Though you might be surprised to hear it, there are more similarities than differences between private-sector logistics operations and those conducted by the various military branches that collectively make up the Department of Defense (DOD). For that reason, DC VELOCITY has carried considerable coverage of "defense logistics" in recent months.
Our May issue's Thought Leader Q&A, for instance, focused on Army Major Bob Curran, who commanded the Road Warriors, a 510-soldier unit responsible for moving food, water, ammunition, medicine and the like along Iraq's dusty supply routes in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In June, our cover story was a stellar piece written by two folks from the DOD (Steve Geary and Virginia Williamson) that looked at the U.S. military's efforts to streamline its supply chain. And it was no accident that one of the 12 DC VELOCITY Logistics Rainmakers profiled in our June issue was Brigadier General Ronald Coleman of the U.S. Marine Corps. In a letter written in support of Coleman's nomination, a member of his staff detailed the general's Herculean efforts to eradicate entrenched bad habits and modernize the Marines' logistics operations.
Actually, our defense coverage isn't just a recent development. It dates back to the spring of 2003, when DC VELOCITY profiled Roger Kallock, a private consultant who served as the Clinton administration's deputy undersecretary of defense (logistics & materiel readiness). In that wide-ranging interview, Kallock noted that there were certainly many similarities in the missions of private-sector logistics organizations and the DOD: both need to get the right materials to the right place at the right time and in the right condition, for example. There is, though, one fundamental difference, he pointed out. And it's a huge one: "[U]nlike private-sector logistics management," he said, "in military logistics your decisions can carry life or death consequences." In other words, in the commercial world, failure to deliver essential supplies might mean a stalled production line; in the military, that failure might cost a front-line combat soldier—one of the good guys—his life.
I reflected on all this last month as I made my way home from New York City, after attending the annual Richmond Events Logistics and Supply Chain Forum. The keynote speaker for the final evening had been Master Sergeant Matt Eversmann. Never heard of him? Run to the video store and rent "Black Hawk Down." He's the young non-com who led a group of elite U.S. soldiers into Mogadishu to capture top lieutenants of renegade Somali warlord Mohamed Aidid, in one of the most harrowing urban warfare engagements in our fighting forces' history.
In his address, Eversmann reflected on what he's come to see as the reasons for his team's success in Africa in 1992, principles that can be applied to most any organization. "The first key ingredient to any successful organization is selfless service," said Eversmann, "putting others' needs ahead of yours. Second is courage. In battle, you see some unbelievably heroic things." He defines courage as "doing what must be done when you're incredibly scared."
"Third is duty: commitment, staying to do the right thing, always; continuing to victory despite the odds. There were 11,000 armed Somalis fighting our 120. I've often wondered what odds Vegas would have given us to get out [alive]. Yet the mission was a success.
"None of us wore a red cape or [had] a big yellow 'S' [emblazoned] on our chests. [We were] just average guys from Detroit, East St. Louis, Baltimore: committed, courageous, selfless servants who'll never quit, ever. They're still out there doing it in Afghanistan, climbing through caves, chasing down people who crash planes into towers, killing innocents. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a great thing."
Yes it is, Matt. And the rest of us owe a big debt to those who serve, those selfless servants who should never be far from our thoughts as we celebrate Independence Day this month.