Tuesday, May 19, 2015
On the 3rd of November, a few years back, my wife, my son and I were on a Boeing 727 on final approach into Elmendorf Air Force Base for my initial assignment in the United States Army. I had orders to join an Infantry Brigade stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska. Alaska; ya, that’s right, Alaska. We had departed from McChord Air Force Base, just outside of Seattle, WA earlier in the day. Now we were circling around to align with the runway for final approach. Didja happen to catch the fact that we were flying into Alaska?
Initially, I had been assigned to Fort Hood, right back ninety miles from the home I had just left. Some advisors and the Army had convinced me during my Officer’s basic Class that my particular specialty was needed in Alaska. I wasn’t guaranteed to remain there longer than a year but that was six months more than I was looking at staying at Fort Hood. What was stated to be a three-year tour, or less, depending on how things went elsewhere in the world, turned out to total just under four years as it so happened. That elsewhere was primarily the field exercise being conducted in South East Asia at the time. The world situation changed continually during those four years causing both the Army’s and my plans to change back and forth with the winds almost. For the three of us this was to be our first trek completely on our own, away from home, parents, in-laws, friends, college—just about everything we knew and had provided somewhat of a security blanket to us during our early marriage.
Excluding the six months we had just spent on temporary duty at Fort Lee, Virginia for initial officer training courses; we hadn’t been outa shoutin’ distance of family or friends since we were married just a little over two years earlier. We were finally on our own; little did I know what was ahead for us. A lot of changes were to take place—mostly to my situation.
I had recently graduated from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas with a degree in marketing. My summer work and college experiences had given me a decidedly different viewpoint on the roles of employer and employee, including the interaction between the two. Roughnecking during my summers as a young high schooler and college underclassman throughout Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wyoming had taught me what hard work really was and confirmed that I didn’t want to spend my future in the pursuit of an advanced degree in manual labor.
Now I was preparing to land in Alaska, a far stretch from any kind of career in marketing. But because of my education, a contract with the United States Army and the correlation between marketing and Quartermaster supply and services, I now had a chance to become part of management naïvely never realizing that management positions could require a lot of hard work. Although most of management work might be more mental than physical, the long hours that are sometime required can take a physical toll also?
As our aircraft circled over Fort Richardson, the pilots began to lower the landing gear and the closer we came to the ground, the more we began to take notice of the place we would soon be calling home. Watching out the window over what I was later to learn was the ammunition storage area; I saw three of the largest Bull Moose I was to ever see. Oh I might have seen one or two in a zoo maybe once before; but I had never seen one in the wild, ever. They were huge! Both my wife and I were amazed that a large and wild animal was just strolling around the area so close to was gonna be home. I would eventually get to know these guys much better over the next few years.
This is where my career started but a long way from where it would eventually lead me. For the next forty years I would work with well over several thousand associates in many varied assignments and assorted organizations.
We exited the aircraft via the tail by climbing down a rollaway ramp. Waiting for the three of us were two First Lieutenants: Ken Johnston and Jim Wheeler. They calmly greeted us in just fatigues and field jackets while we shivered in the cold. Ken was to be my platoon leader and he had drawn the assignment to be my new guy sponsor. Jim was an Aggie buddy who just so happened to have been in my same unit at A&M for the two previous years and lucky, for him, had drawn an earlier reporting date at Fort Lee. Jim and I spent a lot of time together during our mutual time in Alaska and subsequent to that, have remained friends our entire adult life.
It might be appropriate to state here that I was the beneficiary of some Bad Deeds; allowing me to move into the leadership position that cut my teeth on what leadership was all about. I was happy doing what I was doing previously but found myself thrust into a situation for which I was not fully prepared. I had to alleviate that un-preparedness as quick as possible or I might have found myself taken under by the culture that doomed my two predecessors. They were done-in by their lackadaisical attitudes and a belief they could do little or nothing and get by solely because they were officers. Their inattention to detail and a lack of support and understanding from higher management also had not helped their situation.
Early editions of the anecdotes and incidents that took place were somewhat affectionately called moose stories as more than several of them included a moose in one way or another. I now refer to them as simply adventures in leadership or what I took away essays from those experiences.
Well, not everything can revolve around a good moose experience. I found over time that it was the people who work with you and for you that tend to step into, instigate, or cause the troubles that take up the majority of a manager’s day. During the forty years I spent in the management, supervision and consultation of operations, both in manufacturing and the military; I continually found myself in the study of these people who caused the situations that happened to and around me. While a good deal of the stories are somewhat military in nature, largely due to the fact that I worked at more than sixty posts, camps and stations; they are primarily just stories of people, the situations they find themselves in, what got them there and how we//they sometimes resolved the dilemma(s) that we found ourselves in.
After working with an organization for a few months, I easily recognized the point in time which required me to relate one of these adventures and its association with a particular problem currently requiring a solution. I might start in only to find myself interrupted by one of those that had been there longer than the others: “Is this gonna be another moose story Howard?” Realizing that I had to watch out for was this guy primarily because he knew that I enjoyed telling the stories maybe even more than they enjoyed listening to and learning from them. “Tell us another moose story Howard.” was a sure bet to lengthen many a meeting’s duration—not always the right solution.
A little background might be appropriate at this juncture. I have two Master’s degrees in addition to my Marketing Degree from Texas A&M University that I previously mentioned. The first Masters is from Central Michigan University and is concentrated in Management and Supervision and the second Masters is from the United States Army Command and General Staff College and is in Command and Logistics.
During my military career, I spent time leading such varied operations as supply—petroleum, ration (food), ammunition, general supplies, major end items, construction and barrier material—and services—bakery, decontamination, shower operations, water treatment and distribution, air field operations, data transmissions, computer input//output, software development, procurement and graves registration services.
During my civilian career, I held positions as varied as stockroom manager, warehousing manager, production and inventory control manager, manufacturing systems manager, purchasing manager, materials manager, both director of materials and manufacturing and finally as vice president of manufacturing. I found myself employed in range of industries from automobile engine re-manufacturing to industrial gas compressors; computers; process-flow manufacturing of plastic netting that included jet fuel filters, parts protectors, blood filtration membranes, premium pipe threading for the oil and gas industry; and eventually library and school furniture manufacturing.
Throughout the years I spent in management and leadership positions, the one constant was people. Leaders and managers deal with people and their problems every day. There is no way you get around this fact. People and their actions make up the majority of a manager’s time and efforts. Leaders lead people and Managers manage people: those people that staff the processes. Those leaders, managers and supervisors that become sufficiently skilled in their product or career of choice have mastered only half of the sphere of their required expertise. People are the other half and quite frankly: the bigger half.
I was fortunate enough to figure this out early in my career; more by being forced to do so by those reporting to me than a burning desire to do so because of some external motivation. I fully believe the experiences that I took away from my interaction with people adventures are the very reason that I was as successful in my career as I eventually became.
Primary Blog site http://whathowardsaidtoday.blogspot.com/
Sunday, May 17, 2015
During that four years in Alaska, I experienced more than several sightings, encounters, confrontations, happenings, run-ins, arguments, disagreements, quarrels, rows, conflicts, clashes, and skirmishes with moose – many more with moose than any other animal in Alaska. An animal that takes up as much room as your run-of-the-mill Bull Moose and weighs in at as much as twelve to fourteen hundred pounds demands attention and most of the time, the right-of-way. In the far, far woods, as my son would come to call the area adjacent to our quarters, I would frequently find myself during the deepest part of the winter playing tag with a bull or cow moose in and around Ship Creek which passed just one hundred yards or so behind the home the US Army was so grateful to allow us to utilize during our stay.. These encounters would routinely make my wife mad as you might imagine – at me, not the moose. Tapping a moose on the nose and dodging behind a tree was akin to the same game we would play with a bull or mean white-eyed momma cow back in Texas during my recent teen years.
The encounters might involve a run-in with a moose in the morning formation just outside the Battalion’s barracks area. Or maybe the incident might take the moose through the glass doors into the building itself. Once observing a confrontation between a moose and a VW Bug on the highway to Anchorage gave me a real healthy appreciation for these antlered obstructions. We even experienced a hungry bull that had crawled on his knees under our back porch in order to get to the only grass available that winter just outside the dryer vent coming from the basement of our quarters.
Quite often these encounters would turn out to be a sorta learning experience that I would periodically site during the years to come while trying to make a coaching point to my associates, subordinates and supervisors. Finding myself at a particular point-in-time where an appropriate story would fit, these stories would become very useful in future management positions. As a result, whether the story involved a moose or not, collectively, they all began to be shuffled into a genre that those working for and with me called “moose stories”.
Well, not everything revolves around a moose experience, it’s the people who work with and for you that step into, instigate, or cause a problem that makes up a manager’s day. During the thirty-seven years I spent in the management, supervision and consultation of operations, both in manufacturing and the military; I continually found myself in the study of these people who cause the situations to happen to and around me. While a good deal of the stories are somewhat military in nature, largely due to the fact that I spent time at more than sixty posts, camps and stations; they are primarily just stories of people, the situations they find themselves in, what got them there and how we//they sometimes resolved the dilemma(s) that we found ourselves in.
Over the last twenty-five years while working in numerous manufacturing assignments; I found opportunities to use what I had learned from the people and situations I had previously been associated with. These adventures with people resulted in a much more basic understanding of those people and their thought processes. While most of those I was associated with in the manufacturing arena had little if any military experience they all related to the characters and the predicaments in the stories. The people lessons that I took away from these stories helped in making both me and those around me understand better what we could do to improve our lot in life. People, their actions and the results of their actions are the major ‘time consumers’ that take up the majority of most management and supervision time; both good and bad people are the real players in the continuing story of our daily ventures.
Usually after working with an organization for some time and recognizing the need to relate one of these adventures, I might start in and then be interrupted by one of those that had been there for some time asking: “Is this gonna be another moose story Howard?”
Eventually I realized that often I had to watch out for was this guy specifically knowing that I enjoyed telling the stories maybe even more than they enjoyed listening and learning from them. “Tell us another moose story Howard.” was sure to lengthen the meeting’s duration, not always the right solution.
A little background might be appropriate at this juncture. I have two Master’s degrees in addition to my Marketing Degree from Texas A&M University that I previously mentioned. The first Masters is from Central Michigan University and concentrated in Management and Supervision and the second Masters is from the United States Army Command and General Staff College and concentrated in Command and Logistics. During my civilian career, I held positions as varied as stockroom manager, warehousing manager, production and inventory control manager, manufacturing systems manager, purchasing manager, materials manager, both director of materials and manufacturing and finally as vice president of manufacturing.
The industries I experienced also varied from automobile engine re-manufacturing to capital end items to computer to school furniture manufacturing. But the entire time I spent in management positions, the one constant factor was people. You deal with people and their problems everyday. There is no way around this fact. People and their actions take up the majority of any manager’s time. Those managers and supervisors that become sufficiently skilled in their career of choice have mastered only half of the realm of their required expertise – people are the other half. I was lucky enough to figure this out early in my career; more by being forced to do so by those reporting to me than a burning desire to do so because of some external motivation. I fully believe the experiences that I took away from my people adventures is the very reason that I was as successful in my career as I turned out to be, if I say so myself.
The adventures that follow are all true. I know that for a fact. I was there when they took place and often was the one that they took place to. Usually they all had reasonable endings; some more reasonable than others. The situations I will relate to you taught me more than I could have ever learned in a management or supervision class tucked away somewhere on a college campus or a one-two-three day seminar taught by the very successful presenters of that type material. Just like many of you out there; the lessons of life are much more real than the case studies that professors will ever cause you to study. You all have been involved in just as many as I have and through this volume of work I will endeavor to spur just the slightest amount of memory and realization that you may know more about what leadership, management and supervision is all about than you previously thought you did.
I hope you find the information that follows to be enlightening, helpful, sometime even humorous, and at least interesting – the original cast and their actions were just that. Some of the names have been changed, but please remain assured that the stories are true and the dubious names may be factious only to save embarrassment; a point the reader will subsequently understand. This is what I took away from some very interesting, sometimes stressful or physical demanding but always memorable people experiences.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
On the new road to Fairbanks, most of which north of the Talkeetna cut-off at the time was still gravel, the story that this essay relates to took place. Just south and west of Fairbanks sat not much more than a wide spot in the road was the village of Nenana, milepost 304 on the Parks Highway (Highway #3). Nenana’s primary claim to fame is “the Break-up Challenge” which is conducted every spring and establishes the end of the Alaskan winter and the start of the Alaskan spring—howsoever short as it may be, but still it’s spring.
Parks Highway (Highway #3) as it exists now
Break-up is signaled by the movement of the surging ice on a tripod frozen in the Tanana River. The tripod, which actually has four legs, is placed there by the town of Nenana and the Break-up contest has recently carried a cash prize of as much as three-hundred thousand dollars. You win the dough by guessing the time closest to the nearest minute of actual movement of the ice flow in the Nenana River—that’s when the tripod moves. The challenge was started by the Alaskan Railroad back in 1917 with the first pool closing in on eight hundred dollars. In 2005, the ice went out at 12:01 PM, Alaska Standard Time and had forty-six winning guesses, each with the exact time.
Most organizations that I have been a part of had an undercurrent of “pools” such as the Nenana “Break-up Challenge.” One of the major pools that “us” guys conducted during the years I was assigned to Alaska while in the Army each year, other than the routine football and baseball pots, was the “First Snow Pool”—the reverse of the Nenana Break-up Challenge. The other was the Nenana Break-up. The “First Snow Pool” entailed the gathering of funds and recording names and dates of the participants wanting to take their turn at guessing on which date the first snow would arrive at Ft Rich and remain on the ground for a full week prior to disappearing, if it did.
But here, we will stay strictly on the Nenana topic. The 2015 pot for guessing the exact or closest time was a cool $330,330—not bad for a single winner. But not so fast. This year, the pot was shared by 25 winning entries: all having the exact month day, hour & minute of April 24th, 2:25 p.m. Alaska Standard Time—https://nsidc.org/data/docs/daac/nsidc0064_nenana.gd.html. Next year will be the 100th year of the event—get out there and try your luck. Go to http://www.nenanaakiceclassic.com/poolrules.htm for details.
Nenana Ice Classic “Breakup Challenge” preparation and installation of Tripod
For those of you that might remember this; in the days of old when time was still young; there were few private line telephone operations. The cost to most was prohibitive and like it or not, lines still didn’t go everywhere.
The method of stringing phone lines into a specific area would follow this basic scheme: (1) the phone company would run one line into a particular area. (2) The terminus of that line would then act as a trunk or hub, if you will. (3) From this hub, the phone company would then run individual lines (party lines) to each subscriber in that particular area. I am not sure how many subscribers were supported off a particular hub; I guess it would depend on the current capabilities. I do remember having ten or so parties on our line. (4) Each party would then be assigned a certain ring, thus enabling the subscriber to detect when a call was for their establishment or home as it may be. (5) The subscribers were sorta on the “honor system” and didn’t answer the phone when it wasn’t their ring. This in no way stopped the sneaky old lady next door from picking up the receiver and listening in on your call to your best girl or visa versa for that matter. Of course, if you didn’t answer, your neighbor could always pick up the call and act as the rudimentary version of voicemail—passing the message on to you at a later time.
Growing up, I remember that the “party line” went away in my hometown around the late 50s. However, even though the story detailed in my book took place in the mid-1970s and I didn’t know it yet, but I was again going to be dealing with a party line.
One of my petroleum specialists had tried to reach me and the notes taken by SSG Smith, gave the following instructions to return the call: (1) call the Ft Richardson long distance operator, (2) ask for the Fairbanks operator, (3) have the Fairbanks operator call long distance for the Nenana operator, and (4) have the Nenana operator ring two shorts and a long.
Yep; two shorts and a long! That’s the story associated with Nenana in my upcoming book “There’s a Moose in the Gard Shack—He’s Gonna Kill Me!
For data on actual break-up dates go to my blog site (There’s a Moose in the Guard Shack and Adventures in everyday Leadership) and check out the backstories at http://leadershipwithhoward.blogspot.com/ or http://tinyurl.com/3h3f6ht or link through my main blog: http://whathowardsaidtoday.blogspot.com/ or http://tinyurl.com/nxy6t7