Oh, we don't do that

Earlier this week, my team felt strongly about not doing a particular task. Whether it falls within our scope of responsibility remains unclear.

Within the battalion, my office, the Support Operations Office (SPO), requests buses on behalf of its subordinate units (the companies). Among other tasks, of course.

I’ll presume that if you’re reading this, you’re not familiar. But that’s one of the many things we do. Generally, we coordinate supply, maintenance, and transportation assets internal to the battalion, to support units external to the battalion. Doesn’t really happen. We do both internal and external logistics.

We request the buses, confirm sent, confirm receipt, and pass along any issues between requestor and supplier. Another office within the same battalion, the S3 (Training and Operations), issues the order to the companies to provide the drivers. What about analysis?

Back to the story…

Who’s job is it to determine whether a request proves reasonable? Who makes sure that the requestor ordered enough buses for whatever mission his company is performing, for the right time period or whether buses are even the right tool for the job?

My team insists that analysis is not our job. We just fill out the form. And they’re mostly right. The person closest to the ground probably knows best about what he needs. I wasn’t going to fight with my own team on this. Not directly.

Do we have no obligation at all to speak up? If we can see from our vantage that the requested capabilities do not meet the mission requirements, then should we just shrug it off with “Hey you should’ve asked for the right stuff”?

From their point of view, we only fill out the request. That’s it. Okay, no, it’s not our job to drive the buses, find drivers or remember where they parked. But couldn’t we at least help a little by asking, “You sure that’s all you need?”?

A few weeks ago, I went looking around the battalion, and later other units on post, for heaters. Not the commercial-off-the-shelf heaters found at Walmart that plug into the wall; the military environmental control unit heaters pulled behind a vehicle, fueled by diesel (some electric via diesel generator), and that heat up a military tent.

Normally, when I’m trying to find some person, place or thing, I need only go through three or four degrees of separation to find what I’m looking for. Four people, tops.

Nope. Not in the military. Government doesn’t advertise. It doesn’t get paid more for working more.

One of our companies determined that it needed just four more heaters for its field exercise by the time I started driving around post to other units seeking help.

More than a dozen people later, over two days, six buildings, quite a few wrong turns… nothing. And the replies that people gave me… oh, man. Such nonsense. And some, such lies! A few pointed me in the wrong direction.

Most just simply said, “Oh, we don’t do that” or “We don’t have any.”

Because my position limited to simply asking politely, I didn’t want to hit ’em with a “And you know this, how?” They didn’t even give the appearance of caring enough to check.

One person took the time to look. He was awesome. The rest? Well…

One guy insisted I was at the wrong unit, despite the signs in the building saying otherwise.

Another guy brushed me off with, “Oh, we don’t task. That’s S4. And I’m not exactly sure where to find ’em.” S4, really? Everywhere else in the military, S4 does internal logistics. S3 writes the orders tasking units to do work. I suppose there’s nothing necessary about that arrangement. Maybe that’s just how they do it.

But mostly, “No. We don’t do that.”

And this gets uttered even before I finish my question.

I could see the fear of pending work threatening their safety, their comfort, their already-tenuous control over their own time. I could see just how strongly they needed to defend themselves against the unreasonableness of what I was about to request with…

“NO!!! WE DON’T DO THAT!!! Back away, evil demon! Back away!”

I probably could’ve asked any neutral-yet-obviously-yes question, like “We’re in North Carolina, correct?”, and I likely would’ve still received a very defensive, “Uhhh… So what if we are? Who wants to know? Why?”