Recently posted quotes:

"There is no distinctly American criminal class - except Congress." Mark Twain (1835-1910)

“Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.” -Will Rogers (1879-1935)

"Stability in government is essential to national character and to the advantages annexed to it." -James Madison (1751-1836)

"Liberty must at all hazards be supported." -John Adams (1735-1826)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where I came from and how I got involved in this game we play:

On the 3rd of November, a few years back, my wife, my son and I were on a Boeing 727 on final approach into Elmendorf Air Force Base for my initial assignment in the United States Army. I had orders to join an Infantry Brigade stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska. Alaska; ya, that’s right, Alaska. We had departed from McChord Air Force Base, just outside of Seattle, WA earlier in the day. Now we were circling around to align with the runway for final approach. Didja happen to catch the fact that we were flying into Alaska?

Initially, I had been assigned to Fort Hood, right back ninety miles from the home I had just left. Some advisors and the Army had convinced me during my Officer’s basic Class that my particular specialty was needed in Alaska. I wasn’t guaranteed to remain there longer than a year but that was six months more than I was looking at staying at Fort Hood. What was stated to be a three-year tour, or less, depending on how things went elsewhere in the world, turned out to total just under four years as it so happened. That elsewhere was primarily the field exercise being conducted in South East Asia at the time. The world situation changed continually during those four years causing both the Army’s and my plans to change back and forth with the winds almost. For the three of us this was to be our first trek completely on our own, away from home, parents, in-laws, friends, college—just about everything we knew and had provided somewhat of a security blanket to us during our early marriage.

Excluding the six months we had just spent on temporary duty at Fort Lee, Virginia for initial officer training courses; we hadn’t been outa shoutin’ distance of family or friends since we were married just a little over two years earlier. We were finally on our own; little did I know what was ahead for us. A lot of changes were to take place—mostly to my situation.

I had recently graduated from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas with a degree in marketing. My summer work and college experiences had given me a decidedly different viewpoint on the roles of employer and employee, including the interaction between the two. Roughnecking during my summers as a young high schooler and college underclassman throughout Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wyoming had taught me what hard work really was and confirmed that I didn’t want to spend my future in the pursuit of an advanced degree in manual labor.

 Now I was preparing to land in Alaska, a far stretch from any kind of career in marketing. But because of my education, a contract with the United States Army and the correlation between marketing and Quartermaster supply and services, I now had a chance to become part of management naïvely never realizing that management positions could require a lot of hard work. Although most of management work might be more mental than physical, the long hours that are sometime required can take a physical toll also?

As our aircraft circled over Fort Richardson, the pilots began to lower the landing gear and the closer we came to the ground, the more we began to take notice of the place we would soon be calling home. Watching out the window over what I was later to learn was the ammunition storage area; I saw three of the largest Bull Moose I was to ever see. Oh I might have seen one or two in a zoo maybe once before; but I had never seen one in the wild, ever. They were huge! Both my wife and I were amazed that a large and wild animal was just strolling around the area so close to was gonna be home. I would eventually get to know these guys much better over the next few years.

This is where my career started but a long way from where it would eventually lead me. For the next forty years I would work with well over several thousand associates in many varied assignments and assorted organizations.

We exited the aircraft via the tail by climbing down a rollaway ramp. Waiting for the three of us were two First Lieutenants: Ken Johnston and Jim Wheeler. They calmly greeted us in just fatigues and field jackets while we shivered in the cold. Ken was to be my platoon leader and he had drawn the assignment to be my new guy sponsor. Jim was an Aggie buddy who just so happened to have been in my same unit at A&M for the two previous years and lucky, for him, had drawn an earlier reporting date at Fort Lee. Jim and I spent a lot of time together during our mutual time in Alaska and subsequent to that, have remained friends our entire adult life.

It might be appropriate to state here that I was the beneficiary of some Bad Deeds; allowing me to move into the leadership position that cut my teeth on what leadership was all about. I was happy doing what I was doing previously but found myself thrust into a situation for which I was not fully prepared. I had to alleviate that un-preparedness as quick as possible or I might have found myself taken under by the culture that doomed my two predecessors. They were done-in by their lackadaisical attitudes and a belief they could do little or nothing and get by solely because they were officers. Their inattention to detail and a lack of support and understanding from higher management also had not helped their situation.

Early editions of the anecdotes and incidents that took place were somewhat affectionately called moose stories as more than several of them included a moose in one way or another. I now refer to them as simply adventures in leadership or what I took away essays from those experiences.

Well, not everything can revolve around a good moose experience. I found over time that it was the people who work with you and for you that tend to step into, instigate, or cause the troubles that take up the majority of a manager’s day. During the forty years I spent in the management, supervision and consultation of operations, both in manufacturing and the military; I continually found myself in the study of these people who caused the situations that happened to and around me. While a good deal of the stories are somewhat military in nature, largely due to the fact that I worked at more than sixty posts, camps and stations; they are primarily just stories of people, the situations they find themselves in, what got them there and how we//they sometimes resolved the dilemma(s) that we found ourselves in.

After working with an organization for a few months, I easily recognized the point in time which required me to relate one of these adventures and its association with a particular problem currently requiring a solution. I might start in only to find myself interrupted by one of those that had been there longer than the others: “Is this gonna be another moose story Howard?” Realizing that I had to watch out for was this guy primarily because he knew that I enjoyed telling the stories maybe even more than they enjoyed listening to and learning from them. “Tell us another moose story Howard.” was a sure bet to lengthen many a meeting’s duration—not always the right solution.

A little background might be appropriate at this juncture. I have two Master’s degrees in addition to my Marketing Degree from Texas A&M University that I previously mentioned. The first Masters is from Central Michigan University and is concentrated in Management and Supervision and the second Masters is from the United States Army Command and General Staff College and is in Command and Logistics.

During my military career, I spent time leading such varied operations as supply—petroleum, ration (food), ammunition, general supplies, major end items, construction and barrier material—and services—bakery, decontamination, shower operations, water treatment and distribution, air field operations, data transmissions, computer input//output, software development, procurement and graves registration services.

During my civilian career, I held positions as varied as stockroom manager, warehousing manager, production and inventory control manager, manufacturing systems manager, purchasing manager, materials manager, both director of materials and manufacturing and finally as vice president of manufacturing. I found myself employed in range of industries from automobile engine re-manufacturing to industrial gas compressors; computers; process-flow manufacturing of plastic netting that included jet fuel filters, parts protectors, blood filtration membranes, premium pipe threading for the oil and gas industry; and eventually library and school furniture manufacturing.

Throughout the years I spent in management and leadership positions, the one constant was people. Leaders and managers deal with people and their problems every day. There is no way you get around this fact. People and their actions make up the majority of a manager’s time and efforts. Leaders lead people and Managers manage people: those people that staff the processes. Those leaders, managers and supervisors that become sufficiently skilled in their product or career of choice have mastered only half of the sphere of their required expertise. People are the other half and quite frankly: the bigger half.

I was fortunate enough to figure this out early in my career; more by being forced to do so by those reporting to me than a burning desire to do so because of some external motivation. I fully believe the experiences that I took away from my interaction with people adventures are the very reason that I was as successful in my career as I eventually became. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nenana Alaska

On the new road to Fairbanks, most of which north of the Talkeetna cut-off at the time was still gravel, the story that this essay relates to took place. Just south and west of Fairbanks sat not much more than a wide spot in the road was the village of Nenana, milepost 304 on the Parks Highway (Highway #3). Nenana’s primary claim to fame is “the Break-up Challenge” which is conducted every spring and establishes the end of the Alaskan winter and the start of the Alaskan spring—howsoever short as it may be, but still it’s spring.

Parks Highway (Highway #3) as it exists now
Break-up is signaled by the movement of the surging ice on a tripod frozen in the Tanana River. The tripod, which actually has four legs, is placed there by the town of Nenana and the Break-up contest has recently carried a cash prize of as much as three-hundred thousand dollars. You win the dough by guessing the time closest to the nearest minute of actual movement of the ice flow in the Nenana River—that’s when the tripod moves. The challenge was started by the Alaskan Railroad back in 1917 with the first pool closing in on eight hundred dollars. In 2005, the ice went out at 12:01 PM, Alaska Standard Time and had forty-six winning guesses, each with the exact time.
Most organizations that I have been a part of had an undercurrent of “pools” such as the Nenana “Break-up Challenge.” One of the major pools that “us” guys conducted during the years I was assigned to Alaska while in the Army each year, other than the routine football and baseball pots, was the “First Snow Pool”—the reverse of the Nenana Break-up Challenge. The other was the Nenana Break-up. The “First Snow Pool” entailed the gathering of funds and recording names and dates of the participants wanting to take their turn at guessing on which date the first snow would arrive at Ft Rich and remain on the ground for a full week prior to disappearing, if it did.
But here, we will stay strictly on the Nenana topic. The 2015 pot for guessing the exact or closest time was a cool $330,330—not bad for a single winner. But not so fast. This year, the pot was shared by 25 winning entries: all having the exact month day, hour & minute of April 24th, 2:25 p.m. Alaska Standard Time— Next year will be the 100th year of the event—get out there and try your luck. Go to for details.


Nenana Ice Classic “Breakup Challenge” preparation and installation of Tripod


End Result

For those of you that might remember this; in the days of old when time was still young; there were few private line telephone operations. The cost to most was prohibitive and like it or not, lines still didn’t go everywhere.
The method of stringing phone lines into a specific area would follow this basic scheme: (1) the phone company would run one line into a particular area. (2) The terminus of that line would then act as a trunk or hub, if you will. (3) From this hub, the phone company would then run individual lines (party lines) to each subscriber in that particular area. I am not sure how many subscribers were supported off a particular hub; I guess it would depend on the current capabilities. I do remember having ten or so parties on our line. (4) Each party would then be assigned a certain ring, thus enabling the subscriber to detect when a call was for their establishment or home as it may be. (5) The subscribers were sorta on the “honor system” and didn’t answer the phone when it wasn’t their ring. This in no way stopped the sneaky old lady next door from picking up the receiver and listening in on your call to your best girl or visa versa for that matter. Of course, if you didn’t answer, your neighbor could always pick up the call and act as the rudimentary version of voicemail—passing the message on to you at a later time.
Growing up, I remember that the “party line” went away in my hometown around the late 50s. However, even though the story detailed in my book took place in the mid-1970s and I didn’t know it yet, but I was again going to be dealing with a party line.
One of my petroleum specialists had tried to reach me and the notes taken by SSG Smith, gave the following instructions to return the call: (1) call the Ft Richardson long distance operator, (2) ask for the Fairbanks operator, (3) have the Fairbanks operator call long distance for the Nenana operator, and (4) have the Nenana operator ring two shorts and a long.
Yep; two shorts and a long! That’s the story associated with Nenana in my upcoming book “There’s a Moose in the Gard Shack—He’s Gonna Kill Me!
For data on actual break-up dates go to my blog site (There’s a Moose in the Guard Shack and Adventures in everyday Leadership) and check out the backstories at or or link through my main blog: or

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ever Seen One like That?

“Ever seen one like that?”

That has quickly become my stock question when confronted these days by the medical profession or the physical therapy guys. Most of them, I know right away they haven’tthey had no idea what they were looking atmore or less a void.

While the problem had started back on the 9th of December in 2014; the finalization culminated in mid-April of 2015. There was no going back now. All that remains is looking forward to a new adventure every day of the remaining world.

The pain had started about mid-day and worsened as the day grew longer until such time as I had no ability to use my left arm whatsoever. This condition persisted for almost two days until such time that I started getting some ability to use my hand and slowly progressing upward over the next couple of days.

I obtained an appointment with my regular Doc about a week later and he advised me to see my orthopedic doc immediately. I had already tried that avenue and determined that that wasn’t gonna happen until sometime in MarchI couldn’t wait three more months, no way! I chose to see another orthopedic doc in the meantime. The news there wasn’t any better. He said that he couldn’t help me; I needed someone with special skills and there was only one guy in Austin that fit that billso, that was my next call.

As hard as it was to swallow, I couldn’t see this new guy until the 22nd of January—(41 days after the start of all this). Come visit time, I saw only the doc’s PA and we looked over some X-rays that showed the titanium implant had shifted up and partially around. Steven scheduled me for a CT scan and fluid draw at River Ranch Radiology on the 30th (day 52)—then another 14 day wait while the culture of the fluid had a chance to show signs of infection and whatever.

On the 17th of February, I finally got to meet and see Doc GrahamNice Guy! (71 days from the onset) Doc’s prime concern was the amount of missing bone according to the X-rays. He told me to be prepared for a bone graft taken from either the back side of my Humerus (bicep) or from my pelvis; neither of which seemed to concern him at the time. To allow the time he needed, I would have to be the last surgery of the day so as to not back up the schedule with unexpected outcomeshe wanted as much time available as the procedure required.

After meeting with the doc, I spent time with the nurse that schedules his surgeries and we determined that the 13th of April was the next available day that my surgery could be performed. (125 days after the start)


I checked in and was soon called back, prepped and taken into the operating room. They quickly tried to put the oxygen mask over my face and I objected as strongly as I could, but the anesthesiologist had a stronger will than I. That was the last I remember until I groggily began to awake in the recovery room. Doc Graham dropped by but I never understood what he was saying.

The next I knew I was wheeled into a room on the sixth floor with Patsy waiting there for me. She told me that Doc Graham would be in early the next morning and we could discuss the situation then. I was fine with that. Currently feeling no pain, I was back to sleep and did so for most of the night.

Early the next morning with my sling in place, Doc Graham visited, gave me the newsthe pain was a result of floating pieces of the surgery cement and fragments of bone floating around in the shoulder cavity. We discussed the operation, the situation and my future and then set a follow-up visit for ten days out. I was to keep my arm immobilized and in that damn sling until that time.


On the 23rd of April (the 135th day), Patsy drove me to my appointment. While waiting to see Doc Graham, his X-ray technician took me back to get some updated shots of my shoulder. I stood up against that cold, cold device as she positioned me and took the first shot. She came back around and took the film canister saying: “Let me see how this looks in case we need to get a better shot.”

I watched as she went over to her computer and hooked up the device. The picture sprang up on her screen. I could tell, even though I couldn’t see her full face, that she was confusedthe side of her face that I could observe wrinkled up and she sorta cocked her head to the side.

I knew immediately what the problem was. I spoke up” “Never seen one like that before, have ya?”

She looked my direction with a totally blank look on her face: “No! Where’s the shoulder?”

“There isn’t one anymore. It all crumbled apart just like an eggshell.” (Doc Graham’s words, not mine)

“Nope! I’ve never seen one like that!”

That’s what they all say when I am asked what happened: physical therapist, neighbors, relatives, people at the HEB, clergy at funerals, everybody!

I still have muscles, ligaments and tendons, but no shoulder joint. Doc Graham cut it all out after the new bone graft and socket shattered like an egg shell. He sat back on his stool and said: “What the Hell?” and then he went to sawing and cutting.

A new adventure has begunjust how long it will last is anybody’s guess (most likely some 13,098 days after the start, minimum).