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Towards the end of World War II, one of the greatest challenges the Allies faced was the bitter attack in December 1944 in what became known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” Central to the eventual Allied victory was not just General Patton — who swung his military units to attack in the opposite direction — but also a little know logistical unit called the “Red Ball Express.” The Red Ball Express was an all African American logistical unit that brought Patton the fuel, ammunition and other essential supplies to enable his tank army to maneuver and repulse the surprise Nazi German attack. The Red Ball Express was one of the hero units of the Battle of the Bulge because of their challenging work, innovation and determination to get the necessary supplies to Patton’s tanks.
Logistics is an all-encompassing term that encases the purchase, movement, storage and planning of items that a company or organization needs to complete its mission. Logistics for the U.S. Military is largely moving people, ammunition, equipment and weapons systems from one country to another as fast and efficiently as possible to give the military commander on the ground the most effective forces possible in the shortest time possible. Businesses can easily miss the total value a veteran brings to the fields of logistics, warehousing and maintenance because of the perceived disparity between their military skill sets and how the business operates.
In fact, there are five hidden military skill sets that are of enormous benefit to any and every company operating in the challenging and unforgiving environment of business logistics.
An almost unknown skillset that most military veterans possess is the ability to instruct and to teach. Companies need instructors for teaching safety and standard processes; and technology interfaces, products and services. Placing military veterans as employee instructors and customer instructors is a profound way for a company to benefit from this hidden military veteran skill set.
In the military, war gaming is the process that tests and adapts battle plans against the full range of expected actions and reactions of the enemy. This is essentially a force-on-force game. I used war gaming extensively in Iraq as I was planning simultaneous nighttime helicopter insertions of multiple special forces teams into southern Iraq. What would the enemy do if they heard helicopters? Could we fly different routes away from enemy locations to keep teams safe? Companies should use military veterans to war game their supply chains to ensure they have alternate, contingency and emergency plans for their most essential services, commodities, parts and skilled labor. The competition is smart and capable; war gaming ensures the best business logistical plan survives and has the best chance of success.
The military loves performance coaching because it recognizes that everyone can and will improve. In the military, performance coaching sessions occur every 30 to 60 days. A military member’s superior sits down in a private session and reviews the major events, the standards of performance and how the military member performed against the standards. When an opportunity to improve is discovered, the superior and military member together create a specific and actionable improvement plan to help the military member. Coaching is directly tied to improvement and helps managers at all levels develop their employees for promotions and improved performance towards logistics goals.
Military leaders love to plan and anticipate how to create the conditions of success for a military operation to succeed. The Allied invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, the famed D-Day Operation, was well-planned down to enormous artificial piers that were towed from England to France so the invasion beaches could be instantly transformed into a mini-port to off load much needed supplies. The military planners were all too aware that their success would be imperiled if their plans were not accurate, detailed, realistic and precise. The same requirements of planning are also needed in civilian companies.
Military logistics also seeks to ensure that they directly and on time support the overall effort. The logistics plan must support the military commander’s plan and not be independent of the military operation. This focus and core belief that logistical success drives operational success make military logisticians great finds to support civilian logistical operations because they know they must make the civilian logistical operation successful. Military veterans are incredible team players that act to support the team’s success whatever their role.
Determining how to use military logistical skills to help civilian companies is a wonderful way that military skill sets support the success of logistical operations for civilian companies. Use your company’s military veterans and their five-hidden skill sets to make your company logistically successful. l
Chad Storlie is the author of "Combat Leader to Corporate Leader" and "Battlefield to Business Success." His brand message is that organizations and individuals need to translate and apply military skills to business because they immediately produce results and are cost-effective. Storlie is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel with 20+ years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman and more. He is an adjunct lecturer of marketing at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. His articles have appeared in many publications, including The Harvard Business Review blog and Forbes.