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Army Logistics: The Art of Keeping Customers Alive

Feb. 18, 2014
A military veteran entering the world of civilian logistics brings a muscular set of survival skills to the art of customer service.
It’s a long way from delivering pizzas during Indianapolis summers to delivering ammunition in the heat of Iraq, but that’s the circuitous route Brian Wheatley took to a logistics career. He is currently a customer care agent at Flagship Logistics Group, but this isn’t the career he would have chosen while on his pizza tour of duty in college.  His head was into physics and he was headed to a degree in that discipline at Ball State University. In fact in addition to delivering pizzas during those summers, Wheatley worked in a chemistry lab in Indianapolis.  The diversion from this path came when he decided that time in the U.S. Army could give him some practical and financial support for his education. But as he tells it, a bigger lesson the Army teaches is to expect the unexpected.

“My goal in joining the ROTC was to become an engineer in the Army, get my masters and land a job in a lab somewhere,” he explains. “The Army didn’t agree, and they sent me to quartermaster, which handles supplies. That ended up being a very good fit for me, but I didn’t know it at the time.  I didn’t have any idea of what Army logistics was like until I got my commission as second lieutenant and went to officer basic course.”

Wheatley soon learned that a Quartermaster orders and supplies basic materiel and does a lot of warehouse work. Other job duties included aerial delivery, petroleum supply including pipeline work, ammunition and food service delivery and tracking via automated logistics tools.  He did all that as a lieutenant for his first three years, only to be promoted to captain after completing a captain’s career course in Fort Lee, Va., where he learned more advanced logistics skills.

In total, Wheatley was a logistics officer in the army for 12 years from the time he entered in 2001 until he reached the rank of major. It was then he decided to transfer his skills to civilian life. He didn’t leave the Army completely, however, as he is continuing his service in the reserves as a major.  So what are the logistics skills the Army supplied him? Leadership is primary. He learned them while managing 160 soldiers working under him. One of his platoon leaders managed a warehouse, one managed a fleet of 75 trucks, and another managed food service and maintenance. His team supported a whole artillery battalion—which is about 800 soldiers.

What does that have to do with physics? Not much, but problem solving is an important skill where that science is concerned, and logistics gave him a new field in which to apply it.

“Although I was disappointed getting a logistics assignment at first, once I got into it, I was non-stop solving problems,” Wheatley says. “So it really worked out for me. It was surprising how much I enjoyed it.  At first logistics sounded boring.”

That attitude changed once he started addressing his first series of complexities while advising Iraqis in logistics. Trying to bring them up to international standards was a critical challenge. He worked with customs and immigration in teaching his Iraqi counterparts how logistics worked in the rest of the world. 

“In Iraq everything had to be scanned with a large-scale truck x-ray machine,” he recalls. “We were assigned at the only sea port they had, so we had to deal with the log jams that created. That was my last active logistics position before transferring to the recruiting battalion in Indianapolis.“

By the time he hit the civilian job market in Indianapolis it was 2013. After some searching he finally received an e-mail from a veteran’s organizations telling him that Flagship Logistics was looking to hire veterans. He submitted his resume to Bob Moran, who quickly called Wheatley in for an interview. Two days later he had a job—in logistics.

Wheatley doesn’t want to imply that hiring a veteran is the answer to every logistics job opening. He acknowledges it requires a meeting of minds.

“There’s a lot of competition out there and a lot of companies see veterans as more of a hurdle,” Wheatley says. “We need some training. We’re used to the Army, even in logistics. It takes a company that’s willing to bring us along and train us. A lot of employers don’t know how a resume full of army positions translate to their needs.”

What veterans bring to the job more than most civilians do is the ability to learn, and Wheatley learned how civilian logistics works from the bottom up. He started in the call center, talking to carriers and learning a whole different language. But the meaning behind his new vocabulary is the same: customer service.

“Being a logistician in the army, we talk a lot about customer service, with the customer being the war fighter,” Wheatley explains. “That carries over to doing what’s needed to make Flagship’s customers happy. In the Army we kept our customers alive and here it’s keeping them alive in a different way. That results in a satisfied customer.”

What next? Flagship is a growing company, and Wheatley expects that his next step will be deeper into operations. But he’ll continue advising recruits through his work in the Army reserves. He also has advice for fellow veterans looking for work as he did:

“When a company does hire you, show them they made a great decision—not just for yourself but for all veterans looking for jobs. Set the example.”

That’s good advice for civilian job seekers too.