[December 10, 2020] Not all fights on the battlefield are with guns. Yesterday, I spoke with a battle-buddy of mine from our first unit’s deployment in the Iraq War. You know the conversation … old war stories, what happened to us, and how it made for something to tell the grandkids. Scotty, at the time a U.S. Army staff officer, was experienced in being part of an unfair fight (usually within the Army’s bureaucracy) … and winning.
Scotty was in charge of several civilian contractors in mid-2004 when a problem occurred. By that point in the war, contractors produced large concrete barriers that stopped mortar and rocket blasts from killing our warfighters. One day, a new U.S. Air Force contracting Colonel, a senior staff acquisition officer,1 decided it was time to “re-certify” all the contractors. This is normally a practice to ensure fraud is kept to a minimum.
The Colonel issued an order that all fuel going to contractors would cease until the re-certification process was complete. Under normal circumstances, this would take a couple of weeks. The problem was that these same contractors were making concrete barriers to protect our troops. Barriers were being made as fast as possible, 24/7. No fuel meant no barriers for protection.
Scotty, an Army Major, decided to visit the Colonel face-to-face. After locating the office – a converted small modular home surrounded by concrete barriers – Scotty decided to convince the Colonel of the error in withholding re-certification for those involved in barrier construction.
Upon meeting the Colonel, he introduced himself and said, “Gee, this will be an unfair fight.” The Colonel, full of himself, said that was certainly going to be true. When logic did not work, and the Colonel refused to restart fuel deliveries, Scotty put a call into his engineers to bring in two large cranes and several flatbeds with the intent of removing all the barriers around the Colonel’s thin-skin office.
Scotty asked for a letter from the USAF Colonel authorizing an immediate restart of fuel deliveries, recertification of those contractors, and assurances this would not happen again. Being confident in his abilities, Scotty gave the new contracting officer an airhorn with instructions on using it. When the equipment showed up and started removing the Colonel’s office barriers, there was an immediate change in attitude.
Upon hearing the air horn blown, Scotty walked to the Colonel’s office for the letter he had been asking for to restart the fuel. The Colonel was not yet satisfied and insisted he speak with Scotty’s Commanding Officer. He said it was not fair that Scotty was removing concrete barriers to his office. Scotty, being a smart staff officer, had already alerted his Commander by providing the details in case he received a call.
Sure enough, the USAF Colonel called Scotty’s Commander – a U.S. Army Colonel. Before two words were spoken, Scotty’s Colonel was chewing out the USAF Colonel for being the “dumbest man on earth,” among other less-friendly words. The letter was typed quickly after that interchange.
That was not the end of the fuel problem, but it was just another example of the war behind the war. Military Logistics and Engineering is complicated under peacetime conditions; wartime adds many levels of complexity and urgency. Scott and all the staff that worked for me during those times were excellent officers who only had the foot soldier in mind when making an extra effort. In this case, indeed, it was an unfair fight.