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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where I came from and how I got involved in this game we play:

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.

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