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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Chapel Hill group tied to UNC trains military to keep things moving

We have a large military presence in North Carolina, and many veterans stay here and get involved in civic, business and academic activities

One of those folks is retired Lt. Gen. Mark Faulkner.  Since October 2021, Faulkner has been president of the Institute for Defense & Business, a Chapel Hill nonprofit that conducts logistics and other training for military and civilian Department of Defense and private sector personnel.

Our military is a massive logistical, industrial and acquisition operation, and IDB’s students help manage it. IDB gives them not only management tools, but also a broader strategic perspective. The learning is as much student-to-student as lectures and factory visits.

Faulkner was born at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, where his father was an officer. Faulkner graduated from East Carolina University and was an infantry officer before moving into logistics. He has been stationed at Camp Lejeune five times, from lieutenant to general.

Lt. Gen. Mark Faulkner

“I know Eastern North Carolina pretty well,” he says. Faulkner retired in 2015 after a 33-year career, mostly in logistics.

A bridge

Thousands of uniformed and civilian Department of Defense personnel and private sector managers have been students at IDB since it was founded 25 years ago by UNC Chapel Hill and the state. Its Center of Excellence in Logistics and Technology (LOGTECH) has trained more than 4,100 participants in a partnership with UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.  Faulkner was an IDB student as a lieutenant colonel.

“We bring private industry together with the military in an educational environment to share information and help them become better leaders, and make better strategic decisions,” says Faulkner.

“We’re a bridge, frankly, between the Department of Defense and private industry.”

Here is what that looks like.  One of IDB’s programs brings in officers and civilians from military facilities all over the country that maintain and repair the jets and helicopters flown by our warfighters; this network employs more than 80,000 civilians. An example is the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center East on MCAS Cherry Point, that has 4,000 workers.

The Aviation Industrial Readiness Program (AIR-P) was developed by IDB with the help of FRC East and N.C. State faculty.  Some of it is delivered virtually, but much of it is in-person. The program includes a five-day residency in Raleigh on business strategy, operations, logistics and supply chain management; a five-day benchmarking tour of DoD industrial facilities and private sector organizations with an emphasis on manufacturing, repair, and overhaul operations, and logistics and supply chain distribution centers. There’s also two to four-weeks of residencies at private or public sector organizations. Finally, there’s a five-day residency in Chapel Hill. The AIR-P course costs $25,000.  Other courses mostly range from $5,000 to $10,000, but some are higher.

One of IDB’s advantages is its location near experts at universities in the Research Triangle, as well as world-class companies. For AIR-P, it lists instructors from Kenan-Flagler, N.C. State’s Poole College of Management and Industry Expansion Solutions program, as well as from the private sector, including Boeing.  he program can call on around 100 corporate and government partners for site visits and residencies.

It also has an executive fellows program, mostly retired generals and admirals, who serve as mentors. Faulkner was an executive fellow in 2016-17.  Most of the fellows spent careers like Faulkner, responsible for keeping warfighters supplied and their complex equipment running.

Gen. Omar Bradley, the World War II commander and first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is often quoted as saying: “Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” I don’t know if he really said that.  What he did say about logistics in his autobiography was this: “This is the dullest subject in the world, and no writer has ever succeeded in glamorizing it. The result is that logistics are usually either downplayed or ignored altogether. But logistics were the lifeblood of the Allied armies in France. Without ports and facilities we could not supply our armies.  We could not move, shoot, eat, land new troops, or evacuate the wounded.”

The folks who go through IDB don’t think logistics is a dull subject, obviously, since they have made it their careers, but also because they know its importance.

Learning from business

It is easy to say the military should run more like a business, given that it spends around $800 billion annually. But a company’s main goal is to make its owners wealthier. The military’s mission is to defend the nation, keep the peace and win wars.

Still, there are business practices that can benefit the military, says Faulkner. And he has seen a change in the Defense Department during his career.

“Thirty, 40 years ago, the Department of Defense really said, ‘We’re the military, and there’s not much we can learn from private industry. We fight wars. They make profits.  We’re focused on national security, readiness.’

“But over time, the military has kind of opened their eyes, and said, ‘Look, there are things we can learn from private industry in defense.  There are best business practices that they employ that we can learn from.’”

For example, he says, “the way they use data to inform decisions.  The way they’re innovative. The way they embrace change, almost because they have to or they become irrelevant.”

That has been the message coming out from military leaders for some time.  It is why all the services have set up new processes to bring innovation from the private sector into the military.  But it is hard. Someone needs to train subordinates how to pitch new ideas successfully to senior leaders, for one thing.

New class

IDB has a class starting up this month which brings in majors, lieutenant colonels, GS-12’s and 13’s – mid-career logistics professionals.  They’ll come in with problems they are trying to solve from their own organizations, and part of their education is visits to companies in the Research Triangle area, ”and they’ll actually see how they do business. They open their doors,” says Faulkner, and the students take away ideas. When they’re finished, they’ll make presentations with solutions to experts from the military, government, academia and industry.

A major focus of our military is its ability to fight as a joint force, with the services all collaborating. The IDB courses have students from across the military. IDB’s programs are intended to reinforce jointness. Jointness means data is shared, and can flow faster in the battlespace; units from different services can communicate and have the same situational awareness; decisions can be made faster.  A military that processes information faster and makes decisions faster will have an advantage in the kind of war we may have to fight in the Indo-Pacific.

“Having the right data to actually inform decisions, it’s never been more important,” says Faulkner.  “We need to be quicker. Leaders have said this, too. To outthink and out-move our adversaries, we can’t get bogged down in information overload. We need to have the right information to inform a decision.”

Lessons learned

I was interested in how IDB’s work translates down to the installations. I found an example here in North Carolina, a collaboration between FRC East and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City. Last July, the commanding officers of the two facilities formalized a collaboration between the two facilities on sharing best practices and lessons learned in quality, problem solving and continuous improvement.

It happened because  David Spencer, the standards division head at FRC East, was in the AIR-P class at IDB, and the group was headed up for a visit to FRC Mid-Atlantic, a depot at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach.  On the way, they stopped off at the Coast Guard facility.  The first thing he noticed was a banner that had the same certifications on it that FRC East had. In other words, the Coast Guard folks had to meet the same exacting standards and go through the same audits to get those certifications. He got a chance to talk to Meredith Ellis, who has a similar role with the Coast Guard.

ALC had a certification audit coming up. They invited FRC East folks to spend a week, sitting in on the process. The FRC East folks shared information and lessons learned from a 2021 audit. Then  ALC folks came down to Cherry Point to sit in on an FRC East audit.  And now there is a formal relationship.

This is what jointness looks like. What it requires to happen is for folks to get away from the flagpole and meet other people who are doing similar things and experiencing similar problems.

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