OSD Logistics Fellows take on staff assignments and training in a collaborative learning program that allows participants to view the DOD enterprise logistics community from the highest level.
by Mr. Bryan L. Jerkatis
A friend and retired U.S. Air Force command chief often used an analogy with young troops to describe the differences between their worldviews and those of their leadership. “Your view of the ground [truth] depends upon the height of the branch in the tree upon which you are standing,” he would say. Similarly, the parable of “The Blind Men and the Elephant” teaches us that seeing only one side of something poses limitations. Both are also true of a stovepiped career path.
For the nearly 3 million men and women who make up DOD, seldom is the opportunity available to spend invaluable time higher in the tree. Fortunately, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness (OASD (L&MR)) has a fellows program for just that purpose, in which I participated from July 2015 to July 2016.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Logistics Fellows program provides the unique opportunity to be part of policy formulation and DOD-wide oversight. My time in the OSD focused on the oversight of supply chain policy and matters ranging from environmental sustainability to prepositioned war reserve materiel. Fellows are fortunate to travel and tour both the public and private sectors to observe, contrast and learn firsthand how logistics operations compare in private industry and benchmark best practices.
Through visits to Congress, fellows also gain exposure and insight into the legislative process. In addition, they attend national-level forums and engage in collaborative efforts with industry partners. I found these opportunities, focused predominantly on learning and growth, to be among the most valuable aspects of the program and unparalleled career experiences.
Depending on their assignments, fellows may have a chance to visit and become familiar with other government agencies as well. Perhaps even more important, the fellowship allows participants to observe and interact with appointed and career senior executives and flag officers, including one-on-one meetings with senior logistics leaders in the military departments, Joint Staff, OSD and agencies.
LOGISTICS FELLOWS AS STAFF SPECIALISTS
The insights and “big picture” knowledge to be gained as a logistics fellow are virtually endless, and the fellows themselves determine much of their training and class agendas. When not directly engaged in a formal training event, a fellow’s primary job is largely like that of any other staff specialist within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, to whom the ASD (L&MR) reports. Fellows are selected, in part, based on experiential background and OSD needs, and they subsequently receive work assignments to carry out on DOD’s behalf.
During my fellowship, I worked to resolve a longstanding DOD logistics policy challenge regarding prepositioned war reserve materiel. I had considerable leeway to gain needed expertise, formulate a recommendation and lead the organization to a DOD-wide solution. The assignment involved working closely with OSD staff and the Joint Staff, combatant commands, military services and agencies. I drafted a new DOD directive in accordance with the secretary’s congressionally mandated obligation to provide prepositioning policy, then headed up its editing and staffing efforts across all DOD components.
Other fellows led financial accountability program initiatives, participated in department-level awards processes, led worldwide maintenance symposia and were part of source selection committees, among other DOD-level initiatives.
INDIVIDUAL TRAINING PLANS
At the beginning of the program, fellows participate in the development of their individual training plans. They work within a predetermined budget to set priorities for training, conference attendance, field and site visits and other opportunities. Then they work with mentors who coach them to ensure that they meet their core objectives, and ultimately finalize their agendas and plans for approval.
Fellows have chosen to tour other DOD components, such as the U.S. Transportation Command, and to see the private-sector distribution hubs of leading companies such as FedEx Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., then compare their business practices with those of the Defense Logistics Agency or the services. Fellows also have chosen to attend public-private partnership courses such as those offered by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Georgetown University, among others.
Each class of fellows can tailor its individual training to its own unique needs and interests.
FELLOWS FOR LIFE
The logistics fellows program lasts 12 months, but the fellowship continues. Fellows share a common bond for the duration of their careers and beyond, forming a support structure and facing many and diverse challenges together. The program creates lifelong friendships among logistics professionals and builds professional networks that continue for as long as they want.
I found the fellowship to be an opportunity to make new friends, reconnect with old ones and develop a vast network that I’ll have for the rest of my career and life. Moreover, the fellows program has a decades-long history, giving the fellows an enduring place in OSD logistics tradition.
Having completed the program, fellows return to their sponsoring organizations or follow-on assignments with stronger management skills, technical expertise and networks that span DOD logistics—not to mention the experience that each class gains of providing valuable feedback on how to improve the program and maximize its benefit for both DOD and the individual participants. Ultimately, training evaluations are used to convey what fellows have learned and achieved to their home organizations.
American journalist Norman Cousins, in reflecting upon the Apollo space program, was quoted as saying: “What was most significant about the lunar voyage was not that men set foot on the moon but that they set eye on the Earth.” The OSD logistics fellows program provides DOD logisticians with not only a rich experiential odyssey but, perhaps more important, the chance to gain a deeper understanding of the OSD perspective and how it affects the entire enterprise.
For more information, go to http://www.acq.osd.mil/log/LMR/fellows_program.html.
MR. BRYAN L. JERKATIS is deputy director of logistics for the 635th Supply Chain Operations Wing, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. He holds an M.S. in national security studies from Air University, a master of public administration from Troy University and a B.S. in business management from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
This article is scheduled to be published in the April – June 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.
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