In today’s episode, research scientist David Correll speaks with the 2021–22 MIT CTL military fellows: US Army Col. Joe Parker, Lt. Col. Brian Young, and Louisiana National Guard Lt. Col. Stephen J. Luebbert. The fellows discussed their experiences in the military and the MIT SCM program.
Their conversation explores the differences and similarities between private-sector and military supply chains in strategy, leadership, and on-the-ground implementation. We learn how in the private sector, cost and efficiency drive supply chain decision making, whereas in the military portability, safety, and redundancy may be seen as primary drivers. The episode ends with some ideas about how the government and private sector could collaborate more.
Since 2007, MIT has hosted three US military officers each year for a course of academic study that parallels the MIT ten-month Supply Chain Management master's program. Sponsored by the United States Army War College’s Senior Service College Fellows (SSCF) program, top officers are selected to attend.
CTL Military Fellows accompany the more than 80 other global business professionals in the program’s curriculum and develop strong analytical, change management, and leadership skills. Their work includes an in-depth research project.
- Welcome to MIT Supply Chain Frontiers, from the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics. Each episode features center researchers and staff, or experts from the field for in-depth conversations about business, education and beyond. Today, center researcher and instructor David Correll, speaks with the MIT CTL military fellows about their service experiences and their time on the MIT campus. The views and opinions expressed in today's episode are those of the fellows only, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the United States military. Take it away Dave.
- Welcome Joe, Stephen, and Brian. Thank you for joining today's Supply Chain Frontiers. We're really grateful to you for your service, and also for the time you're taking away from your studies to sit down with us, and talk about your experiences as part of our Supply Chain Management Program, and your impressions here on campus. Could I ask you first to each introduce yourselves briefly?
- Hey, I'll get started. My name is Stephen Luebbert, I'm lieutenant colonel in the Louisiana Army National Guard. Branch qualified as both an infantry and an armor officer. And listed in the military in 1996 as a M110 crewman, and eventually commissioned as an officer in 2000. As an armor officer. Served most of my career about 26, 27 years now as an active duty officer in the Louisiana Guard. I've served primarily in force management, operations and planning. And obviously just because of my affiliation with Louisiana I had a lot of experience with things like Katrina, the BP oil spill, Gustav, COVID 19, lots and lots of hurricanes, and lots and lots of flooding type of situations there. Like my peers, I've had several tours in Iraq. I've served overseas as scout platoon leader, a tank company XO, and last year I was in Northern Iraq, in parts of Syria as a squadron commander. Received my undergraduate degree from University of Nebraska, and from Louisiana State University in Shreveport. I've got a master's in national security and conflict resolution, and married for 21 years yesterday. And I've got a daughter that just got married last month.
- Thank you Stephen and congratulations. Let's go to Brian.
- Yeah, thanks David. My name is Brian Young. I'm also a lieutenant colonel in the army. I'm in the Army Reserve where I've been for about 21 years now. And originally from North Carolina, now in the Boston area with this program. My army career has been somewhat unique in the sense that I've started out in army watercraft. So landing craft, port operations, and then moved to strategic transportation for about five or six years. And then to army contracting, logistics contracting mostly onto training and support. After that where I commanded a battalion in Hawaii most recently. Also have served throughout the world, CENTCOM, Central Command area of operations in the Middle East. European Command, and then also most of the past decade, in Pacific Command in various commands. Was involved in also some humanitarian disaster relief operations, the Fukushima Daiichi, natural disaster in Japan, and then combat operations in Afghanistan and port operations in Kuwait during operation Iraqi Freedom. So thanks for having me.
- Excellent, thank you. Joe, could you introduce yourself please?
- Hey Dave, so Colonel Joe Parker. I am a logistics officer, basic branch quartermaster which is supply. Went to Wake Forest in North Carolina for my undergrad. Got a master's in acquisition and procurement management and went operational art and science, from the Command and General Staff College out at Fort Leavenworth. Almost 20 years in the army. And most of my time has been spent at the tactical and operational level. So as a logistician spent a lot of my time working with armor and mechanized infantry units. Got five deployments, three to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. I spent some working plans and policy at the Pentagon. Was a squadron commander outta Fort Irwin, California, at the National Training Center. And then did a follow on assignment as a observer controller, which is responsible for training, and then came here for the fellowship. So happy to be here.
- Excellent. Thank you very much. And thank you all for sharing your really broad variety of experiences with us and with the audience. What are your impressions on the differences between how maybe the military and the private sector manage their supply chains?
- Dave, and I think we've engaged with the faculty on this the entire time that we've been at MIT. And MIT emphasizes the fact that the private sector, is optimized for efficiency. It's optimized for cost saving measures, it's optimized to limit inventory. All of the efforts that we see our fellow students and faculty going through every day, particularly at CTL, is how do you make the most efficient trip. How do you limit inventory? How do you reduce costs? The optimized delivery functions where you're only giving that customer what they need, when they need it. What challenges us as military guys, is that's it's just not something that we typically have to contend with. When we look at a supply chain, and I'm a consumer. As an armor and an infantry officer, am concerned about consuming logistics, not providing it. And I depend on people like Brian and Colonel Parker, to get it to me. But when we look at those supply chains that they're responsible for, we're looking at things like survivability. Redundancy, hardened facilities, and infrastructure, reducing risk and exposure to enemy action. All of these things that are often not efficient. Cost is not a factor. And so it's just a very different way of looking at things. And I can give you one example, Brian and I just finished a study with the Humanitarian Supply Chain Lab. We were looking at particular fuel supply chains within the United States. And they've got inherent vulnerabilities because they've been optimized. Because those companies have to save money, or else we all end up spending more on heating oil and gasoline and whatnot. But the flip side of that is it makes them vulnerable to man-made events, to natural events. And that was really hard for I think Brian and I to get our head around initially is, why aren't they hardened against attacks? Why aren't they hardened against hurricanes? Why don't they have more than one? Because that's how we have to look at things. Because if Brian's first attempt to get me fuel for my tanks doesn't go well, there has to be a plan B. There has to be another route or another place where I can link up. So it has been a process to realize how important that cost saving is to the private sector. And it makes absolute sense to us. It is just a big transition from how we look at supply chains in the military.
- That's really interesting. Thank you. And it seems like a lot of supply chain practitioners right now in the world that we live in, are probably struggling with that same trade off that you just described, from the other end. Thank you so much. Anyone else, any other things sort of jump out at you as defining differences that you've observed while you've been here?
- Just to build on what Stephen said. Department of Defense and specifically the army, we got our feet in both worlds. So like he mentioned at the tactical level, our warehouses literally have to pick up and move every day. So it's gotta be built. We've gotta have containerization that allows for that. You've gotta have an inventory management system, that you can turn on and turn off. It's gotta establish and reestablish connectivity. And then a lot of the times we're completely reliant on manual reporting, because we don't really have a digital infrastructure, that automatically tells me that "Hey, Stephen's, tanks getting ready "to run outta gas." I have to go off historical, I have to kind to base a plan. The enemy gets a vote, all those kind of old adages. And if I don't get a report from him I just send it. I'll send a convoy or a truck down off with 10,000 gallons or whatever, and they'll come back with eight. And in any corporate structure that would get you fired, but it's a Tuesday for us. And we sit in class and we're like, man, listening to omnichannel. Yes, I would love to have seven different ways. Or some sort of decision matrix that says, if I can't get it this way I'll go that way or one day. We're a dinosaur, but we're an evolving dinosaur in the sense that we're trying to find ways to make all this work. But we do have a very specific set, of constraint that vary greatly depending on the operational environment. So in Garrison, back in the United States or at your base, we do look for a lot of efficiencies. And some of those supply chain principles that we're learning this year, absolutely have applicability. Automated warehousing, there's stuff like that at Fort Bragg, and Fort Hood, but it's not something that you can pick up and take out into the desert, and then execute the same way you would, back at home station in a Garrison environment as you would in a tactical environment. And then as you go up the supply chain, a lot of our equipment while modernized, is based off platforms and chassis that in some cases are pushing 40 years old. And so not only are you looking at supply chain from how do I get parts, and maintenance and commodities forward. But then how do I look at refit modernization, recapitalization, and that reverse pipeline. We're not building a lot of new engines. We're doing a lot of rebuilds. Again, Stephen's our case study. Every time he blows an engine or a transmission or something goes wrong in his tank, there's not a lot of mom and pops out there that are building parts for tanks. We have this whole infrastructure built on recapitalization, modernizing, refitting, but there's also a reverse cycle that we have to get all that stuff back. Budgetary constraints, we are beholden to the United States taxpayer. We have to work within all those types of things. So it's a lot of fun to sit at a place like MIT and just see everybody's thoughts. And see the capability, and what could be. Our challenges as leaders in the army is to go back and find ways to take these concepts and see where we can gain efficiencies, and hopefully help push kind of a modernization strategy, or how do we take what we've learned here, and then help improve the foxhole so to speak, back at big army. 'Cause there's a lot we can do, but we have to do it within kind of the constraints that we've been given.
- Excellent, thank you. Brian.
- I think something that we think about quite often is, sort of that upstream, downstream process that Joe was talking about. And in our language it would be strategic, operational, and tactical. A lot of these strategic can sometimes the operational are a combination of contract logistics and organic logistics, organic capabilities within our own units. Green trucks tank or gray tails, in terms of aircraft and things like that. Traditionally as we get out of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, over the past couple decades, and move to towards fighting or training to fight, and getting better at fighting near peer competitors, that sort of require a lot more tactical expertise that gets, it's sort of that contingency supply chain stuff that we've lost some muscle memory on and regaining some of that throughout the time that we have to train. And hopefully never have to execute those but be prepared to do those. So I think that we've lost some of that tactical expertise, because for so long we were on forward operating basis, dependent upon contract logistics for our commodity supplies, for example. Everything from food to fuel, transportation services. All that was done by some very competent contracting and not always efficient, of course as you can read in the news. But we're not gonna have that luxury in the future. So we're gonna have to rebalance that expertise and find it organically with our organization.
- So thank you very much for that guys, for kind of describing the differences in the types of problems that you're solving as part of your day-to-day work compared to, what you observe from your colleagues in the classroom. I wonder if we could take that question one step further and you could think about seeing those differences. What are some things that are that maybe you'll take back to your day-to-day work from your private sector colleagues you've met here in the program, and vice versa. What are some of the things that you think from your military experience and training, would be helpful for your private sector colleagues to take into their day-to-day operations too?
- I think there's a lot of value. You look at the classes that you guys are doing on optimization. I'm in freight right now, where we've looked at mega city, how you plan routes, and how you optimize technology. Particularly how much the civilian sector and the private sector is using data, to drive decision making. Volumes of data that's being modeled and simulated, and collected. And that's something that I think the army is probably struggling with. You can only make so many things your priority. And I think that's always something that a military branch struggles with. Every time we think we know what we need to focus on, something like the Ukraine happens and we have to refocus to maybe some more fundamental skill sets. But clearly the private sector is making the most of data. And I think that that's something that the army can capitalize on. Colonel Parker did some work on the fact that it's a skillset that we don't have a lot of in the military. So even if the data was there, we don't quite have the expertise yet, to make the best use of that data. But he explored some ways that the army might be able to bring some people, include that data analytics portion into our education. But clearly that's an avenue for the army to pursue, where it could benefit from some of the optimizations that we're seeing now in the private sector. Kind of turning the mirror around and looking at what the military has to offer. If anything has been evident to me, particularly with our graduate students and as they pursue a lot of different challenges at once, it's probably that ability to prioritize. The ability to do a little risk management on the fly, to understand, what we like to call as the decisive operation, what has to be done, what achieves success. And then what are all those other shaping operations or enabling operations, that help you to ultimately achieve success? And then how do you organize all that into some kind of timeframe, that's achievable and realistic. And I think that that's what we've tried to offer amongst our peers and students is, show us what you got and we'll do our best to kind of help you prioritize that, and show you what you need to focus on first. And maybe what you can focus on later, or what you need to do now to enable your success, a month down the line. And I think that's probably from talking to some of the individuals at MIT that helps students find jobs, that that's a skillset that maybe we can offer to the private sector at the end of our military careers, just because it's such a big part of what we do as leaders in the army.
- Absolutely, thank you. Joe or Brian, any thoughts on what the military side and the civilian side, could maybe take from each other. Best practices that you've observed?
- Yes. So and I'll give you credit here taking your class. One of the things was, hey, we want you to be outspoken, and engaged, and speak up in class, because it's an opportunity for you to get repetitions in an environment where you can learn and grow, because that will help you once you get out into the commercial sector. And I thought, we're at MIT. Everything's a math problem, every single person here is the top 1% of the 1%. They're all brilliant, but sometimes there's a little paralysis by analysis. And then there's been some instances where I've sat back. I may not have any idea what they're talking about necessarily because I was not a math major. But when they get to their conclusions, it kind of left me head scratching a little bit and said, "Okay, so what, and why do I care?" And it's not that the work that they're doing wasn't valid. It wasn't that it wasn't important, but they were very myopically focused on the problem set at hand without understanding kind of how it fit, in the overall structure. And I think the professors in the courses that I've seen, you guys have all done a phenomenal job of pulling that out. Getting to this so what. Stephen alluded to it. That's something that the army from from day one expects you to do. Whether it's ROTC West Point Officer Candidate School, direct commissioning as an officer, as a lieutenant. Day one you're in charge of something. Whether you're sitting on staff, whether you're a platoon leader or an XO, there's an expectation there that you have some sort of ingrained leadership capability. If nothing else, we are a leadership factory. And we adhere to, or at least attempt to adhere to our doctrine, which is very specific, the concept of mission command. And we've talked about this a little bit, but a mission command philosophy where we use mission orders, we try and talk discipline initiative. We give clear guidance and commanders intent, and then we try and empower subordinates to enable them to be agile and adaptive leaders, in order to achieve some sort of specific mission. That's a lot of big words to tell a lieutenant, "Hey, here's what I need you to do. "Here's the resources you have to get to do it with. "I need it done by this time, go get 'em." The principles of building teams through trust, trying to create shared understanding, giving clear intent, getting subordinates to exercise and reward disciplined initiative, and accepting prudent risk, all principles under our mission command philosophy. Some of that I think you see a lot of folks in the classes that want to do that or understand it, but you've gotta do it under kind of a business construct where some of those things may not be palatable. And I think the advantage that coming from a military background is, we try and ingrain that from day one, and it's a continuous cycle. 'Cause we have our AAR, our after action review process. You go through all that. You work on something. Good, bad, and different, we come back and we'll AAR the heck out of it, regardless of whether you're the CEO or you're the guy driving the truck. Everybody gets a vote, everybody gets a say, and then we use that to improve the processes, improve the organization, and move forward. And so I think we do a really good job at that. I think the commercial sector likes to say they do a good job at that, but just in discussions we've had I think that there's some lessons that could be picked up and adopted kind of between the two different areas.
- Oh, thank you for that. And I'm so glad at that part of our classroom experience. I was so glad to have you all in class, resonated with you. So I wanna shout out one of my mentors, Bill Shino at Bentley who helped me develop that program for helping people speak up in class. Brian, your thoughts on what the civilian and military world can kinda learn from each other, since your time here in Cambridge.
- This has been a really awesome time. Every school that I've had the opportunity to go to, I kind of try to jot down a couple big takeaways. So I'll share two of them. The first, I think came out of one of your classes as well David. It was this concept of humans being provisionals in time. Do you remember that? And basically the way you described it, hopefully I get it right. Was just that we're hampered by an overweighting of current history and experience based on our own experiences. And there is nothing more true of that than an army officer that's been in the same organization for 20 plus years. We have a lot of great experience but we are also hampered by this experience in this organization that we're a part of. The great thing about the Fellowship Program, is that the army sends us out. We get to absorb not only a variety of different experiences from industry and the case of CTL, but also some non US centric viewpoints that we've been exposed to over the course of the past year, which I think have been incredibly invaluable. That's been I think the sort of the shining moment for me. I've had the opportunity to interact with people from a variety of international backgrounds, that are not US-centric. And to be able to hear their point of view, to hear something that you would never hear in a staff meeting in the army. And that's been really good to challenge my own bias in that aspect. And I think it makes us better planners as national security experts in the long run. So I'm very thankful for that. And then some things that have reinforced what I knew to be true already, that the army I think does a good job at, and is getting better at. I remember hearing Donald Sull at the Sloan School talk in January, about the best predictors of company culture based on his research were three things. It was mutual respect, note the second one was supportive leaders, and then three was job security. His company CultureX is kind of expanding on that in terms of their research. But those were things that stood out to me that I think the army, has gotten right in our attempt to train leaders, to found cultures in our units of mutual respect. Things like our initiatives with people first, and I think it ultimately builds better organizations. Obviously his research is showing that and supporting that, but my personal experience has shown that as well. If you found organizations in those three values, then those would be good. But it's been awesome to have very frank conversations with VPs, and directors. And we had a great conversation with CFO back in January at one of the corporate education events. He was challenging us, and we were providing some of our experiences and it was really great conversations in those moments, on taking things back and forth. And hopefully we'll be able to do that for the government service as well.
- Oh, gosh. Thank you so much. And that cross-pollination goes both ways. It really benefits us too. I remember multiple times in our classes together when, you all would bring a perspective on if we were analyzing a case, that really kind of pivoted the conversation to say, yeah, that chain of command is broken and we didn't see it until you all pointed it out. Thank you very much for that guys. And following up on that topic of crosspollination, it really feels like in my career anyway, there's much more of an overlap between governmental affairs interest and supply chain management interest than I've ever previously have observed. The government is really starting to think more about the national security implications of our supply chains, and our supply chain managers are I think, wanting to be very aware of what's going on in government. And in some cases how they can help, or how they can manage to new policies. So I wonder if you all could take a second to give some ideas about, how that cross pollination can occur. How have you seen it happen, and how can we achieve more of it going forward?
- There's a lot of initiatives going on right now. I think it referenced earlier the people first concept that Brian mentioned. There's Talent Management Task Force, People First Task Force, and a number of initiatives that the army and DOD are going through, on how do we get talent not just homegrown through the ranks. Because some of it is prohibitive in the sense that if I were to try and get someone that had the CV of one of the MIT students, they'd get out as a lieutenant. Just because they could get paid more. There's a little bit more to offer as far as a scope, in the commercial sector than what the army and DoD can do. However, the army and DoD feels that there's a lot of folks out there that if given the opportunity, they'd be willing to serve in ranks for a specific purpose, for a specific task, for a specific time. And so looking at opportunities, utilizing the Army Reserves. Where you can be part-time, and share your talents in supply chain, in the medical field, in national security, in electronic warfare, and a number of those kind of niche, highly specialized, highly competitive fields, that you're learning so much so quickly that given the specific task in the army, you might be stagnant a little bit because you've got a role and a purpose in an organization whereas if you were coming from the commercial sector. So if you bring someone in as a lieutenant colonel, or a colonel, and then give them opportunities on a staff or in a command to really help bring about change from an organizational perspective, giving what they've learned and seen in the commercial sector. So I think from a leadership and an organizational training perspective, the army is specifically looking at that, because there's a lot of talent and a lot of willingness I think out there, but they don't necessarily wanna spend 26 years in the army to make 06 and get to the point where they can make a difference. There's a lot of folks out there, that can make a difference now, if given the opportunity. And I think we're looking at ways to make that a viable course of action.
- Excellent, thank you.
- I am happy to be the biggest fan of the Fellowship Program. I've had such a remarkable experience at MIT. I've learned so much that I haven't had any exposure to, in the past 26 years or so. And I know that if I can have that kind of experience in 11 months, 10 months, at MIT, I'm sure that if we had similar programs to provide the same to my private sector counterparts to come spend, perhaps an equal amount of time at one of our units or at one of our headquarters, or at one of our commands, that there's just infinite value in doing so. If I can learn so much in a rather short amount of time, from being a fellow at a major institution like MIT, then I would certainly think that the private sector could benefit just as much from going to spend time at one of our commands, or at one of our units and see how we tackle problems. See how we update the commander and provide him with options, or her with options, to go to our colleges or our academies, to see how we educate our leaders, and teach those fundamentals. At MIT, handing out a free sandwich or some pizza at lunch. And looking for those opportunities, to bring some of these young mid-level graduate students, or even faculty and researchers like yourself into our fold, into our world for an experience and for some exposure, that they can bring back. And I think that's where we get to learn each other's ways, and benefit from one another. And then I think that truly those relationships that are built, can certainly come out and benefit all of us when something happens that affects both the private and the public sector. That affects national security, and supply chains. Because we've created those relationships and we've established, that we both understand what's important to the other entity. And we've already seen examples like with COVID, that affects everybody. Everything from national security to supply chain, to people's health. I was affected by the pandemic and the military and the private sector had to come together, look at Operation Warp Speed, to find a solution. Neither one of us was gonna be able to do that without the the other element. So I think there's just so much benefit. And I think the Military Fellowship, is just a outstanding example of one way to do it. And I just think that we should expand that, and offer similar programs to our civilian counterparts in private sector.
- Thank you. Brian.
- I had the opportunity to participate in a tabletop exercise, with the Humanitarian Supply Chain Lab at MIT. Stephen and I also conducted our research under their mentorship if you will, over the course of the past year which has been awesome. So what I saw there was a lot of good interagency, and government and industry working together to come with a solution, specifically planning for in this case at Cascadia Subduction Zone, earthquake and tsunami. Seeing that sort of interaction was tremendous. And I think that the more opportunities that we have to do that between DoD, FEMA, and really bringing industry to table is so crucial because to really get after some key planning factors, and knock some of those assumptions, and turn 'em into facts to make our planning more solid, it's absolutely key to have industry there. To tell us what their capabilities are, and what their capacity is, and what work they've done on this side in terms of disaster preparedness and disaster response. I think that sort of cross communication is absolutely crucial. So that's one thing. I think the second part, I'll go back to what Joe was saying about the service, and this idea of service. I think that the Army Reserve and the National Guard offer a unique opportunity, for folks to... I see so many bright students in the Boston area, that are going on to work for some really great companies and do great things. I would like to see personally, as a citizen, more people with the opportunity to serve their government, and to pursue a life of service. And I think the great thing about the National Guard, the Army Reserve is it provides them opportunity to do so. So take us back in the time machine like 10, 12 years ago, I was a part-time army reservist, with a civilian job. So I had the opportunity to serve and have a civilian career on the side to do that. And there's quite a few. Right now just the Army Reserve has over 200,000 soldiers across 20 time zones, doing just that. And 70% of the army's medical capacity is in the Army Reserve. 85% of its civil affairs. Some like 66% of the army's logistic capacity, all resides in these part-time soldiers that are teachers and firemen and policemen, and vice presidents and chiropractors. But they put on a uniform when it's time to go serve and when their country calls. And it doesn't have to be in the military necessarily either. There's a lot of great talent in the private sector, that I would love to see serve the country in their own way and what they choose to do so. So that's my thoughts.
- Gosh, thank you guys very much. And on that topic, I wanna thank you for your service to our country. Both historical, and going forward in your careers after MIT. And I wanna thank you for your contributions to learning for our students and our staff, by being a part of our program and participating so thoughtfully in the classroom. And finally, thank you for the hour you spend with us today. Thank you guys, very, very much.
- Thanks Dave we really appreciate it. And we've enjoyed every moment with you, your team and the other students, and graduates at MIT and CTL.
- Thanks, Dave.
- Thank you.
- All right, everyone. Thank you for listening. I hope you've enjoyed this edition of MIT Supply Chain Frontiers. My name is Arthur Grau, communications officer for the center, and I invite you to visit us anytime at ctl.mit.edu. Or search for MIT Supply Chain Frontiers on your favorite listening platform. Until next time.