Archive for October, 2017

When everything is a priority then nothing is a priority

October 16, 2017

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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.

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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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