The call came on a Saturday morning. I had just returned from a 5-mile run along the seawall. I was happy that I was finally getting over the terrible jet lag one gets flying from the West Coast to Okinawa, Japan.
I had arrived on Okinawa after completing what amounted to a year-long onboarding with the United States Marine Corps. I was a freshly minted second lieutenant with a business degree, gold bars on my collars, and zero real-world military experience. I arrived at the unit to which I was assigned just in time to see the last group of people and equipment fly off in massive cargo planes to South Korea to train.
Take care of those you lead.
I had met the unit commander, a soon-to-retire lieutenant colonel who, when I had my in-call with him, spent the time encouraging me to enjoy every minute of my time as a lieutenant; to take care of my Marines; and to listen and learn from the enlisted Marines I would serve with. He then spoke about how excited he and his wife where about returning to their home state of Wisconsin. That evening, the officers gathered for the traditional get-together at the Officers Club, where every officer in the unit made time to welcome me. What an on-boarding! I was joining one high performance team; they truly cared about one another—they cared about me.
Figure it out.
Back to the seawall and my run. I was drinking a cold glass of ice water when the phone rang. It was my boss, a Marine Corps captain who had graduated from Texas A&M and whose bearing and calm demeanor generally were, well, calming. There was an urgency in his voice. Two large portable generators had broken down in Korea and he needed me to get two replacements to him by Sunday afternoon. Before I could ask him how I would do that from Okinawa, on a weekend, he hung up the phone.
I took a deep breath, took a quick shower, put on my uniform and headed to the northern part of the island. My mission was clear: Get two generators to Korea by Sunday. It was up to me to figure out how to do it. I was trained as a logistician; to lead; to plan; to make decisions; and to take action.
The first thing I did was to ask for help. I called the staff sergeant. He called two 19-year-old Marines on our team and told them to "find the generators, figure it out, and meet the lieutenant when he gets there. He will take it from there." I thought to myself, "I will? What now, Lieutenant?"
We needed trucks to move the generators to an airfield and we needed an airplane—a big one. I called the Marine Corps Air Station. I figured they knew where to find a big aircraft. I asked them for help. The 20-year-old Marine who answered the phone said, "Sir, you’re in luck, we have a C-130 leaving first thing Sunday morning. Bring the gear down here and we will make it happen."
Plan once, plan twice.
I furiously went to work building an aircraft load plan. Load plans are necessary to ensure the center of balance thing is worked out. Otherwise, an airplane won't . . . fly. I had never built a "real" load plan, only during my training a few months prior at the Logistics Officer course. I was on my own. It was midnight when I finished the plan.
As I finished printing the plan, my Marines came back from preparing the generators for air travel. I had given them the task to "find two trucks with drivers and assistant drivers and get them ready to go south in the morning." They had done all I had asked. We were ready, but we hadn't had anything to eat all day. The mess hall was open. The three of us walked over and had burgers and fries. I ate with them, even though officers have their own separate dining area, these were my guys, we had accomplished a lot of good work in a short period of time together. We were a team. A team eats together.
The next morning at the airfield, the aircraft was late in arriving. When it finally arrived, the crew chief jumped out while the propellers were still turning. He ran to me and asked if I was the one who needed to move generators. I answered yes and handed him my perfect load plan. He looked at it in awe and said, "Sir, I've never seen one of these. It looks great, but I don't need it. Have your Marines load the generators on the ramp of the aircraft. We need the rest of the space for the band." He then crumbled up my plan and put it in his pocket. I looked behind me and a Marine Corps band, with instruments, was lined up getting ready to get on the aircraft. A band!
That night, back in the apartment by the seawall, the phone rang. It was the unit commander. I could hear laughing and loud voices in the background. He said, "Second Lieutenant Hernandez, thank you! You saved the day. The generators are working perfectly. Great job! You made it happen." Before I could tell him that my Marines made it happen, he had hung up. I walked out into the warm Okinawan night and listened to the sounds of waves crashing against the sea wall. As I looked out into the distance, I thought to myself, "take care of your Marines and they will take care of you." I couldn't wait to go to work the next day, my purpose was clear. It still is.
Raphael Hernandez is a marketing and talent acquisition executive at Amtrak, and a Marine Corps veteran.