It Was an Unfair Fight

By | December 10, 2020

[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.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “It Was an Unfair Fight

  1. Greg Heyman

    Excellent article and it took off in a direction I did not anticipate. Yes, there are battles even among ourselves to ensure the “right” thing is done for the majority of the people in any org (actually ALL the people). We don’t have a tyrannical majority ruling over a subservient minority.

    1. Army Vet

      Greg, good point and yet that is what we see in most countries. My expertise is with countries in Central and South America. This is so common that it would be shocking if not done. This occurs by race, religion, political affiliation, etc.

      1. Xerxes I

        Yes, good point. Good to see you back on Gen. Satterfield’s leadership page. I hope to see another article from you again soon, Army Vet. You are my hero.

  2. Emily Baker

    Bureaucratic Inertiais related to Inefficiency — the failure of an organization to carry out work that exists or more common tendency to substitute important tasks to unimportant, or related to survival and/or prosperity of bureaucrats.

  3. Darwin Lippe

    Refreshing, enjoyable, entertaining. Thanks. I always like it when a message is wrapped in an interesting story. Keep up the great works you have here, Gen. Satterfield.

  4. Bryan Z. Lee

    Really enjoyed today’s article about your battlebuddy. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield.

  5. Army Captain

    Fighting bureaucracy is one of the challenges a leader must learn to contend with and, as you note, to win. For example, any Army headquarters unit is designed to support line units in the field who are engaged with the enemy but it takes work just to maintain and support themselves. Thus a HQ unit can only provide about 25% efficiency of support that their mission requires. This is an issue that leaders always struggle with and try to solve. Keep this in mind when studying large companies.

    1. Georgie B.

      I had no idea that it was that bad. Red Tape is what I always called it and “it” was insidious, inefficient, and darn hard to overcome.

    2. old warrior

      “That’s the way we always did it.” – a problem looking for a solution.

      1. old warrior

        Damn fat finger on the return button. I wanted to add that the best way to make a higher HQ unit or any administrative support group/section/or whatever is to do some real ass-kicking. Too many of them start to think they are there for themselves and not for those they support.

        1. Dead Pool Guy

          Yeah, you would be surprised what you find here in these leadership forums.

  6. Janna Faulkner

    I really loved today’s article by you Gen. Satterfield. Your friend Scotty must be a very special person to you.

  7. Max Foster

    Once in a while, Gen. Satterfield decides to entertain us and deliver a message very subtly. This article is an example. Folks, pay very close attention to the messages he presents. In it we see that war is more than the battlefield of destruction. If you may remember, one of the reasons the British armies were defeated by the Zulus was that the Brits rigid procedures to fight did not allow enough flexibility to their leaders and soldiers. Let’s learn something from this.

  8. Ronny Fisher

    Ha Ha Ha… yes, now I do believe that not all battles are fought with guns … as well. Great entertainment and a glimpse into what is going on behind the curtain.

  9. Kenny Foster

    Witty, funny, and all about WINNING. That’s what I like to see in leaders! A winning attitude. Your friend Scotty is one of those rare citizens that wants to win.

    1. Stacey Borden

      Yep and this is why we win wars, win in business, and win at creativity. The motivation to win (in the USA) is compelling. But not under socialism that stifles all winning attitudes or that attitude might translate into competing against the religious-socialist govt. It also crushes creativity and innovativeness. Ever wonder why China and Russia are always trying to copy inventions of the US? The answer is right there for us to see and believe.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Of course, you are right. Stacey, this is one of the most profound comments that i’ve read in a long time. Thanks for being there for us all. 👍👍👍👍

      2. Edward M. Kennedy, III

        I’m a long time reader of Gen. Satterfield and his many articles, forum commentators, and ‘daily favorites.’ This comment stands high on the list. “Why is socialism bad?” Stacey goes a long distance to show us why.

        1. Stacey Borden

          Thank you Mr. Kennedy III. BTW, I love your articles. Please write again soon.

    2. Dennis Mathes

      Yes, all about winning. That is why President Trump is so popular and China Joe Biden is a deadend politician. Biden is about how to lose. Just count the ways.

    3. Nick Lighthouse

      Incompetence related to effect known as Peter Principle within any bureaucratic organization. This principle was put forth in the late 1960s by Dr. Laurence J. Peter, a psychologist and professor of education: “In a hierarchically structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence,” or, as Dr. Peter went on to explain in simpler terms, “The cream rises until it sours.”

      1. Fred Weber

        Ha Ha, the Peter Principle. I’ve run across plenty of leaders that fit this idea. Ha Ha


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