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Friday, February 27, 2015

Frank Lefevers, Jr.

Another of the quirky and zany characters I came
across during my career in leadership positions

We all know them: the quirky and zany characters that pass through our lives on their way to future endeavors that we hope do not involve us. The time they spend with us can be interesting, offbeat, cockamamie, goofy, insane, a little touched and sometimes just plain silly; but more often than not: downright funny.

I thought I would take a break from the quirky and zany characters to tell you about another guy that I had the chance to serve with in the early 1970s. He was nothing like the other guys I have been detailing lately.

Have you ever wished you had just one more hand to help you get the job done?

I hadn’t ever thought about the need, but early in my career I was fortunate enough for one to come along at just the right time. Things probably couldn’t have worked out better if I had planned it myself.

I was a young and struggling 1st Lieutenant in the Army in Alaska when this wonderful event took place. The conditions, rather than my abilities were the reasons for my struggle. I was in charge of the Supply Platoon in the 172nd Support Battalion of the 172nd Infantry Brigade (Separate & Light) assigned to Fort Richardson, Alaska. I mentioned it was a wonderful event largely because I still wonder why I was so lucky to have been the beneficiary. Trying to remember back to that time, a long time ago now is tough so I’m gonna just wing it. I believe I got lucky in the late summer of 1971; it could have been later than that, but it doesn’t really matter for what I’m trying to get across.

At the time of my arrival, I had been assigned the position of Asst-Section Leader of the Class II & VII Section within the Supply Platoon. There was a Transportation 2LT holding the position at the time—there being no open slots for a TC officer but several currently for a Quartermaster Officer. Why I was not assigned one of the other slots instead of being stacked up behind a TC officer never occurred to me upon arrival. However, this situation didn’t last long. Having arrived in country on 03 Nov 1970, just a couple of weeks later on the 17th of November the Supply Platoon was detached from our parent company (B Company—Maintenance and Supply) and attached to the 54th Transportation Company to form a provisional Supply and Transportation company in support of the brigade’s operations. This, by-the-way was the first of several provisional (or test) units I would be assigned to during my military career.

The Supply Platoon was authorized a total of 70 personnel, four of which were officers (3 commissioned and 1 warrant), with the remaining 66 enlisted. As I mentioned there were two of us in the II & VII section and the sole remaining officer was our platoon leader, a 1LT—he will remain nameless for reasons you will understand later. On the 21st of November I became the Section Leader as the TC lieutenant was transferred to our new unit to take over a platoon leader position made possible by the movement of the senior TC lieutenant into the Executive Officer position (a slot that didn’t really exist). This left only the platoon leader and myself as the only officers of the 42 personnel in the authorized 70 personnel supply platoon. I was not to see the warrant officer (ammunition supply) until some three years later shortly before leaving the command.

Of course you understand that the main reason we were so short of personnel was that the field exercise taking place in Viet Nam was still being conducted in South East Asia.

By the second week in January, the platoon leader had disappeared. I say disappeared as I don’t know what happened to him and never heard of his subsequent disposition. The cause of his departure became apparent almost immediately. The command was in the middle of a visit by the Army Audit Agency—a very scary occurrence if you have never experienced one. Come to find out, the platoon leader had been privy to the misappropriation of petroleum stocks and was in cahoots with several enlisted personnel also in the platoon—they disappeared about the same time also. The audit agency had uncovered this not very long after arriving. This was a bad situation to say the least and I began to wonder what I had got myself into. Some of these guys were going to jail and not just any jail; it was gonna be a federal jail.

In any event, the battalion assigned a 1LT from the Brigade Supply office as the platoon leader—I guess their thinking was that it would be better to have someone with some Alaskan time under their belt than a greenhorn just up from the Lower 48 without one winter of experience. I didn’t have anything to say about the matter; just a new 2LT and no real close associations whatsoever at the time.

Our new platoon leader, having been assigned to a staff element the entire time he had been in the command, had zero troop experience and this began to grind on all concerned. The fact that he didn’t want to be there either was very apparent—my take was that he was actually scared of the accountability issue. I say this because when battalion had to place a new Accountable Officer on orders, they chose me instead of him. I asked for edification at the time but never received a good answer—at least to me anyway.

Well, here I was: in charge of a section with half the staff to operate it, accountable for all the supplies flowing into and out of the brigade (excluding repair parts) and not in command of three quarters of the personnel or the supplies//transactions. Plus that, I was a very junior Quartermaster officer in a unit ripe with Transportation officers (a commander, an XO and four platoon leaders)—outnumbered very much so, and a platoon leader that was getting on everybody’s nerves.

By summer our semi-assigned platoon leader had managed to get himself transferred to the major command and was again back in a staff position. I learned of this during a walk-around in the back yard of the unit motor pool with my new Company Commander—the original commander having been rotated out of country at the end of his three years.

This situation left me as the only Quartermaster officer in the company. There was one other in the battalion but he was not to remain much longer than a year as he when he was released from the service also at the end of his three years in the overseas command.

There were two other Quartermaster officers in Brigade Supply but both were recent branch transfers from the Infantry and had no idea whatsoever about accountability, supply and support operations or how to accomplish the related functions. The entire command was not in great shape at all.

By this time my platoon was down to 33 total personnel (1 officer—me and 32 enlisted). At this point, I might mention that we had 37 vehicles to maintain plus a hoard of various support equipment. Our supply//support mission included (1) ration (food), (2) general equipment, (3) bulk petroleum and packaged oils and lubricants, (4) construction and barrier material, (5) ammunition, and (6) major end items (trucks, trailers, tanks, etc). There was no lack of support requirements to fulfill—they just never let up. We were always on the go.

I was once compared once to a lighthouse: in a continuous rotation from one problem, situation or support mission to the next. It was at this point when the best possible thing that could have happen did happen. With the Southeast Asia exercise slowing down and the stateside schools still pumping out graduates, the transportation platoons received more replacements than they had authority to hold on to. My platoon sergeant showed up one morning with four replacements for the five personnel we had just seen rotate outta the command—all of the new guys were school trained truck drivers—one of which was actually a truck driver in civilian life. All were draftees—some of the very last.

The platoon sergeant recommended that three of the four go to the petroleum section and we make the fourth the platoon headquarters driver—an authorized position that had not been filled during the entirety of my tenure. I went along with his recommendation. That’s how PFC Frank Lefevers, Jr. became my driver. Yah, it took a long time to get here but you have to understand the situation to understand the impact of Frank.

Previously I mentioned that we had 37 vehicles and 33 personnel—that’s where our numbers still remained when Frank and the others joined the platoon. I might add here that when the unit was attached to the 54th Transportation Company, only five of the 37 vehicles were able to move from our B Company motor pool to the 54th motor pool under their own power. One of the no-goes was my jeep—the very same one that Frank was now assigned to drive. We had constant problems keeping it going—I later learned that my jeep was the oldest transportation asset in the entire brigade.

Within the first week that he was there, Frank had remedied the no-go jeep. He assisted the other drivers with getting the remaining vehicles up-to-snuff. Before you knew it they were all going, and Frank was just a PFC—not enough time in to be promoted to SP4 yet.

Frank took on a conglomeration of little tasks relieving me of some of the run-here and do-that stuff that had previously taken a lot of my time. I did these tasks because I didn’t have the personnel or assets to turn loose to get them done otherwise. I would also mention here, that there was still a large “trust divide” existing between myself and the remainder of the petroleum section members that were hold overs for the two previous platoon leaders.

The Platoon Sargent, SFC Butler, and I spent a lot of our time together mentoring Frank on our mission and the common sense of doing what was right under particular circumstances. This logic was not hard to get across as Frank had a great understanding of each others needs and a very high degree of mutual integrity—I was lucky. Frank could look at things and know right away if they were right or wrong. Now don’t get me wrong, Frank had not the authority to act in my stead; only the good knowledge to report back to me the circumstances he observed—after all, we were in the Army. Many times Frank would return from a run with an observation I had ask him to conduct. He would deliver me back a detailed report of the problems he noted. I could quickly insert myself and correct what needed to be—many times this took place.

Frank was so popular and trusted by the platoon members that grudges never had a chance to develop—the guys never looked on it as spying. I believe that Frank also became the conduit from disgruntled platoon members to me because the others could see the integrity he had and they were sure he wouldn’t misrepresent a situation. I tried to insure that I inadvertently took care of the problem in the normal course of our daily activities. I figured this out early but never let on—it being to all of our advantage to do so.

As soon as it was possible I made sure Frank was promoted to Specialist 4th Class.

I recall one situation in February of 1974 during a deployment from FT Rich to Fort Greely, way up in the interior, a convoy distance of some 355 miles, which routinely required an overnight at a halfway stop over point. But in this situation, we were a week ahead of the main body moving up the road and constituted a convoy of our own two vehicles and four tractors and trailers from our sister transportation platoon. I also might mention that by this time I had developed a fairly high distrust and dislike of truck drivers in general—that is, with the exception of one (until this very day those feeling still hold pretty true, but softened just a bit).

Due to some unfortunate happenstances during our travel we ended up traveling an additional 259 miles (a total of 594 miles overall) and taking 36 hours to complete our journey. The only driver to remain behind the wheel the entire time was Frank Lefevers, Jr.—the only one. The others drivers slept and lazed about while Frank, our new platoon sergeant, SFC Grant, and I maneuvered up and back, over and over again, ferrying disabled vehicles attempting to finish our travel with the same number of vehicles we had started with. Frank never once asked for relief—by the way, there wouldn’t have been any to give and he understood this. Upon arrival at Ft Greely, we still had to set up our bivouac area and report back to battalion that we had arrived—this taking another four hours or so. (See my story “Up and Back and Up Again” for complete details—when the book is published). I would challenge anybody to match Frank’s durability and stamina during this undertaking.

After a year or so, Frank’s reputation became know throughout the battalion and I had my share of challengers for his services. From the Battalion Commander to my own Company Commander—they all wanted him to be their driver. They recognized his value. I managed to convince every one of them that I needed him more than they did and Frank echoed that same notion—he liked where he was and pretty much treasured it. Drivers for battalion and company commanders spend a great deal of time sitting and waiting on the next move by their rider—does boredom come quickly to mind? Frank held this same position, my driver and close confidant for three years, until such time as I left the platoon after having been promoted to captain and just short of his departure from the Army.

I wouldn’t have traded Frank Lefevers, Jr. for any other individual I served with during the entire twelve years of my military career—not one. By far the best extra Right Hand I ever had and anybody could ask for.

I realize this has been longer than usual, but sometimes it’s required.

I very much welcome your thoughts and observations.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Jerry B

Another of the quirky and zany characters I came
across during my career in leadership positions

We all know them: the quirky and zany characters that pass through our lives on their way to future endeavors that we hope do not involve us. The time they spend with us can be interesting, offbeat, cockamamie, goofy, insane, a little touched and sometimes just plain silly; but more often than not: downright funny.

I was managing a stockroom and warehouse operation for a semi-High Tech company operating their manufacturing facility in an industrial park in Mesquite, Texas. I had been there about a year and business had been good, good enough that I was in need of another person to fill out my in-house receiving function. The “little” lady that I had performing that duty was really small, but held her own very well. She was due to go on maternity leave within the next several weeks and I was looking for someone with current inventory skills and because of the assembly material associated with the function, I desired someone with a little more beef than I currently had. I got lucky.

Jerry B was from Old Mesquite. When I interviewed Jerry, I knew I was on to something right away. Because of his easy going manner and “heft,” I knew he would fit in with the majority women section with very little problem. I was right. Jerry was well liked and really dependable. His availability was due to a layoff at his old company and he had a family with one kid and another on its way. He needed the job even more than I needed Jerry.

Jerry picked up the ins and outs of the position almost immediately and was soon giving misery as taking it from the women he worked with. They came to rely on Jerry immediately. One area where Jerry excelled was working with our dot matrix printers: changing the paper, fixing jams and the like. At first I was worried that the ladies were taking advantage of Jerrythey weren’t. Jerry had an unexplainable skill, especially with printers.

We had one printer in particular that would hang up every-once-in-a-while and the ladies would call for Jerry to fix it. One day, Jerry must have been in a crazy mood and just walked over to the printer and kicked a bottom corner of its standit immediately started printing again. I saw this once; Jerry said: “Ya gotta know just where and how high up to kick it.”

One day, I was back in their area when the printer stopped and the ladies hollered for Jerry. Almost immediately Jerry responded and when he walked around the corner to the aisle where the printer sat; the printer started immediately. Everyone laughed; just Jerry’s presence had an effect. I was sold.

A few years later after the company moved the facility up to Garland and collocated us with the sales, marketing and engineering departments. The reorganization put Jerry’s work station closer to the receiving section. I trained Jerry in the operations of the receiving responsibility so we had better overlapthe original backup had come from the shipping department which was now located on the far end of the building.

One early morning as I made my way around the operation, I noticed that Jerry was not at his station. I checked with the receiving individual and he told me that Jerry was out in his car and had never come inside that morning. I found it quizzical and looked out the door beside the dock. There was Jerry sitting in his car. Jerry looked my direction, waved and smiled. I thought noting much of it and waved back, thinking all along there must be a good reason.

Sometime later in the morning, I was again in the area and the same occurrence took place. I couldn’t let it pass this time. I had to get to the bottom of the situation.

I walked up to Jerry’s car as he sat there struggling with something in the front seat to his right. “Jerry! What’s going on?” I asked.

Jerry, looking at me with this foolish look all across his face responded: “The baby stuck some pennies in my seat belt buckle and I can’t get it open!”

“You’ve been out here all this time and still can’t get it loose?”

“Yes sir. I’ve tried everything within my reach and have had no luck.”

“Let me see if I can help? Open the passenger door and let me give it a look.” I asked as I changed sides of the vehicle. I had no more luck than Jerry had had. I tried as hard as I could as we talked about probable remedies. One idea finally made better sense than what we were currently doing. I went inside to the break room which was right around the corner from receiving and borrowed a dinner knife from Clearance Merrideth, our break room overseer and returned to Jerry. I stuck the blade down into the buckle opening and pushed hard against one of the  pennies while Jerry pulled as hard as he could and we extricated the first and finally the second penny, freeing Jerry up to go clock in and head to work—almost a half a day late.

Obviously this problem wasn’t in any fashion related to a dot matrix printer.

I very much welcome your thoughts and observations.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

James H XXXXs

Another of the quirky and zany characters I came
across during my career in leadership positions

We all know them: the quirky and zany characters that pass through our lives on their way to future endeavors that we hope do not involve us. The time they spend with us can be interesting, offbeat, cockamamie, goofy, insane, a little touched and sometimes just plain silly; but more often than not: downright funny.

James H XXXXs hailed from West Virginia, was a Specialist 4th Class and had a little over four years in the Army when he was assigned to the petroleum section in my platoon, just after my having become the platoon leader. He subsequently reenlisted and became command sponsored. This meant that he was allowed to move his family up from the Lower 48 into post housing. The reason I’m telling you this fact now will become quite clear a little later on.

Part of the strange lore of James H was that he hailed from the hills of West Virginia. Claiming to have four brothers still at home, he added that each one had the same name as him: James H XXXXs. I kid you not. I never knew whether this was true or not, but James H never indicated otherwise as long as he was in the command.

James was another of those truck drivers assigned to my petroleum section. He seemed to have a level head, but very opinionated when he wanted to be. Most of the time he kept a pretty low profile and stayed out of trouble. He didn’t mind being sent to the field, actually, none of the guys did. They spent a great deal of time of one and two man missions and almost to a man; they would tell you that their time in the field was pretty relaxing. Those that liked the outdoors, enjoyed it even more; especially those that claimed to be fishermen. Even in support of an entire battalion, they worked no more than an average of two to three hours a day and were pretty much left to their own devices the rest of the time.

I haven’t mentioned it here, but we were a Quartermaster supply platoon attached to a Transportation Company for the purpose of determining the needed organization required to support a separate light infantry brigade. This was where I received my first experience with prototype organizations that I would be asked to test over and over throughout my career. We moved people and assets around several times looking for the best arrangement of personnel, equipment, supervision span of control and performance indicators. As a result, James H was sometimes in my petroleum section and sometimes in one of the transportation platoonsbut most of the time with my platoon.

Sometime in the second year of our time in Alaska, the drug scene found the Army big time and one of those to get caught up in it was James H. Even with his family living in quarters on post, he fell into the drug scene fairly hard. James H received several non-judicial punishments for possession and found himself in dire straights monetarily, again especially with a family to support. Eventually in the late summer, James H found himself under charges for Courts Martialhaving been caught in possession too many times. Fortunately for James H, there were far too many prisoners in the stockade and he was confined to quarters when not on duty.

As winter set upon us, one morning James H failed to show up for morning formation. I sent his squad leader to his house to check on him. His wife said that he had left yesterday, had not come home and she didn’t know where he was. We informed the Post Provost Martial and classified James H as AWOL (absent without leave). The world moved on.

Thirty days later James H XXXXs was moved from the AWOL rolls onto the Deserter rolls and at the appropriate time James H was classified DFR (dropped from the rolls).

This action caused the next appropriate action to start. We had to physically move James H’s family out of their military housing and back to their home of record in the Lower 48. This turned out to be more unpleasant than any of us had imagined.

Both the wife and the two children were living in a standard that most of us would term as squalor. The house was a mess. The unit 1st Sargent assigned personnel from a duty roster to assist in the transition. The stories these guys told would turn your stomach. The worst of which, to my memory, was the basement of the housing unit. The family had two dogs of about medium size living in the basement. I use the term living advisedly. According to the family, the dogs had not been upstairs since the onset of winter, at least three months back. Each dog had been chained to its own basement upright with just enough chain to travel about four feet. The dogs were being fed, but that was about the limit of care provided. The floor three to four feet from the upright was as clean as anything else in the quarters. But just past that travel distance, a ring of feces formed about a foot to a foot and a half wide. The stench was horrible. How could they stand it? I cannot tell you, but they lived that way. They must have used air freshener to get down to the dogs when they went down to feed, how else could a human being stand that?

The house was cleaned up, but it took some time and effort. Their belongings were packed up and the family was flown to Seattle and finally back to West Virginia. This, we thought was our last involvement with James H XXXXs.

It was not.

About four months later, we were advised that someone needed to go into Anchorage to identify a body the police had come across. Straws were made up and as there had been some turnover there were only a few qualified to undertake the task. The short straw was drawn, the trip was made and the identification (as gruesome as it was) was accomplished.

James H XXXXs’ body had been discovered in a melting snow bank out behind Alaska Methodist University Hospital with a bullet hole in his left ear. James H was dead. When James H wound up in that snowbank was anybody’s guess. He had had been frozen for maybe only a couple of months to up to four or more months. Because the body had been frozen for so long, there was not an exact way to determine the time of death. The exactness of the science did not exist at that time in our history and maybe doesn’t exist now for all I knowexcept on “Bones”, “NCIS” and several other TV shows.

We also had no idea just how long James H had walked around alive subsequent to his no-show at morning formation earlier in the winter. The short, instead of the long here was: we had to go back and reverse all the official records relating to the desertion of James H from the Army and change his official discharge from “Bad Conduct” to “General.”

Take my word, James H XXXXs left the Army at some point during that winter and the Army cleaned up after him and his.

I very much welcome your thoughts and observations.