Good interpersonal skills important for making installation site visits a success
September 23, 2013
By Misty Chisum
Fort Worth District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
FORT WORTH, Texas - As a site coordinator for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Defense Logistics Agency Program, I play an important role in making installation visits a success, navigating through the unexpected events and keeping interpersonal relationships on an even keel with base personnel and within my team.
I joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers right out of Texas A&M University in College Station, where I graduated in 2009 in agriculture and biological engineering. I spent my first years at the Fort Worth District working for the Reservoir Control Section then Engineering and Construction. Hyla Head, the Real Estate Division chief, was my mentor. She suggested I join the new DLA Program. Coming in early on has helped me contribute to the program today.
USACE is supporting the DLA's efforts to comply with the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, which requires auditable financial statements to improve accountability. This effort includes site visits at DLA facilities worldwide to assess environmental and facility conditions and to inventory real property.
Communication, planning and good interpersonal relations are important parts of my job. Once I hit the ground I meet new people. I like that. I also manage attitudes and work through any surprises. Sometimes, installation personnel don't know we're coming because word didn't get passed down or people actually get upset because we're there. I'm the buffer. I ensure everyone understands what is happening - so we can meet mission requirements and get the assessment done.
Sometimes it's our own team members who need help adjusting to the fast-paced mission environment. Our DLA assessment work is not as defined as standard Corps procedures. While we follow a structured process, the work environment is susceptible to many changes, which requires team members to be fluid in the field. There's a certain "breathability" about what we do and how we have to adapt to change. Sometimes an asset shows up early in an unexpected place, requiring the need to look at it right away rather than later. Or other assets couldn't be found where expected, and the mission had to move on.
New team members sometimes have a preconceived notion that a site visit is a significant sight-seeing opportunity. Then they are disappointed when they see how hard we have to work - and how we sometimes have to work into the evening. They understandably want to have time to hang out, whether it's in Boston or Italy or wherever. In Hawaii, some staff with this misconception found out it was a lot of work and intense the whole time. Hawaii was beautiful, but all we had time to do was have a nice dinner. We'd just eat and go home. People didn't have the energy to go out. I remember being really tired. But if people come with the attitude of - "Hey, it's work" - they are pleasantly surprised because there will be a little time to enjoy yourself. Come with that attitude and you're really happy with how it turns out.
Site visit veterans expect the unexpected
Site visit veterans know what to expect due to past experience on these trips. When they find out they have to wait two hours for a photo pass, for example, they go off and accomplish some other task in the meantime. They're also ready to be crowded in with other people in a car or handle a late flight change. They're ready for it.
We did have one weekend day off during our two-week Hawaii site visit. We headed to the North Shore of Oahu where waves were 30 tor 40 feet high. We wondered why people weren't sitting on this big empty piece of beach. Shortly after sitting, a wave came and washed us all 15 feet up the shore. My camera and phone went under. That was pretty crazy. But we just had to act cool about it after being washed up. Everybody watching knew we were going to be washed up as soon as we sat down!
In Sicily one evening, three of us went to this restaurant, which was called The Spaghetti House (no kidding). Suddenly, Mt. Etna starts erupting violently. The restaurant staff comes up and tells us we have to go outside and see it. They made us feel like family. Everyone went out to look, just leaving everything at the table. It was the biggest eruption in a half dozen years, sending glowing ash high up into the evening sky. It was crazy.
The best thing about my job is meeting new people on base, including the senior leaders who come to the in-briefs and out-briefs. I'm right at eye level with them. In Italy, the DLA Europe Installation Support Real Property Officer, Wendy Schrage, came along with us at the beginning to Aviano and Vicenza - DLA sites she had never visited.
How I performed on those days had a direct and positive impact on the program. At one point I saw her just kind of watching. I was saying, "Everybody clean up your stuff, move away from the big table, let's clean it up. We're going to have the in-brief." I could tell she was happy that I was taking it seriously.
Those unfamiliar with our site assessments may wonder about our methods. I was able to explain them to Ms. Schrage. While smaller bases may complain that we bring too many people, the big ones don't. We staff up for the big ones, whether it's Scott Air Force Base in Illinois or Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily. She not only saw that everybody was engaged the entire time, but that we work beyond normal business hours while keeping a fast-paced travel schedule. We were a good example for her.
Cats, chickens and other OCONUS encounters
I have to say something about animals on site visits. In Puerto Rico, they have a lot of stray cats and feral chickens. Any unoccupied land had eight stray cats and 15 feral chickens. It's just interesting. Puerto Rico also has a lot of Burger Kings. I ate chicken sandwiches every day. They were the best chicken sandwiches. I swear they must use those feral chickens. They were free-range and tasty - not the usual frozen patty you usually get. It was high cuisine. I ate them all the time.
There's a lot of stray cats in Italy, too. The plague was transmitted through rats and Italy's cat pack kept the rats at bay. Now Italy has a high reverence for cats - they are all over the place. But they are mangy, dirty old cats. They hang around famous monuments. I got ringworm from one of them. That's my souvenir from Italy! I'm willing to share the spoils with anyone who needs a hug!