Issue - May/June 2022


Military Logistics Quotes Viewed Through the Context of Personal Property Movement

By Daniel J. Bradley, Director, Government & Military Relations

Since the focus of this article is “U.S. Domestic, Military and Government Trends from 2021 and Lessons for 2022,” I figured I’d close with some military logistics quotes. I pulled most of them from a book of quotes compiled by the Air Force Logistics Management Agency back in 2001 titled, Quotes for the Air Force Logistician. You’ve probably already seen some of these, but they seem fitting to our focus area, and to moving government household goods, so I figured we could explore some of these old quotes with moving DoD household goods in mind.

"The line between disorder and order lies in logistics…"

~ Sun Tzu

What is a listing of military quotes without something from Sun Tzu and The Art of War? Moving government/DoD personal property is an exercise in getting rid of disorder. The rules, regulations, and bureaucracy associated with government household goods shipments are nothing more than attempts to create a repeatable process for each move. I’ve stolen a quote from someone in industry (if I could remember who it was that said it, I’d give them credit) that I used on a military spouse webcast: “the military customer is the most protected moving customer in the world.” Many in the military don’t see it that way, but what other customer has such a large staff (like the DoD does across the Services) and such a voluminous set of regulations and entitlements all designed to create repeatable order out of potential disorder?

"My logisticians are a humorless lot…they know if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay."

~ Alexander the Great

Moving military household goods shipments is often humorless. And as we’ve seen, when things don’t go well, DoD logistics leaders, through pressure from other senior leaders, Congress, and the media, can be a humorless lot. It’s important business you perform on behalf of government employees and Service Members. As a whole, they are acting for the greater good of the nation; and therefore we owe them a successful move, which for them is often coming at a stressful time. It can make the whole enterprise humorless, and it’s not hard to see why. Logistics is tough business, and when it goes horribly wrong, someone is going to get “slain.”

“The keynote of logistics is service, and to ensure adequate logistics service, our thinking must be constantly reviewed.” 

~Maj Gen Thomas H. Chapman, USAF

The above quote certainly describes what we see each year within the DoD and in the changes to the Personal Property Program. But it should also apply to IAM as an Association, and to every moving business. The keynote of moving is service to the customer; and our thinking on that customer service must be constantly reviewed if we want to remain relevant and at the top of our game. There is a good bit of frustration that comes with the constant change of moving policy within the DoD. And often rightfully so. But certainly, the moving industry is not one that often welcomes change. Therefore, at times we need to be pushed into self-reflection. However, sometimes even though our thinking should be constantly reviewed, we get pushed into it by people who don’t have a full understanding of the total environment. And thus, we move on to the next quote:

Rear Adm Isaac Campbell Kidd, USN, described the, “Logistician’s Burden” as follows: “Logisticians are a sad, embittered race of people, very much in demand in war, who sink into obscurity in peace. They deal only with facts but must work for men who traffic in theories.”

The Logistician’s Burden is a longer piece with some funny lines that military logisticians can appreciate. But the above quote is familiar to the DoD moving industry in two ways. Firstly, DoD movers are very much in demand in the peak season, and somewhat, in terms of focus by the DoD moving enterprise, sink into obscurity during the long non-peak period. And secondly, I suspect many movers could point to the challenge of servicing a shipment within the construct of some business rules that appear to “traffic in theories” instead of dealing with the facts and realities at the curb. Such is your burden.

Speaking of policy makers, Frederick the Great once said, “The Army has stood the test of many campaigns, but the want of a good quartermaster general’s staff was often felt at headquarters.” As is the case in your own companies, we’ve seen examples where a good personal property staff can have a huge positive impact on working through issues and developing solutions. Alternatively, when the “want of a good…general’s staff” is felt at headquarters, it can be felt throughout the moving enterprise.

It remains important, despite what may be happening around you, that we continue to push for excellence as we engage Service Members during their move. The First Duke of Marlborough, in a letter to Col William Cadogan (in 1703) said, “An army cannot preserve good order unless its soldiers have meat in their bellies, coats on their backs, and shoes on their feet.” Plenty of lip service by senior leaders and Congress is given to the importance of a low stress, successful move being an important ingredient to military readiness; and retaining the force. In my own military moving experience, I’d say I buy some of it, and some of it is over-played. But the spirit of this quote from 1703, translated to 2022, could easily include “a successful household goods move” along with the “…coats on their backs, and shoes on their feet.”

Here’s a quote that I suspect many movers can appreciate. It comes from Gen Earl T. O’Laughlin, USAF. He said, “Professional logistics management means playing a good, solid game of hardball, even when the other side sometimes gets to write the rules—and spectators bring rocks and bottles to throw when you drop the ball.” That seems to sum up the DoD moving world in a good number of cases. It’s tough business and you have to have your big boy/girl pants on to stay in the game. As movers, we don’t get to write the rules, but we do work to engage DoD on their rules when the benefit of new rules seem out of proportion to the potential negative impact to customers and movers. And spectators no longer bring rocks and bottles to throw when you “drop the ball;” instead, they resort to social media for maximum exposure and effect, even in those situations where they don’t have the full story or all the facts. But the rock has left the hand, and there’s no pulling it back.

I often hear from movers, frustrated with some decision from a Joint Personal Property Shipping Office or USTRANSCOM with regard to denying the use of a third-party service, or crating, etc., and they ask me, “why would they care, it’s not their money. We’re just trying to service the shipment the best way we know how.” In many of those cases that I hear the details on, I would agree. And I’m not saying the government doesn’t waste money on frivolous items; we all know they do. But the mindset of defending their budget, and not overpaying for services runs deep in many areas of the DoD and government. You can hear it clearly in this quote from President Lyndon Johnson: “I look to you not only to protect your country but to protect your country’s purse…”

We could go on all day like this, but I’ll finish this piece with one final quote. It comes from Gen Charles Horner, USAF. Everyone involved in the moving enterprise knows it’s tough logistical business to do it right and remain profitable. There are constant challenges, things rarely go as planned and you need to be nimble enough to pivot quickly to solve problems and keep things moving. When you find people who like to do that work and are good at it, it’s critical to your business to hold on to them. And Gen Horner recognized how critical they are when he said, “Be nice to your mother, but love your logisticians…”