Archive for the ‘Logistics’ Category

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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What do Chiquita bananas and Hurricane Relief have in common?

November 30, 2016

What do Chiquita bananas and Hurricane Relief have in common? hondurasWell a lot actually but its a story that isn’t often told.  If you didn’t know it bananas, are grown at farms in tropical regions of the world. The banana industry in the United States gets its bananas from tropical regions like Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama. This supply chain started back in 1899 when American railroad companies operating in South and Central America merged with the Boston Fruit Company to create the United Fruit Company. In the 1920s, the honduras-4United Fruit Company established a powerful organization in Honduras exporting to and gaining the dominant market position in the United States.  The company cleared and planted lands for bananas developing extensive road, railroad and port facilities. The company also built housing and schools for the children of employees, hospitals, and research laboratories.  It could be said that many of these roads and the only deep water ocean port  in Central America form the basic transportation network in Honduras today.

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Photo Jonathan Long

 

In our post 9/11 world many have never heard of the US Military operations called “New Horizons.” This is an engineering and medical exercise to benefit the people of Central America and the Caribbean. During these missions, military engineering teams deploy from the United States to build

 

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Photo National Weather

On now to hurricanes. Bananas aren’t the only things that grow in the tropic areas – hurricanes do too. One hurricane in particular, Hurricane Mitch, was the most powerful and destructive hurricane of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, with maximum sustained winds of 180 mph. The Category 5 Hurricane (SSHS) killed more than 11,000 people and some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000, making Mitch the deadliest storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1790 (1). Hurricane Mitch delivered 180 mph winds while hovering over Honduras for more than a week and sustained winds of 285 km/h (178 mph) for 15 hours.

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Photo Jonathan Long

While we in Panama watched with dread, there was little anyone could do while the storm raged. We had been planning for follow on construction operations in Honduras after the 1997 exercise but now all schedules were dramatically accelerated. Our mission changed from national assistance for Honduras to humanitarian assistance.  From my point of view, this change in mission occurred naturally and was very smooth. Maybe this change seemed so smooth because we had just completed the gigantic “relief in place” after a yearlong operation in Bosnia. In 1996 we moved from a European based Implementation Force (IFOR) of 60,000 (which I was part of), to a Stabilization Force (SFOR) of about 30,000 (2). This was a classic “relief in place” conducted on a huge scale but others may have a different view. Little did we know at that time that conducting RIP/TOA (relief in place / transfer of authority) would become so common place during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

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Photo Jonathan Long

Immediately after the hurricane, the U.S. responded with over $300 million in humanitarian assistance, providing food, medicine, emergency shelter, and agricultural assistance through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. military, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and civilian relief workers – again another example of joint operations similar to what we had just conducted in Bosnia and a foreshadow of Iraq and Afghanistan operations. My job was to provide the on the ground, contracting assistance for all construction logistical support in Honduras. Following Hurricane Mitch 5,300 military personnel were deployed to Central America, representing all four armed services and reserve components – again Joint Operations.

 

So what did we do, what does this have to do with bananas and why is the US Military so

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Photo Jonathan Long

successful at responding to calls for international help?  I think our success results from our adage “train like you fight” meaning we don’t have one standard for training and expect some other outcome when its “go time.” First things first, we had to get the personnel and their equipment from the United States into Honduras – no easy task since the ports had sustained damage and one port was closed unable to receive the roll-on/roll-off ships. These LMSRs are huge capable of cargo-carrying capacity of more than 300,000 square feet. The Port of Cortes was our only reception point.

 

The operation was little different than similar missions I had conducted while rail loading M1 Tanks in Korea for Team Spirit or moving a Signal Battalion of soldiers and equipment from one end of Germany to another. However, unlike Korea and Germany, there were no established logistics elements at the embarkation point, along the route or at the destination. All that support would need contracting. We contracted for food, contracted for living quarters, contracted for line haul transportation for heavy equipment, contracted for cleaning services, and contracted for building materials.  The key was synchronizing all these contracts so they were delivered or performed at the right place and at the right time.  No less was acceptable – but it was difficult to do while located in Panama.

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Photo Jonathan Long

Within days after the flood waters had receded from the airport in San Pedro Sula and the airlines partially resumed flights, I caught a flight to Belize (which was accepting commercial aircraft) and then a twin-engine prop plane into Honduras. Luckily I had provided very similar logistical contract support the previous year in Honduras, I knew the general layout of the area and many of the contractors located in the vicinity. When I arrived at the airport I could see the discolored and muddied height of the flood waters reaching a height of about 9 feet but it was the mud that caused the runway closure. The destruction caused by the storm was immediately evident and devastating to roads, bridges, and homes.

 

What made the most dramatic impression on me were the blue tarps strung in the mediums of the roads providing temporary shelter to families whose homes were lost to the storm. It was dramatic but a completely different disaster

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Photo Jonathan Long

environment than that I had just experienced in Bosnia where homes; while still standing, were pock marketed with bullet holes, partially burned and in many cases walls pierced open by tank rounds. In both cases the people were living in elemental conditions without electricity, running water, heating or cooling or toilets. In both cases, the people were now refugees in their own country. Whether from either ethic warfare or natural disaster both were equally cruel, especially on the kids.

 

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Photo Jonathan Long

Back to bananas. Here is where the infrastructure work developed by the United Fruit Company in the 1920’s came into play – most if not all the routes we used to move personnel and equipment around Honduras were built on the road networks developed to support the banana export business. That was my first order of business before I could develop the contracting support needed, I had to locate the planned base camps and construction sites so I would know where contracted services and supplies would be delivered.

In some cases, because of the preplanned development projects, these camps were in remote locations and in some cases, they were

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Photo Jonathan Long

not. Regardless of location, I travelled to each work site to make sure required sand, gravel, cement and concrete could be delivered by commercial transport. That is not to say these roads were in great shape to start with but believe me when I say they were worse after the hurricane.  In some cases, we did contract for private airfields to enable the delivery of supplies and personnel by US Aviation, specifically in the direction from San Pedro Sula to Yoro.

 

Once the materials were on site and the contracted services began performance, the US Military took over and started to work. We worked with and trained Contracting Officer Representatives (COR) to manager the performance and ensure that we received the 981124-F-2167C-008quality of materials and supplies that we required. During this time, military personnel are credited with rescuing more than 1,000 people trapped by flood waters providing medical care and immunizations to over 35,000 people. Our construction battalions cleared major roads (some as old as the 1920’s) and bypasses, as well as erecting prefabricated bridges (Bailey Bridges). Our military personnel rebuilt medical clinics and schools, and provided communities with safe drinking water by building wells. Military aircraft, including 53 helicopters were deployed throughout the region to assist distribution delivering more than 3.2 million pounds of food and more than 500,000 gallons of water. It is reported that the military transported to the region almost 8 million pounds of food, clothing, medicine and relief items donated by American citizens (3).

President Clinton called the U.S. Southern Command NEW HORIZONS response to Hurricane Mitch “the largest humanitarian assistance mission since the Berlin Airlift.” Honestly at the end of each long day it wasn’t about a Presidential proclamation, or about the danger and excitement of running historic roads or even about traveling through miles and miles of epic date palm and banana plantations; it was about choosing to be in a position where we know we helping individuals make their world and ours a better place. So whether we used roads built for the banana business or not, whether operating in the Korea or Bosnian winter, or the heat of Iraq or Afghanistan – and even in hurricane drenched Honduras, that’s what’s in common – working to make the world a better place.

 

 

(1) http://www.history.com/topics/hurricane-mitch

(2) https://www.defensie.nl/binaries/defence/documents/reports/2009/05/

(3) https://clinton4.nara.gov/WH/New/centralam/fsheet1.html