It’s about doing the hard right…

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What does it mean to “do the hard right, rather than the easy wrong?” Some of the best people to ask this question lie in Arlington. Certainly, those who have given their lives for our country and whom we celebrate every Memorial Day.

Doing the hard right, rather than the easy wrong is a way the concept of integrity is described in military leadership training. The ability to choose the hard right over the easy wrong is the essence of true leadership. My wife often says that I am the only person she knows who wants to be in charge when everything is going to hell in a hand basket. I think that is her way that saying my gut tells me something is wrong I feel compelled to investigate and fix it.

I went to Afghanistan to serve my country in a position with the Department of Defense working for the U.S. Army. My position was as an Acquisition and Business Specialist, the equivalent of a program manager over several contracts worth $4.3 billion dollars. The position required me to gather information from people in positions of authority over me and people around me from the military, civilian employees, federal contractors and Afghan citizenry, some of whom had an inability to communicate in each other’s language.

What I discovered was that the greatest difficulties was not interpreting between one language or another in the pursuit of the truth but between one frozen mindset and the other in order to identify needs and requirements and satisfy the mission. Soon after beginning my work that gut feeling that something was wrong kicked in. I suspected that predecessors had chosen the easy wrong, safer in a hostile environment. After much interviewing of individuals from each of the sectors, I determined that a new course of action was necessary.

First, I reviewed the three contracts I was managing. I set up an excel spreadsheet where I identified the contract requirements at each of the 87 service sites in Afghanistan. I listed everything from the latitude and longitude of each site to the individual contracting officer representative (COR). I contacted each of the 37 COR’s and learned more about each site. I read two years of reports from the COR’s which contained information including environment impacts, inventory data points and infractions committed by the contractor responsible.

Second, I ventured into the field, donning my helmet and Kevlar vest. I knew that I had to put “eyes on” in order to verify what my gut had told me and my spreadsheet had verified. This was the first time in two years that any body had bothered to verify the data or even to fully collect and analyze it. It was a dangerous “hard” thing to do and the review was met with resistance from many levels. It was the only right way to obtain the necessary information for a mission critical evaluation.

Because of my choice to do the hard right rather than the easy wrong, the government was saved millions of dollars. For my efforts, I received three medals including one from the Secretary of Defense and one from the Secretary of the Army. However, my greatest satisfaction was not the recognition but the knowledge that I had taken the correct course of action.

Of course, it’s not about me….


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