I was trained as a medical supply logistician by the Army. It’s the only job I’ve really ever felt good about. My first instinct was to help people get well. Yet, along the road in my career, I found myself in the service of the devil. I went from making it rain for healthcare providers to counting beans to deprive caregivers of quick logistical service. It’s been a weird ride.
I had a good feel for the job, coming in first in my class in advanced training. I spent a few idle years at Fort Bragg doing nothing for anybody until George Bush decided to blow up the Middle East in 2003. I was shipped to Iraq and began a six month stint in the deserts around Karbala with a forward mobile hospital. Sadly, my co-workers and leaders had no acumen for the job; we were constantly being torn up by providers because we couldn’t do simple tasks like keeping them in gloves. None of us had ever deployed so we didn’t understand the scope of the job. In due time, I was separated from the logistics shop to work solely with the pharmacy. Procuring drugs was an important job and I was pretty good at it. I created my own system by hand for reordering supplies, counting each day what we had and judging the velocity of a product by comparing the previous day’s total.
Now, pharmacists are the most wound-up people you could ever work for. I went through three of them while in Iraq and they were all the same, constantly fulminating and panicking that supplies would dry up. In fairness to them, I may have been a little unaware of just how important some drugs were. Nevertheless, the pharmacy always got what it needed even though I kept a tight shop. I became a master trader, and I built a network of goodwill in the units stationed around us. Later we moved to Baghdad and I repeated the mission for another six months, doing a job I was proud of. It feels weird to say it, but I felt good about my time in Iraq even though I was part of a machine that had decimated a country for no good reason at all except to commandeer and control the second largest pool of oil on the planet. At the time, I was too naive to understand that.
When I came home in 2004, I spent one more year at Fort Bragg and then was transferred to Fort Bliss and began work at the William Beaumont Hospital. At first, I worked with the regular crew in the warehouse, filling OmniCell units daily to a dozen areas in the hospital. The director of logistics took a shine to me though, and once again I separated from the normal crew to work at the hospital as kind of a facilitator between the warehouse and the providers. Having a logistical face at the hospital that providers could access seemed to calm the nerves of medical professionals who felt that we were too far removed from the healthcare mission. And that was true everywhere I went; the relationship between logistics and healthcare was always antagonistic even if it was a matter of life or death. We did not understand or appreciate each other at all.
I started unraveling a bit at William Beaumont. I didn’t know what was wrong yet, but there was something shaking loose in my brainpan. While I started to lose control I was sent to leadership training to become a sergeant (not my choice; I was always content being a specialist who knew his shit but they push upward mobility), and did a terrible job there except when it came to testing which earned me another award. But that shit had nothing on Korea, which I was shipped to after exactly 364 days in Texas.
I got picked up as a sergeant as soon as I arrived. Good lord, I was a terrible leader. What a year. I could not keep track of my soldiers to save my life. The opportunities to show my skills as a logistician disappeared because I was now technically no longer in that business. I was a laughingstock and I couldn’t get out of my own way. I began to hide from everyone and I could not sleep. It was in Korea that I took my first medicine for depression. I was not diagnosed but was given trazodone for my troubles. Trazodone was tricky; if you took it at the right time and got enough sleep it was OK but god forbid you fall short of your sleep quota. It would actually make me feel worse than I had before I took the drug. That would be true of a great deal of the medication I was to use going forward.
I was separated yet again from the daily grind at the warehouse. This time it wasn’t because I was good at what I was doing, though. I was given a mission to reorganize the warehouse a little. I kept watch over two soldiers, moving and consolidating supplies from the top floor to the bottom floor of the warehouse during non-business hours. I knew how the computer supply program worked more than most and so was able to alter locations, quantities and print reports. I had that going for me, but mostly I was removed from the day shift so that no one had to see me suck. I was hated. I think that year in Korea was one of the worst in my life. I was getting tired of being separated from my wife and young sons. Near the end of my hitch in Korea in 2006 I began to think seriously about leaving the service. I wasn’t up for the leadership role and I was not going to be sent anywhere again. It did not occur to me that life would become infinitely harder if I left the Army. It was a steady job that paid OK but I couldn’t see past hating my work suddenly.
Our final move was to Colorado to Fort Carson. Again, I completely failed as a leader. But I did get a chance to show off my logistics chops because as in North Carolina, I was the only one with a good grip on the ordering system. Incompetence tends to pool in the Army. I made it rain again; happy customers were getting supplies regularly. In three months time, guess what would happen? Another trip to Iraq was on the schedule. By now I was suffering mightily in the throes of undiagnosed bipolar but it would be a long time before I found out what was troubling me. I was positively livid about a possible trip. I was not going to accept another deployment and made that clear (I had initiated separation plans and they stop-lossed me). Fine by them; they didn’t want me anyway. They would send me to do some bullshit task in leadership where I would lose it completely. That’s another story, though.
First we had to ramp up for deployment. Customers began submitting large orders to prepare, and I fielded many with skill. I went on a week’s leave about a month before the deployment and I left a group of orders to be submitted to my soldiers and my sergeant. When I returned, the orders had not been touched at all. I was very frustrated my co-workers’ lack of urgency. Desert training was scheduled shortly thereafter and I hatched a plan to get the orders filled while we were at the training base. In my head it was unacceptable that these orders not get filled before we left. So I put them all in at training and got in trouble with the comptroller sergeant because we had not allocated the money to pay for all of that supply. I didn’t give a fuck. To me, it wasn’t about the money-the unit needed to be prepared for Iraq and once training was finished we would only have about three weeks to get our shit together before we packed up. I worked hard to get the remaining needed supplies at home and the unit eventually left without me.
That was the end of the Army portion of my logistics experience. I always thought I was on the side of the angels because I consistently got results that customers needed. My experience in the civilian world was the polar opposite. I guess I can tell that story next. Hopefully I feel like it.