“Get your shit together Corporal (Cpl) Chester!” for a month straight I had heard this from my Quality Assurance Chief (QAC). I had been recently placed in charge of a failing program. I had never really taken charge of anything and had been thrown into a new position by my Staff Sergeant, SSgt Bellievue, had told me that he was a fan of my strict approach to the publications. He liked how I analyzed details and tried to figure out logical means to facilitate appropriate personnel and allocate them to specific areas in the units Corrosion Control program.
“[Cpl Chester] you are entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing Tool Room, now I know that Tool Room has a certain reputation to it [that being all marines who are put in it are “shit-bags”, lacking any initiative], but we are attempting to change Tool Room. It has been run ineffectively and we are counting on you to change that come this next inspection in two and a half months [for our next reinspection with First Marine Aircraft Wing, who will decide if permanent personnel changes must be made and if we must pull back forward deployed detachments]. You will be assuming the role of NCOIC [Non-commissioned Officer in Charge], SSgt Washburn [Staff NCOIC] will be leaving her assigned position in Tool Room and you will be expected to pick up the slack, following her absence. You will lead the Marines, manage and distribute workloads, and be held responsible for the health of Tool Room, from this point on.” I was excited once I had heard this briefing from Master Sergeant (MSgt) Luis, I was ready to assume the challenge.
I was soon introduced to my new crew that I would be with, and assortment of odds and ends from the production work center (WC-200) about to end their stay in Tool Room. They had been the least likely people to work a collection of people who no one had wanted to see anymore, most of them who in one day would switch back to WC-200. Then there was my immediate chain of command SSgt Washburn, whom I had known for years and had thought very little of, and a Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CWO2) Cleland, a very intelligent and intimidating leader who also was the second highest figure in our section.
Programs were what First Marine Aircraft Wing (Wing) inspectors were inspecting, thus we had meetings for the health and status of our programs. I attended three program meetings in which SSgt Washburn handled the details for her two programs and my new program, Metrology and Calibrations, while I learned how to balance current obligations both prior to and after the appointment to the new billet. After doing some research into the program I had found out how poor the standards for the inventory of calibrated tools had been maintained. There was no accurate record of how the calibrated tools had been maintained… just an excel spread sheet that was verified by our Field Service Representative (FSR), a civilian employed representative of the company that owned the company the government contracted the UAS’s (Unmanned Aerial Systems) from, had maintained. Where was the research that should have been done on behalf of my successor?! What was my successor doing?! I immediately steeped myself in research. There was so much to do… 2 months to track down all serialized gear, accurately represent not things here, tools turned into the company that owned the UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and system equipment what tools were forward deployed and their status, and tools that were off island for training exercises and their status… are you kidding me. When the next meeting came around it was a no holds bar I laid out the biggest issues in Metrology and Calibrations, that I felt had been overlooked. I elaborated for often more than a whole slide for the exact issues I had seen, I was furious… what the hell kind of person does this so bad, they would not even let me have a turn over of procedure with him! That was the start of the longest days I have ever worked in my life.
Handling the day to day as the only NCO in my shop, with the same job as my workers made it so I was the one who had to get work loads every day, establish effective timelines and make the Marines in my charge perform… although I had been an NCO with this responsibility for a year, now it was on me every day… I came into work early to begin making sure all tools were accounted for (also known as simply, ATAF). Next, I would head to the morning maintenance meeting where workloads would be handed out to the different sections. Then I would brief my Marines on the workload, later I’d deal with Sergeants (Sgt), SSgt’s, and Gunnery Sergeants (GySgt) telling me that my Marines need to be working, just as I was. I would have to push back deadlines during the day and deal with CWO2 Cleland giving me stress daily when pushing back deadlines became a daily routine, as well as, a misremembering of pass down. Following the 12-hour non-stop headache of work I would stay for 6-7 hours working on Metrology and Calibration and planning for the next day. On Saturdays and Sundays another 12 to 14-hour day was spent focusing on the program. Within a month we had an inventory of all calibrated tools.
Following this revving up, we had a training assist for the Wing inspection, with Marine Air Logistics Squadron 24 (MALS-24). The question being asked ‘Where were the tools?’ the situation was very clear to the inspector, when shown the inventory he asked, “Where is the proof?” When it had become noticed that it was pictures sent via text, uncoordinated from higher he began to question it and had found many inaccuracies… we had to start from scratch… Where were the tools? What had I been doing? Are you kidding me?…
Seeing the pure exhaustion on my face with the overwhelming sense of exhaustion that had followed, he said “What are your responsibilities?”
“Well, sir,” I said proudly, indulged with the confidence others had in me “I am a primary representative for Corrosion Control for the maintenance section, I have recently become the Respirator Protection Program Manager (under the Corrosion Control Program), recently appointed program manager of Metrology and Calibrations and soon to assume full responsibilities of Tool Room, managing Metrology and Calibrations and assisting the OIC (Officer in Charge) as the Tool Control Program’s Coordinator.”
Hearing this they had advised me that I was stretched too thin and later another NCO, Cpl Reed, was ordered to take part of his responsibilities to assist me in Metrology and Calibrations.
A few days after the training assist I was in the office of WC-200, “Chester, why are you still here, it’s past 2200… you know you look dead ever since you’ve been in Tool Room.” Said SSgt Bellevue.
“Sgt Hahn, SSgt Bellevue, good evening, SSgt Bellevue can I talk to you in private.”
“Sure, lets step outside.”
“SSgt, I don’t know if I can do this…They had to have someone help me…These duties were assigned to me…just me.”
“I don’t think that anyone thinks that you are doing a bad job, things are just bad. MSgt Luis probably just figured you need help.”
“How do you guys do it, I mean I always think you guys have some kind of answer that I don’t have… somehow you guys figure it out no stress no difficulty it’s just done… if it’s not done you work until it is”
“Did you know MSgt Luis doesn’t ever lead promotion ceremonies… ever…he should right…highest ranking enlisted member of our section he always appoints me and GySgt Perry. Do you know why? He is scared to… He can learn it, but he won’t. You can learn this job you have to. The MSgt is just helping you do that at a faster rate. Close out your computer, save your work, and go home you are too emotional to get your work done.”
I came in the next day with a new sense of vigor, meeting done, work load handed out, and I began to supervise a little more…
“Chester!” a voice echoes across the hangar, coming from Quality Assurance’s (QA) door. I look at my Marines sternly to continue.
I remember vividly: the QAC is sitting at his desk I can feel this is going to be a bad time, “What is the status on the forward deployed calibrated tools?”
I am so nervous, sweat drips down my face and I freeze, not wanting to be unpleasing or admit where I am messed up, I respond in a whisper “We are working on a new inventory I sent out the text and…” I felt so pathetic and so small. In my three and a half years in the military I never advanced or lead situations, because of the fear and doubt that it produced in me.
“Are you fucking kidding me Marine! Why don’t you speak up!?”
I uneasily nearly scream the last words as if I am in basic training again… how embarrassing…
“Okay, Marine where is this information?” the QAC responded in a more relaxed tone he pulls out his chair to allow me to sit down and open my email. I pull out my phone and make a gesture for him to look, “Marine, are you fucking kidding me?! In the Marine Corps you communicate through email and print out those emails and store hard copies for record. If I ever see you respond by pulling out your phone when I ask for pertinent Information… get out of my office!!”
I shake it off enough, extremely embarrassed about how I react to verbal confrontation I receive from higher ranking individuals. I email the forward deployed personnel and tell them to email me the picture of the hand-written inventory that they made. Now, I could get the QAC what he was asking for.
Work got done that day all of the work completed, first time in over a month. Now my 6 to 7- hour program work begins painstakingly looking at pictures and verifying information. To later call the next day and verify the work is accurate, with the deployments maintenance control. The next day we verify all is accurate via a comparative email with the maintenance control attached to the forward deployed Marines detachment.
I contact the corporal assigned to help me. Cpl Reed, and I later devise a Local Command Procedure (LCP) for how to handle the inventory of calibrated tools, and rules to effectively run our unique Metrology and Calibrations Program. We faced unique challenges when writing the LCP; we found early on that our unit was set up much differently from other units and quickly discovered we must alter the way our units Metrology and Calibrations LCP was written, directly influencing future operations and how they would be performed. This took three days and a weekend of intense discussion with the QAC, Cpl Reed, and myself, but the systems that came out of those discussions was something we were all very proud of. Then it was sent up through the chain of command for approval. It was our units first Metrology and Calibration LCP that was intuitive to address the unique challenges that we faced.
Everything seemed to be in place the inspection was one week away, and disaster struck… a Quality Assurance Representative (QAR) yells “Cpl Chester!”
“Yes, Sgt Suarez?”
“Why do your Marines and the Marines in WC-200 not know when or how to properly to ATAF tool boxes!?”
I stammered, “Um…”
“Get to WC-200!”
“You had better get your shit straight Cpl Chester, this is your responsibility, to teach the Marines, all Marines in this section and otherwise how to handle tools. You’re Tool Room’s NCOIC!”
After that we gathered everyone in the WC-200 office the QAC screamed, “All of your laziness means we will more than likely fail next week, the CO [Commanding Officer], down to the MSgt may lose their jobs, and be replaced somewhere else if that happens! You all know how to do these things you are just lazy!” We cover an in depth and intense tool box checkout and inventory class lead by me and closely overseen by the QAC and a QAR, Sgt Portillo.
A day after this class is done the QAC raids Tool Room to find an entire container of tools has been improperly labeled and finds unaccounted for items, items on the floor, and overall messiness in Tool Room. “We need to label these tools and inventory all of Tool Room the QAR’s and I will have to do this after you and SSgt Washburn ATAF all tool containers, relabel all tools, and clear out all FOD [Foreign Object Debris] from Tool Room on Saturday… 2 days before the inspection!” We later found the FOD had to be cleared out of all offices.
Saturday and Sunday, we were called in by the AMO (Avionics Maintenance Officer) … the highest-ranking Marine in our section, our section commander… stated “We are coming to work this weekend this is a disaster, Marines you will report that we are coming in tomorrow and the next day and you will be smiling. You will show up to work with a positive attitude. I will be here with a positive and forward-thinking attitude, if you are not you will be punished and then return positive. We will either all be positive and get the work done or the negativity will effect all of us and we will fail, like we are set up to do right now.”
Within those two days an unreal amount of work was done, the next day was just beautifying… wow we were surprisingly positive Sunday at 2 pm finishing. CWO2 Cleland gathered all marines together, “Come in tomorrow with clean utility uniforms, like boot camp Sunday best utilities, and come in like this every day.” As Marines begin to chuckle he continues, “Marines performing all begins with how you feel, if you look good you will begin to feel good, and it will snowball, our house looks good and it has been meticulously overseen by QA and myself. The inspectors will ask you questions and reading your answers and the confidence in which you provide them.”
The next week went by in a haze, but with only one minor discrepancy found in Metrology and Calibrations Program, our unit passed with a 93% during a rigorous inspection. We had completely turned Tool Room around and improved morale at the same time. The Metrology and Calibrations inspector awarded me with a “Bravo Zulu” mention, stating “The Metrology and Calibrations was a program that did not exist when I had inspected the program 2 and a half months ago. Now, it has become one of the most well-run programs I have ever seen.” He gave me a challenge coin, or metal, in thanks. About a week later my CO presented me with a Naval Achievement Metal (NAM) for my work on the program.
The accolades I received for this would not have been given without the help of those named explicitly in this story and many others I could not mention. As my GySgt once told me, “No one gets anywhere alone.”
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-Two attendees in deep conversation at Startup Grind Conference in Barcelona. Barcelona, 11 Oct. 2017.
-GUNNY WALGREN’S JOHN GLENN SPEECH. Afganistan, 13 Feb. 2010
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