and I don’t know the margins expected the math is about the same – why would a plant owner seek a contract that may run only 4 months and net a gross profit of $854.4K when he or she can focus on the simpler garment construction (possibly a lower grade sewing operator) and expect two years of production and more than twice the gross profits?

Manufacturing

To start up a dress clothing manufacturing line without a guarantee of business for at least three years is not likely to attract newcomers to this market. the complications of machinery and tools is quite different than that required by tactical uniform producers not to mention companies that specialize in bags, packs or body armor carriers. Its just a different skill set from the fabric and trim supply chain, the machines needed to construct dress clothing and the plant and engineering personnel required to do dress clothing.

Wrapping it up – increasing dress clothing capacity for DoD requirements is difficult. I believe it can be done but will require a creative approach to contracting strategies and a longer term commitment by the government to continue to procure dress clothing at a rate that can sustain an additional manufacturer or three. I believe utilization of small business set asides such as those for a Woman Owned Small Business or a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business may generate the level of interest and commitment needed to add capacity to this manufacturing niche.

Today, women represent 16 percent of the enlisted forces and 19 percent of the officer corps. Ismael Ortega/U.S. Air Force via Reuters

CDC Now Recommends Wearing a “cloth face” Coverings In Public Settings

May 18, 2020

facemask-instructions-02

Photo CDC

From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as they continue to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus the CDC now knows “from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.”  The virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity such as talking, coughing, or sneezing even if people are not exhibiting symptoms.

Propel LLC face mask no water mark

Photo by the Author

CDC now recommends wearing a “cloth face” coverings in public settings where social distancing of 6′ are tough to maintain like in the grocery stores and pharmacies and areas of significant community-based transmission. The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators because those items are critical supplies that are reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.

S

Mask Pic Blog 2

Photo by the Author

o why are agencies of the government still procuring paper face masks and are cloth face masks better? The current surgical masks are not easily cleanable and the paper masks not at all.  The short answer is these requirements for paper masks are for surgical face masks and not really for general public use. “Strikingly, a detectable level of infectious virus could still be present on the outer layer of a surgical mask on day 7,” researchers wrote, so a surgical mask that cant be cleaned is not a good solution. Then why is the emerging requirement for face masks  defined as “Surgical Masks” in the quantity of  66 million.  I am wondering if this is really the right requirement or if FEMA has over engineered the requirement to reflect surgical when a cloth face mask is really the right performance target?

The problem with paper face masks is they end up in the trash or on the ground after a single use. The CDC responds to a question “Should cloth face coverings be washed or otherwise cleaned regularly?” The response is “Yes, they should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use.”  The problem is a paper mask cannot be easily cleaned that is why we see them on the ground, in the trash and by the side of the road.  A washing machine should suffice in properly washing a cloth face covering but that will destroy a paper mask.

COVID Cell 2

According to Dr. Steven Gordon, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Infectious Disease, and pulmonologist Dr. Raed Dweik Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute, when they talk about the science around cloth masks and why wearing them is important; “There is evidence that such masks reduce the exhaled aerosols from infectious, but asymptomatic, individuals.” He says, “Cloth face masks block the exhale of virus particles into the air around you, your mask is keeping the virus from spreading. Additionally, cloth masks serve as a helpful physical barrier against coughs or sneeze.” According to Dr Dweik, these actions can propel a cloud of droplets from you up to 25 or 26 feet. Your mask can “disrupt” that cloud and keep those virus particles from traveling.

Cough Trajectory

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

If we accept that a cloth face covering is the right performance for most organizations not directly involved in medical settings, what should a prospective buyer look for? Cloth face coverings should:

• fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
• be secured with ties or ear loops
• include multiple layers of fabric
• allow for breathing without restriction
• be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or
change to shape

So what about that nose stay fit? While a pipe cleaner will serve the purpose in a pinch  for the at home sewing operator – the fit is not comfortable and the wire will eventually break. A solution that our team has developed is a small, malleable piece of light weight stamped metal. This allow the mask to be laundered for 25 times and still fit well over the bridge of the nose.

cotton

Scanning Electron Microscopic (SEM) picture of silver nanoparticles loaded grafted cotton fabric

What about type of fabric?  The CDC recommends a 100% cotton fabric for the “at home sewing operator” who normally will not have access to more technical fabrics.  While the CDC does reference both a woven material and a knit (tee shirt material) I think most masks today are made from a woven fabric.  Woven fabrics do not fit as snugly or comfortably against the side of the face as a knit.

Nylon

Courtesy of Ultimate Guide To Mil-Spec Outdoor Gear

Our team has focused on a knit fabric and one that is made of performance synthetic yarns.  The performance difference from cotton is that cotton does not wick moisture away from the face but holds on to the moisture much longer than a synthetic like polyester or nylon. That is why your performance garments for athletics are made with a synthetic instead of a cotton. We believe there is a significant difference and improvement in comfort.

moisture_management_wicking_shirts_diagram-280x300Wicking, when used in the context of clothing fabric, refers to the ability of that fabric to move moisture away from the body and the fabric itself. 

For more information about what the CDC recommends please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html   For more information about how techical fabrics are tested to ensure that they meet the required standards for medical use please visit the ASTM Standards & COVID-19 standards used in the production and testing of personal protective equipment – including face masks, medical gowns, gloves, and hand sanitizers – these are the test procedures that manufacturers, test labs, health care professionals, and the general public refer to in response to the global COVID-19 public health emergency.

For further information and commercial availability of cloth face masks please contact https://silveroakleafinc.com/ or leave a message here.

Tue, March 27, 2007 5:20 PM BAGHDAD

March 30, 2020

Iraq 2005 v9

Living Area Baghdad Iraq photo by the author 2004

“what I am doing right now. Outside the trailer in among the sandbags. Watching the sky and clouds because I haven’t really been outside since the day after the rocket attack. I’m watching an unmanned aerial vehicle circle over head scouting for the next enemy rocket team. All is quiet except for two competing sounds: the sound of Arabic prayers drifting from a nearby mosque proclaiming God is great competes with the drone of Army helicopters waiting to take off for this evening’s mission. I’m looking up at a half moon hidden at times by clouds evening and I’m very sad because I made my little girl cry that she is missing her daddy so much. I wish I could run to those helicopters and come home right now – but I cant and so my little girl will have to cry.”

Flight Line Baghdad Iraq photo by the Author

Flight Line Baghdad Iraq photo by the author 2005

“there is the drone up above me competing yet another circle over the Baghdad Palace – always looking for the next team of insurgents waiting to launch more rockets. I’m smoking a cigar and drinking a cold decaf coffee to settle my emotions. I miss my wife and kids so much that I have tried to wear my emotions out by working till late at night and tiring myself out at the gym. It doesn’t work.”

Iraq 2005 v6

Green Zone, Baghdad Iraq photo by the author 2005

“all I can see from my standpoint is over the tops of ten feet high stacked sand bags and concrete walls. I can see the tops of date trees and tall antenna towers, blue sky with dirty white clouds but everything is dirty here; the sandbags, the concrete, the ground, the palm trees – all covered with dirt.”

“my wife has been a champion and I love her so much for being mom, dad, doctor, nurse, playmate, bill payer and now house fixer with the central heat going out.  I take a puff of cigar smoke and think “what else is she supposed to do? How much more can she take. She hasn’t had a break in 51 days.”

Iraq 2005 v2

Palace Baghdad Iraq photo by the author 2005

“the drone in the sky keeps circling and the Arabic music and chanting keep playing in the background while I wait for the next rocket or mortar to drop in. I hope its not close, I hope it doesn’t hit near me. This place can bring me to tears in a minute. And the wind slowly moves the palm trees around. I can hear doves cooing up in the trees but they are dirty too. My cigar is almost done and the coffee stone cold. Neither give me any comfort because I know my little girl is sad and hurt because pf me. I’d walk around a little except that I know I am under cover and safe standing where I am. I miss my wife. I miss my kids. I miss being there and taking care of them. They need me now and I cant be there.”

“the wind blows colder now. The music is unintelligible. I cant see the drone any more because of the clouds but I know it is there. I can hear the sounds of power generators now and see some small birds taking flight to find a spot for the night. I can see the drone again in the sky while I hear the sound of a military HMMWV convoy moving to their evening search positions – ready for another night of security mission.”

Iraq 2005 v4

Convoy Operations Baghdad Iraq 2005 photo by the author

“my cigar is finished and the coffee gone. Time to get back in the palace and get to work. I miss my little girl so bad. I miss my dear little twins so much I have tears in my eyes. I want to hold my wife so strong that I shake. But I cant get home. I have to get back to work. I love my family so much. I put on my gear, clinch my hands, tighten my expression and get back to work.”

“Tue, March 27, 2007 12:00 AM Updated: Tue, March 27, 2007 5:20 PM  BAGHDAD (AP) — Two Americans, a contractor and a Navy sailor, were killed in a rocket attack on the heavy guarded Green Zone on Tuesday, according to statements from the U.S. Embassy and the military.  Five other people were wounded, one contractor who was seriously hurt and three with slight wounds. A second soldier also was wounded in the attack, but the military did not give a condition.”

IMG_E3488

Getting There Faster – Can Agile & DoD 5000 Co-Exist?

February 28, 2020

The purpose of this article is to begin a discussion about how the Federal Defense Acquisition Process can operate faster.  “It’s about showing successes, it’s about showing how we can go faster” General Murray, Commander of the Army Futures Command (AFC). AFC must generate and sustain momentum within the Army, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and with Congress. The only way to do this is by providing real results.  Secretary of the Army Mark Esper wants requirements determination to be on a 12-month timescale and to be fully informed by Soldier feedback

 

Credit Shutterstock Gorodenkoff

Credit Shutterstock Gorodenkoff

So modernization and fast modernization is the key to our survival – but from a practical point of view what does that really mean? We know already that the Army perspective developed over two years ago (2017/2018) established six priorities: Long-Range Precision Fires; Next Generation Combat Vehicles; Future Vertical Lift; The Network; Air & Missile Defense; and Soldier Lethality. We know the lexicon of the Army has now forever changed towards each of these six descriptors and a forcing function is underway to realign and describe current efforts in order to fit within one of these six “swim lanes” or program relevance seems at risk.  But how do we get there and get there faster?

Ok – AFC immediately established eight cross-functional teams to achieve the  modernization priorities: Air and Missile Defense (Fort Sill, Oklahoma); Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing (Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama); Future CCDC-Soldier-Center-678x381Vertical Lift (Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama); Long-Range Precision Fires (Fort Sill, Oklahoma); Network (Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland); Next Generation Combat Vehicle (Detroit Arsenal, Warren, Michigan); Soldier Lethality (Fort Benning, Georgia); and Synthetic Training Environment (Orlando, Florida).  So far so good right?

Maybe – enter stage left the DoD Instruction (DoDI) 5000.02 policy that directs the Defense Acquisition System. This is an event based process where a defense program goes thru a series of processes, milestones and reviews from beginning to end. Each milestone is the culmination of a phase were it’s determined if a program will proceed

DoD 5000 Capability Requirements and Acquisition

DoD 5000 Capability Requirements and Acquisition

into the next phase. Department of Defense (DoD) programs typically follow the waterfall system development model and includes the following phases: Initiation, Planning, Procurement, System Development, System Implementation, Maintenance & Operations, and Closeout.  The DoD 5000 methodology is robust and thorough with a stated goal of ensuring the proper use and stewardship of taxpayer investment.  However, it is lengthy as I quickly review three of the big five developments from the 1970’s which continue to be the mainstay of the US Army today.M1 and M2

·         The M1 Abrams was designed during 1972 – 1975 with Prototypes were delivered in 1976 and Low initial rate production (LIRP) of the vehicle was approved on 7 May 1979.  M1 Abrams tank entered service in 1980. 8 year development.

·         The Bradley Fighting Vehicle stems from early specification from 1958 for an Infantry Fighting Vehicle – new specifications were written in 1965 MICV-70 program through 1968. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ir0FAa8P2MU  The Pentagon Wars – 1998). In 1977, the MICV TABA-II was renamed the XM2. The XM2/3 passed the Army Systems Acquisition Review Council Milestone II review in 1979 and final approval for production came from the Secretary of Defense on 1 February 1980. Hard to say the true development timeline but likely 10 years.

I believe GEN Murray is acknowledging that these long development timeline are not acceptable in achieving our modernization goals. Further, I believe a quote from my professor at the Claremont Graduate University is spot on –  Peter Drucker observed, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” Peter Drucker, Managing in Turbulent Times (New York: Harper Collins, 1980).

FCS ImageBefore we move forward, we should pull our DoD 5000 magnifying glass a little closer to a more recent failure to ensure we truly understand how the process failed us – most recently involving the Future Combat System (FCS) initiated in 2003 $14.92 billion contract to 2009.  FCS followed an adaptation of the DoD 5000 waterfall methodology in applying a spiral development approach where technologies, as they matured were meant to be spun out as interim capabilities.

“Case in point, the Army invested $18 billion of taxpayer money into Future Combat Systems, or FCS. The failed modernization program never really had a chance. Its leap-ahead technological advancements were based on operational assumptions driven by embryonic technologies. Three-quarters of all technology needed to field FCS systems was considered early stage in nature. Prototypes and demonstrations were not scheduled until shortly before production was set to commence — four years and billions of dollars after research began. The science and technology community and their industry partners failed to work with Army operators until it was too late. Army leaders were so enamored with envisioned capabilities that they ignored operational realities” Lou DiStasi Associate Director, Navigant

FCS-timeline-large

Source: US Army FCS

 

So why didn’t FCS work – what was it about the development process that caused failure? Was DoD 5000 the cause or a spiral development approach?  Again I think Mr DiStasi is correct in stating that the reason for the “Big Five” success from the 1970’s tracks back to “prototyping and experimentation” occurring early and often between industry and operators.Yes I said operators – those end users on the ground that receive the output of the development. Successes and lessons learned from each incremental demonstration provided not only technological know-how but also operational awareness. Operators get to say whether the technology or innovation worked and more important answer the question “so what?”  Does the incremental demonstration result in a product that at least is a minimal viable product?  Is it demonstrable and ship-able?  Does it add value from the end user (customer’s) point of view?  This is not the labs view or the business development person view or the Program Manager’s view but in fact the end users view.  I agree with Mr. DiStasi that if this framework could have been followed then the FCS spiral development feedback from the user community could have helped refine the  requirements doctrine and process to support the procurement process.  That did not happen.

So where are we today in working to achieve faster innovation in order to create Army modernization across the six priorities and eight cross function teams and still comply with DoD policies and procedures and no I do not believe using Other Transaction Authority (OTA) processes is the answer.

AGILE

Yes – Agile – there I said it. After recently completing a course in Agile Transformation and “Scrum”  I am convinced that this framework will add tremendous value to both DoD Program Management Processes. As shown in this article our DoD reality is bound by limitations and expectations reflected through the DoD 5000 policies and guidance which have been put in place over the years for very good reasons. I am not advocating that the DoD 5000 be eliminated or that we attempt to bypass the structure. I am advocating that there are elements within the DoD 5000 that can be managed in an Agile framework which will result in reaching modernization goals faster.

Agile isn’t just for Information Technology or software development. According to my Agile mentor, Mr. Mark Layton, the principles behind this philosophy apply to any discipline that operates in conditions of complexity, uncertainty and change. Why?

What I have learned about the agile framework is the focus on what is called “Sprint why you should work in sprintsPlanning”  towards a “Release Product” of some measurable and meaningful feature. Where this differs from a spiral development currently in use throughout the DoD is the difference between a Waterfall and Agile approach. In the traditional DoD framework we focus on requirements up front when we know least about the need. Under Agile and Scrum we use “Sprints” to determine the requirement and change the requirement based on validation with the user of the current need.  This enables the requirements to change through the process reflecting the actual need so at the end of the process we don’t end up with a product that due to length of development no longer addresses the initial need which has evolved during the period of development.

In the traditional DoD 5000 hardware-centric illustration below you can see that we first begin to develop solutions based on a fixed requirement then work our way through engineering and manufacturing and Milestone C for low rate initial production and Test and Evaluation.  Agile would not advocate this timing but instead identify the most risky element of the development first.  If we are going to fail we want to fail early at the lowest cost which makes sense. Why – because early we have the most program budget remaining and longest run way ahead to refine and redevelop the elements of failure.  Our DoD 5000 process does not enable testing so early.

DoD 5000 Hardware (2)

Source: DoD 5000

How does Agile fit into the constraints experienced by DoD Program Managers?  First lets look again at the tradition water fall methodology. The first known presentation describing use of such phases (software) was by Herbert D. Benington at the Symposium on Advanced Programming Methods for Digital Computers on 29 June 1956 and then further defined by Winston W. Royce in 1970 – so we have a methodology that is dated.

Waterfall Methodologies

Source: Platinum Edge

First we decide on the requirements, then design and develop before we test. What seems to be missing is the interaction with the end user during this process to validate that the requirement is still valid and in the case of the DoD the “threat” has not evolved beyond the initial requirement. There is a real risk that at the end of the development process which may require years that the product is ineffective because it addresses a need that no longer exists.

Agile is different – its purpose driven development requiring design, develop, test towards a measurable release of a feature which the product owner (end user) can provide feedback about value. One of the teaching points during Agile training is related to estimating project costs. Under the Agile framework anyone who is telling us how much a project is going to cost before entering the testing phase is not providing accurate information. In fact a data point shared by the subject matter expert is that 30% of projects end because of time and cost over runs before test is even started.  Agile seeks to remove that risk by testing the most risky elements up front.

Agile Framework

Source: Platinum Edge

Agility is not a “thing” but a descriptor and requires retraining habits which we DoD Program Managers (PM) learned as successful under the more traditional waterfall management process which may be unhealthy in getting product (innovation / modernization) out the door faster.

To wrap up my advocacy for considering Agile as a “force multiplier” under the DoD 5000 process what does this mean from a PM Standpoint … Ability to do better estimation based on performance to completion because we can reduce risk in: whether the solution works, estimate true schedule, cost and continuously incorporate user feedback during the process – not just at the end.

Agile Iterations

 

For additional information on Agile and Scrum professional development and training please contact me at jdlong@silveroakleafinc.com or on the web at https://silveroakleafinc.com/   Jonathan Long is a previous US Army Assistant Product Manager and Department of the Army System Coordinator as well as a warranted contracting officer. He holds a MBA from the Claremont Graduate University and Defense Acquisition certifications in Program Management and Contracting Management and other acquisition related certifications.

Why Paper Maps Are Important

September 26, 2019

Wired_RussianMaps_060-new-edit-200x100-e1445899829873I acknowledge we live in the digital age powered by constellations of communication and imagery satellites and am not advocating that this technology be ignored. However, the reality of life on the ground in a pre-combat, combat or post-combat environment may not always lend itself to the easy navigation enabled by 21st century technology. Modern military and civilian life is dependent on Google Maps or other easy GPS powered navigation. Long gone are the days of stopping by the out of town gas station and asking for directions or unfolding the free map from the State Welcome center or even following the AAA Triptik travel planner (for those with a question this is the old school bound travel planner we all followed on our family summer vacations guiding us to the nearest KOA rest stop).

Prague photo by the author

 

So with all this technology in the palm of our hand or on our wrist why bother with a paper map? The military depends on the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) produced maps normally in 1:50,000 scale topographic maps that we all know and love having learned basic land navigation in basic training. This is great for well know battle spaces such as Germany or Korea but the likelihood of defending the Fulda Gap (again – you might have to look that reference up if you are post Reforger era) operating in foreign places NGA map products might not be available or not available to your unit when you get on the ground. For instance in deploying to Iraq in 2004 as an individual replacement and not part of a parent unit I bought a tourist map off eBay to ensure I had a general idea of where I was, where the friendly borders were and how the road infrastructure was laid out.

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Why bother? The mapping programs we all have depend on radio wave communication and computer processing to translate data into images and information we can use to navigate. With our current focus on Arctic Extreme Cold Weather operations we know that extremely heavy wet snow falling at time can affect reception due to multi-path error, which is the result of satellite signal reflection. Another element of extreme cold weather is the impact on battery life and power drain – your device might not work due to loss of power.

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Another critical area of battle space is in built up urban areas or in extremely hilly or craggy areas – real canyons or “urban canyon” effect where the city buildings block the signal. In this case a topographic map which portrays terrain features in a measurable way, as well as the horizontal positions of features is critical. The vertical positions, or relief, are normally represented by contour lines on military topographic maps. On maps showing relief, the elevations and contours are measured from a specific vertical datum plane, usually mean sea level.

Tourist road maps of a region in which the main means of transportation and areas of interest are shown are a great back up. Some of these maps show secondary networks of roads, historic sites, museums, and beaches in detail. They may contain road and time distance between points. The scale should be carefully considered when using these maps.

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Last, the United states military says in addition to an extreme cold weather battle space, the next war may be fought in mega-cities. (24 Jun 2018 Military.com). The services have begun to plan tactics techniques and procedures for US Army and US Marine combat organizations to fight, not just within cities or industrial locations to include subterranean conflict. Wireless signals that are functional on the surface to make phone calls, send e-mails, or find GPS coordinates don’t do well penetrating through the earth. Signals can be obstructed by concrete, water, metal and rebar found in underground construction. To send a signal through an extensive complex, wireless receivers would be needed in a relay at each bend or turn, obviously not possible during an active operation.

Meredith Broussard who in her book "Artificial Unintelligence

When you prep for an operations in an unknown location a bit of research from Meredith Broussard who in her book “Artificial Unintelligence How Computers Misunderstand the World” presents a guide to understanding the inner workings and outer limits of technology and why we should never assume that computers always get it right. She indicates that a deep knowledge of the geography will help you to navigate it and to understand its culture and history. Further, print maps help acquire deep knowledge faster and more efficiently. In experiments, people who read on paper consistently demonstrate better reading comprehension than people who read the same material on a screen. A 2013 study showed that, as a person’s geographic skill increases, so does their preference for paper maps.

Ms. Broussard says that “reading in print makes it easier for the brain to encode knowledge and to remember things. Sensory cues, like unfolding the complicated folds of a paper map, help create that cognitive map in the brain and help the brain to retain the knowledge.”

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Further “the same is true for a simple practice like tracing out a hiking route on a paper map with your finger. The physical act of moving your arm and feeling the paper under your finger gives your brain haptic and sensorimotor cues that contribute to the formation and retention of the cognitive map.”

For more on this and related topics please find the details at https://www.citylab.com/design/2019/01/paper-maps-digital-navigation-google/581092/

What Exactly is the Berry Amendment?

August 26, 2019

Probably one of the most misunderstood two words associated with textiles and the world of Defense personal protection product development and sales. I can not count how many times I have heard the words “oh this doesn’t apply to the Berry Amendment” (well yes in fact a soft body armor vest does fall under the Berry Amendment law) or “oh yes this does meet the requirement for Berry compliance” (while I look at the manufacturing tag that says “Made in China”). So how about it – questions we are all too afraid to ask because we should know better – what exactly is and isn’t when it comes to the Berry Amendment?

fabric-rolls-idex

First of all instead of reading marketing literature or talking to well meaning sales and business development people (myself being one), lets go to the actual DPAP  (Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy) which is a program under the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (USD (A&S)). The Berry Amendment was originally passed by Congress in 1941 to promote the purchase of certain U.S. goods.  The amendment is codified at 10 U.S.C 2533a by section 832 of Public Law 107-107. What this really means in government contracting speak is that the Berry Amendment is required – its not recommended, its not suggested, its not “maybe we should” but its a law with consequences that can involve doors and windows with bars.

For more information on violations and what the Inspector General may have found in 2016 other services is true – potentially over $200 billion in lost manufacturing manufactured overseas instead of in the United States. The Honorable Frank Kendall then Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics at https://www.murphy.senate.gov/download/buy-american-letter.  Interesting reading but that was in 2016 and positive changes have been implemented – but back to Berry.

Here is what Berry means  “the law restricts any funding appropriated or otherwise available to DoD”  first and foremost this is a law which applies to the Department of Defense which means the DOJ, DHS or DOS are not required to comply with this law. They must comply with the Buy American Act (which is likely the second most misunderstood policy associated with personal protection products, uniforms and boots).

To continue “from being used to buy the following end items, components, or materials unless they are wholly of US origin:” so what this means regarding cotton

cotton-polymer-yarn-detail-v2

From polymer to finished product

or wool for instance is the ground that the item grows on, the people who harvest the fibers, the location where that item is processed and turned into a textile item or yarn, the location where that textile is turned into a non-woven, knit or woven material and then finished; the location and people who then cut and sew that end item into a finished good – all have to be American (which includes Puerto Rico).

The details “An article or item of food; clothing; tents, tarpaulins, or covers; cotton and other natural fiber products; woven silk or woven silk blends; spun silk yarn for cartridge cloth; synthetic fabric or coated synthetic fabric (including all textile fibers and yarns that are for use in such fabrics); canvas products, or wool (whether in the form of fiber or yarn or contained in fabrics, materials, or manufactured articles); or any item of individual equipment (Federal Supply Class 8465) manufactured from or containing such fibers, yarns, fabrics, or materials; and hand or measuring tools.”  Whew that is saying a lot.

What this really means is you can’t buy boots from China and change the tags to say JAIL CELL“Made in America” because jail time may be included. For more examples of “can this be really true” see “chief executive officer of Wellco Enterprises, Inc. and its corporate parent Tactical Holdings Operations, Inc., sentenced 41 months in federal prison for defrauding the government”  or review the investigation of Dunlap zippers incorporating a slider — the small tab and attachment that is pulled up and down to open and close a zipper — made in Asia that had very negative consequences.

 

So its clear that textile base materials that go into clothing and gear (including ballistics, armor and body armor) must be manufactured in the USA.  But what about items that are procured for other partner countries through a FMS process? Do these still have to comply with the Berry Amendment? Yes. FMS funding and other Federal agencies’ funding is being made available to DoD and therefore falls under the Berry Amendment. 4C8A6E1B-14E3-4BCB-ADE1-61744D3643B4And in fact if the DoD provides funding to another agency to buy items, the Berry Amendment applies.

Almost last – often heard in the industry is “oh the Berry Amendment doesn’t apply because the purchase is under SAT.” So lets look at that because this is actually true. The Berry Amendment does not apply if the Government prime contract is below the SAT.   In order to understand what that is we need to go to 2 CFR § 200.88 – Simplified Acquisition threshold.  What SAT is the dollar amount below which organizations may make purchases using small purchase methods. Federal simplified acquisition threshold (formerly known as the federal small purchase threshold) -increased from $150,000 to $250,000. http://acqnotes.com/acqnote/careerfields/simplified-acquisition-procedures-sap   So if your program or purchase is under $250,000 your policy moves from Berry Amendment to Buy American Act for compliance. 

Last – “we have a DNAD so berry doesn’t apply.” Well maybe – a Domestic Non-Availability Determination (DNAD)) is a waiver to the Berry Amendment and can be granted if the Secretary concerned determines that “items grown, reprocessed, reused, or produced in the United States cannot be acquired as and when needed in a satisfactory quality and sufficient quantity at U.S. market prices.”  This is not an easy piece of paper to get because the signatures are from one of these four – the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics), the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy or the Secretary of the Air Force – but good luck with that!

Simplified-Threshold-Amounts-2018-v2

 

Look to Small Business for Innovation

April 8, 2018

4C8A6E1B-14E3-4BCB-ADE1-61744D3643B4.jpegWhy are disruptive innovations produced by small business, outsiders and entrepreneurs, rather than existing Market-leading companies?

Business expectations of market leaders view disruptive innovations as not profitable enough at first and that innovation takes scarce resources away from focus on the core product.

A disruptive process takes longer to develop and has greater risk than selling more of what a company already makes. Large business and market leaders can’t really embrace true disruption or accept that once deployed in the market, innovation has much faster adoption and will take the incumbents market share.

B84BCD97-ADB8-4F46-88E2-7B978A06E921Market leaders publicize they want “innovation “ but in reality their structure, compensation plans and short term expectations don’t allow it. To truly create growth through innovation – find a small business whose business is innovation.

For more insights about creating innovation, market adoption and growth please contact Jdlong@silveroakleafinc.com or send an email through the web at  silveroakleafinc.com

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When everything is a priority then nothing is a priority

October 16, 2017

Combo 1

Things I learned in the US Army include life lessons in balancing requirements. When everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. Without priorities the inevitable outcome is often either nothing gets done or on time. We face this reality every day – that is why I always set out what needs to go along with me to work the night before. In the morning if its not ready to go – its not going. But what happens if everything needs to go at the same time? The reality is – its not going to happen so what then?

I found myself in this exact situation the fall of 1995 while conducting a field training exercise out in the hinterlands dispersed somewhere in Germany. the situation was this – in the middle of a complex and geographically separated training event I found myself responsible to ensure that complete logistics were set in place for the next training event. While normally this is expected, in this case I was IMG_2361 near Köln and the next event was near Grafenwöhr approximately 378 km (234.8 miles) distant. What’s the big deal? Just complete support for three area signal support companies, a signal support company and a headquarters company? The task was only hundreds of soldiers and vehicles, the logistics requirement for physical space to occupy and set up communications and motor operations, beds, showers, and toilets required, and dinning facility plans. Creating and locking in a plan with out cell phone or internet connections from 200 plus miles away while certainly doable today, in 1995 was daunting.  In those days Face-to-Face was required.

Ball OrangeThis is where I learning about the juggling ability to “continuously toss into the air and catch (a number of objects) so as to keep at least one in the air while handling the others, typically for the entertainment of others.”  Except in this case there was no entertainment and just your career on the line. Failing as a battalion primary staff office was not an option.  I learned then that life, work, relationships will each direct more requirements at you than you can possible get done at the same time or on time.  The sooner you Type A perfectionists accept this fact the sooner you can get on with managing your requirements.  For me as part of the “Zero Failure” Army culture, I squirmed and stressed like a freight train headed for the cliff Ball Whiterunning out of track! Enter the sage advice or our S-3 Operations Officer, Major Randy Ponder (my eternal thanks and notably absent form this conversation was my boss the Battalion XO; Major Allen Loccino). Thankfully the S3 took pity on a young Captain who he could see was clearly in distress and this is what he taught me.

The Army (and Life) will throw more tasks and situations at you than you will be able to handle. The Army (and presumably Life) knows that you cant get it all done and that is part of the “test” to make sure you learn how to differentiate and prioritize. Tasks and requirements are like the items juggles use and can be thought of as made out of different materials like wood, rubber or glass.  Some you can drop and they will just sort of stay there where you dropped them without big consequences. Some can be dropped for a short period knowing they Ball Yellowwill bounce right back up to be grabbed and put back into the juggle rotation with little harm or notice.  However, some tasks are like glass – if you miss the hand to hand control and these glass balls drop, look out because shattering happens on impact. The key of course is to know and understand which tasks are like which materials?  Take an everyday time consumer: EMAIL. Not all email must be responded to immediately and in fact, most email (especially if your are on the CC: line) are like a solid wood ball – you can drop most of them because nothing is really required but to file for recall later.  Some email are like a rubber ball – you can leave them alone in the received mail for later review. You might even reply back to the sender and ask for additional clarification (thus gaining a bit more time to take the requested action). These emails will get worked eventually. However some email demand response and action – these are the fragile hollow glass balls that have to be acted on.  Broken 1

One of the keys to understanding which tasks are which, is a sub-lesson to learn and guard against. Sometime the tasks you like least are the glass ones. These are the ones you wont be interested or like working on because often  rubber or wooden balls are more fun to work on, less risk of failure or just easy. We spend our time juggling these when in fact we should have been focused on that glass ball that we just missed and shattered. Now we have to sweep it up and suffer pain from the sharp slivers of glass that could have been avoided had we the right focus. We cant keep them all in the air but some we have to.

How did I solve my predicament? I delegated some of the more rubbery and wooden tasks to my logistics staff during the existing field event and then worked out a plan to recon Grafenwöhr with the Headquarters company leadership. We left one activity and drove out and coordinated the Combo 2support necessary for the next. Seems obvious right – except when you are the person responsible you often feel like you “have” to be the one on the scene ready for the issues as they occur.  Sometimes yes – by maybe if your operation is underway, the risk can be low enough to move on to prepping for the next requirement and that is what I did.

So there it is – life is a lot like juggling all the daily requirements we face. They key is to identify them one at a time and decide if this is something I have to do right now or can be  delegated or deferred with acceptable risk? We have to know which are the glass balls and continually focus to ensure they and always up in the air until complete. With a little luck – you wont drop one.

Taking a Walk with Alice on the Appalachia Trail

October 10, 2017

There it is – looming in your mind like a challenge that has to be answered.  the IMG_0945Appalachia Trail (AT) is a trails 2,190 (sort of) miles through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. Oh and if you forgot to calculate the impact to your body: 464,500 feet is the approximate gain and loss in trail elevation. Cant be that bad right? Hard core airborne, air assault, scout platoon leader, combat tour experienced soldier right? Well maybe – but I choose instead to go walking with ALICE which I have had an intimate relationship since 1988 across long distances, long plane rides, long tank rides throughout Korea, from Germany to Bosnia and throughout Central America.  ALICE and I rode together in Iraq and I carried her sister MOLLE in Afghanistan.  However, I was about to find out that she might not be the best partner to walk with on the AT.

IMG_0949Weighing in at 8 pounds, the Army standard since the Vietnam War, the ALICE Large Combat Field Pack was designed to handle large and heavy loads of ammunition and water from 50  to 70 lbs maximizing “personal comfort and mobility.”  It is designed for soldiers to carry fighting or existence loads and equipment needed for various field conditions. Compared to modern lightweight day packs at about 2 pounds or less (no frame of course) ALICE is a charmer for sure and unique choice on the trail as I found out!

The AT unlike the Pacific Crest Trail is unique in terms of the amount of loose rock and nearly vertical climbs and then steep descents. Walking on rock as opposed to sand, light gravel or pine needles is a completely different terrain.  The other planning item of note is your expectations?  Are you a day hiker, weekend or a thru hiker.  Doesn’t really matter because you don’t need the ability toIMG_0955 really pack for an “outback” experience which the 2,800 cube inches storage ALICE gives you.  If you are moving towards an objective with 3 days supplies and the expectation of a firefight then yes ALICE is your girl. However, while some particular stretches of the AT might be remote outback hiking, most of the trail (at least the beginning states) are usually pretty close to some road or town along the way were you can get off the trail, catch a ride and find someplace to recover.

Now this isn’t to say that you cant get badly hurt on the AT and you should be prepared, but I ‘ think entrenching tools, hatchets, full steel propane canisters, pots and pans or extra clothing are not required.  On the AT lighter is better – oh and a good map reconnaissance to ensure you know your daily hike lengths, where the shelters and a where to locate water.

So will I continue to bring ALICE along for my section hike on my next leg?  For me yes because I am comfortable with the frame and strap set up – however, I will calculate the trail length and details. My next section will focus on Blood Mountain adjacent to Slaughter Creek/AT/Jarrard Gap. From the http://www.georgiatrails.com/gt/at_woody_gap_to_neels_gap website, I found a reference to when the Cherokee Indians first began to migrate to Georgia a battle took place here, hence the name Slaughter Gap. Other geographical names (Blood and Slaughter Mountain) in the area were related to this battle. “A 1951 archaeological expedition found evidence of both Creek and Cherokee Indians in the gap, however, they could not determine the extent of the conflict or even estimate a date.”

The next section hike is planned as Woody gap over Blood Mountain to Neels gap as a distance of 10.6 miles but with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet.  This section hike reaches the Blood Mountain summit climbing 1400 feet elevation to 4459 feet, the Blood Mountain is the Appalachian Trail’s highest-elevation ascent in Georgia. Good time ahead especially during the late fall time period! Don’t forget to bring coffee!

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