I was a month and a half into unit life at the 10th Force Support Battalion, and day two into our sub-unit shakeout when the radio call went out to ‘End Ex’. We were all called in to the conference room and told we had 48 hours to prepare to head down to Lismore in support of Operation Flood Assist 22. I was given the role of 5th Combat Service Support Team (CSST) Operations Officer to work with my OC to identify, establish, and operate the Terminal Area (TA) within the AO for the duration of the deployment.
As a fresh LT it was a steep learning curve; but there were five key points which I believe are valuable lessons for personnel deploying on Defence Aid to the Civil Community (DACC) tasks, and junior leaders in general. The key reflections I’ll discuss in this article will be:
- Logistics – it’s a business
- A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar
- Empower your subordinates with information
- Record everything
- A note on civilians
Logistics – it’s a business
There is so much we can learn about logistics from civilian companies. One of these of which I’m sure everyone is thankful for is the tracking system for packages. You get that ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling when you see your order is being shipped alongside an estimated time before it arrives at your doorstep. It should be the same for the delivery of supplies in a military context.
Before I’d send my soldiers out, I’d touch base with the point of contact (POC) on the other end and confirm the delivery and provide an ETA (warm and fuzzy). This confirmed that they were available to receive the goods as well as check that any material handling equipment (MHE) or 'man-draulic' power was ready for the arrival of my soldiers, or to ensure we sent out the MHE to make for a smooth process. It also created an opportunity for us to amend/add on stores to the delivery to save the requirement for multiple smaller trips in the future.
This reduces time spent in location, prevents unnecessary/incorrect deliveries being made, and reduces the waste of resources such as our vehicle's capability and soldiers' time.
The amount of friction a single phone call reduced cannot be understated – touch base with the POC and treat logistics like a business.
A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar
If you’ve got limited assets, who are you going to help; the person who you argued with over a tiny detail and had an angry interaction with, or the person who, despite the error, didn’t try and point any fingers and instead focused on working past it and towards the bigger picture? It’s clear, isn’t it? You might even go the extra mile for that person when they need something next time.
For me, this became clear when the Kerbside Refuelling Point relocated to our area and needed to be refuelled within 24 hours. The issue had been raised for four days but no information had been passed down to confirm the resupply.
After sending another email outlining the importance and urgency, and no doubt causing a storm in the Joint Operations Room, I received a passive-aggressive voicemail from a civilian contractor who was clearly looking for a fight. My initial response was to call them back and feed it right back to them. I had plenty of ammunition and in all honesty, every reason to. But where would that get me? Instead, I called and apologised for the confusion, totally ignoring the comments made prior and focussed on the issue at hand: we needed fuel to sustain operations within AO Lismore and that was all that mattered. The miscommunication was identified, the animosity dissipated, and from that point on I was given direct liaison authority with the contractor. I had no issues from that point on.
When the fuel tanker driver arrived the next morning, we made him feel welcome and offered him our finest ‘banjo’ and a coffee, and that became our ritual from then on. So, when we needed a short notice resupply of fuel on his day off we had an answer within five minutes saying he would make sure it would be done; he would do it happily.
Don’t argue over who’s right and who’s wrong – focus on the bigger picture. If you go above and beyond for someone, they’ll be more inclined to do the same for you when the time comes.
Empower your subordinates (with information)
It’s a message we’ve all heard, and yet in order to empower subordinates they need all the information at their disposal to make the decisions on their own. It’s something so simple, but something I saw a lack of during my time in Lismore.
Soldiers arriving at our area with “task orders” to “collect stores at Spotlight TA no later than…” and no information other than that. What happened as soon as something didn’t go according to plan? A phone call back to the task commander with a request for information. As per the first point, these soldiers didn’t know what they were collecting or who their POC was and no one was warned about the delivery so nothing was prepared.
Soldiers having their time wasted. By no fault of their own, the soldiers were put in situations where they didn’t have the information to make decisions on the ground and had to report back to their task commander for direction.
This point strongly links in to my first point of logistics: it’s a business. It removes the onus on you as the commander to micromanage your soldiers, and if anything does happen they are on the ground and know the situation the best; they have all the information they need to make an informed decision. For me, this was achieved through detailed task orders which took more time on my part, but reduced the need for me to provide future input whilst empowering the soldiers – which also gave them room to develop and grow.
If there’s one thing officers love, it’s statistics and knowing that they have enough of what they need to get the job done. And they want that information now. I can’t count the amount of times I would get a text late at night asking me for a detailed stock take on a random piece of equipment. I learnt that the solution was to have a board or objective document accessible and viewable by all containing this information, giving people the information they need to do their job and plan accordingly. The same goes for personnel tracking and ensuring you have a detailed list of who is in and off the position, and an estimate of when they will return.
Recording everything is also useful for another thing. As an operation or exercise begins to draw down, senior officers will have the task of briefing higher commands on the effects their unit has achieved. For me, this was an email asking for a detailed summary of fuel provided, pallets loaded, and tonnage of stores moved. By recording everything, or having a running sheet, this number can be generated with little hassle. If you haven’t recorded everything – good luck to you.
Record the metrics relevant to your unit and make it accessible to those who need it to free you up to do your job. Also keep an up-to-date personnel tracker of who is in and out of the position (i.e. flap sheets).
A note on civilians
There will always be people who will seek to take advantage of ADF presence.
By and large, most of the local populace that I dealt with were supportive of our operations and truly were looking for support to get back on their feet. But again, there will always be people who will seek to take advantage of the ADF’s presence. Within the AO, our presence led to an increase in illegal dumping on the sides of the road because people knew we were going through and cleaning up the town.
People will see the uniform and expect you can help them, but a lot of the time you will have higher priorities and there isn’t anything you can do to help their specific situation. It isn’t enough to apologise and provide excuses. Have the SES or the local emergency response group’s phone number ready to pass on and redirect them to an agency who can help. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver on.
Many of these may seem common sense for personnel with more experience; however, these were the things I wish I had known going in, and made my life easier once I implemented them. If you have any points you’d like to add or highlight, please comment down below and add to this discussion.