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Material Handling On The Front Lines

Chinook CH54 helicopter

Lending real world experience to the mission

Members of the American Armed Forces serve their country in times of peace and conflict, continuing a long tradition of honor and pride. Whether training at a domestic Reserve camp or being deployed halfway around the globe, these men and women display commitment and determination to protect the United States of America.

In addition to their allegiance to the military, these determined individuals are employed in material handling jobs back home in the States. The experience gained by these soldiers is helping them while on active duty and in Reserve units. Conversely, these service people have also benefited from their military experience when returning home to civilian careers. Whether driving heavy wheel military machinery or fixing a forklift at home, the service of these men and women to our country and to our industry is a mark of honor and pride. The MHEDA Journal salutes these brave and generous men and women of MHEDA companies who are serving their country in this time of national need.

We thank you.

Colonel Jim Sheahan and three fellow soldiers

Colonel Jim Sheahan (second from right) and three fellow soldiers outside Fallujah in October 2004

Military Is No Guessing Game For Marine
During his 23 years of experience in the material handling industry, Jim Sheahan, allied products sales manager at Wiese Planning and Engineering (St. Louis, MO), has learned several things that allow him to provide insight to his colleagues and superiors in the Marine Corps. “We had a very unfortunate situation in Najaf when we lost a helicopter during a re-supply mission,” Sheahan recalls. “People were simply taking batches of pallets with 50-caliber ammo and sling-loading them onto the helicopter. Someone wrote down the wrong weight, so the helicopter was overloaded by about 7,000 pounds and crashed.” Immediately afterwards, Sheahan approached his superiors with a solution to the problem. “We went out and bought hand pallet jacks with scales for all of our mobile units that were loading helicopters with ammunition,” Sheahan says. “That way, no one was guessing how much weight was on a repacked pallet of ammunition again.”

Sheahan, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, completed two tours in Iraq. He was called up in December 2001, deployed to Kuwait in February 2002, de-mobilized, redeployed in July 2004 and came home in April 2005. During his first deployment, Sheahan served as the future plans officer for the first Marines expeditionary force, and was responsible for planning battles three to four days in advance of actual combat. During his second tour, Sheahan served as operations officer for all Marine Corps logistics, responsible for oversight of many functional logistics areas that the Marine Corps provides, including fuel, maintenance, mortuary affairs, medical support, food, water and ammunition. His unit supported the fight in Najaf and the takedown of Fallujah in 2004.

Sheahan speaks glowingly of the support he received from Wiese Planning and Engineering, his employer of 12 years, while he was away. “They were phenomenal. I talked to my boss on a regular basis, received care packages and never had to worry about being unemployed.”

Forklifts and Hummers: Distant Cousins?
“I was a heavy wheel mechanic in the military, working on some of the 2.5-ton trucks and Hummers,” says Roy Hubbard, forklift technician at Morrison Industrial Equipment Company (Wyoming, MI). “My familiarity with forklifts helped me a lot because the mechanics are very similar, except everything is compact working with the forklifts.”

Hubbard has been employed with Morrison for nearly 10 years, and April 13, 2006, marked his 17-year anniversary of joining the Armed Forces. He is currently a sergeant in the Army National Guard and was deployed to Abu Ghraib prison from December 2004 through December 2005. “We were security guards for the detainees held there. Luckily, there were no scandals associated with my unit and we all managed to make it through without any incidents.”

As for the contributions his military experience has brought to his current job, Hubbard focuses on the virtue of patience. “You have good days and bad days, so if a certain part on a truck is not running right, be patient and figure out what the problem is,” he counsels. “It’s the same thing with the military. We’re always given some kind of problem to troubleshoot and fix, while subordinates and supervisors both are looking to you for answers.” Hubbard’s ability to be a go-to guy enhanced his military experience and made him sorely missed at Morrison Industrial Equipment during his yearlong deployment. “But I kept in contact with everyone while I was overseas to let them know that I was doing fine and that they didn’t have to worry about anything.”

Material Handling Teaches Military Precision
A member of the military since 1997, Jesse Lee Thacker was promoted to captain in the Army Reserves in 2001. He is currently on inactive Reserve duty but was deployed for nine months in 2000 to Bosnia, where he was stationed at Camp Comanche near the city of Tuzla. As a critical service operations officer, Thacker ran the operations and logistics aspects of setting up hospitals and units to treat and evacuate patients. “I was deployed forward and given charge of a logistics section for our battalion during Operation Joint Endeavor, a multi-national exercise involving Americans, British and Belgians,” Thacker says. “It was a readiness and combat life wire operations exercise that we conducted in a sector of Bosnia for one month. I oversaw everything from beans to bullets.”

Captain Jesse Lee Thacker at B&J Lift Truck Service

“Mission First, Team Always” is the military-inspired motto for Captain Jesse Lee Thacker at B&J Lift Truck Service.

This supervisory experience was put to good use when he returned from Bosnia to learn the family business, B&J Lift Truck Service (Anchorage, AK), was struggling. “I was accepted into the Alaskan Coast Guard in 2001 when I learned B&J was going to shut down. I always wanted to go into the family business, so I decided to put my money where my mouth was.” Currently vice president of the company, Thacker often leans on his military training to run the business. He spent time as a unit movement officer in Bosnia, preparing paperwork and equipment for deployment by rail and ship between countries. He also helped plan the Kosovo mission while working in the Division Surgeon’s office. “Preparing people and resources on a large scale makes the abilities to multi-task and conduct extended operations essential. I learned a lot about resourcing, planning and stress management, which benefits me every day in my role at B&J,” he says, adding that the military also taught him important people skills. “Our company motto is ‘Mission First, Team Always,’ and we are committed to the fact that being number one is not a goal but a way of life. Mastery is a lifetime commitment, and we live by those four words.”

Thacker feels that material handling is an “exact science” compared to some military missions where the speed and volume of assignments often forced him to broad-brush subjects. “Much like combat operations, failure to look at the details in the material handling business can cost lives and money,” Thacker says. “You may tip a machine over if you don’t know the capabilities of every product. If you order a product that doesn’t exactly meet specifications, you will have an extremely expensive piece of equipment that you don’t need.” Thacker values all his experience and knows he would be a much better officer today because of his material handling experience.

Technician Returns After Two-Year Absence
John Pizzonia, road service technician at the York, Pennsylvania, branch of Modern Group Ltd. (Bristol, PA), was deployed to the Middle East for 22 months. He left in January 2004 for training, spent a year in Iraq and returned home in October 2005. Pizzonia, a 16-year veteran of the military, is currently a sergeant in the Army National Guard. During his seven years at Modern Group, he has acquired a lot of technical knowledge that served him well during his time on active duty as a maintainer of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used for surveillance. “Having that civilian experience with forklifts helped because oftentimes we didn’t have all our support guys. On the flip side, I learned a heck of a lot about computers that helps me back at Modern,” Pizzonia says.

He is grateful to Modern for accommodating him during his nearly two years away from the job. “I know it was hard when I left because some customers didn’t like changing technicians. When I returned, I had to get caught up and familiarized with the new systems that are out there. Two years is a long time, but there really were no problems whatsoever.”

Sergeant First Class Doug Johnson

Sergeant First Class Doug Johnson says that living for a year in a tent with other people is a good way to learn how to get along with various personality types.

Branch Manager Connects Internet Cafés
As a 22-year veteran of Morrison Industrial Equipment Company (Wyoming, MI), Branch Manager Doug Johnson has experience that proved valuable in his military deployment. Starting out in the desert south of Iraq, Johnson was stationed in Balad, Baghdad and Tikrit before ending up in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Not only did he use his logistical knowledge to move troops, he also aided in the movement of military materials. “Everything arrives by container, and knowing what a container handler is and what it does really helped. I was able to assist the loading of overseas shipping containers by telling guys how one end should not be heavier than the other.”

Sergeant First Class Johnson spent April 2003 through May 2004 in Iraq as a member of a communications battalion that installed satellite phones and Internet for military operations. “During the latter part of our tour, we installed and maintained the satellite network back to the United States for phone and Internet. We also set up some Internet cafés at various bases.”

His military experience also helped him with the management role in his current job. “When you live with people in a tent for a year, you’ve got to learn how to get along with various personalities and different types of people. It definitely helps give you a different outlook on life and teaches you to be understanding of people’s opinions and visions when interacting with them.”

Johnson is grateful for the support his family received from Morrison Industrial Equipment while he was away. “I really have to thank President Roger Troost and CEO Dick Morrison,” Johnson says. “They allowed a couple of employees to do some repairs around my house, like get my tractor ready for mowing.”

Johnson retired from the Army National Guard in December 2004 after 27 years of service.

Shop Supervisor Deploys For Third Time
A staff sergeant in the Army Reserves, Manuel Diaz was on active duty from 1997 until 2003, including deployments to Kuwait in 2000 and to Qatar in 2003. His military duties gave him his first experience as a heavy-wheel mechanic. “My day-to-day operations typically consisted of maintaining around 200 vehicles, making sure they had fuel, working parts and were running efficiently. With rough terrain and combat situations, there were a lot of repairs to be done,” Diaz says.

That experience translates well to his job as shop supervisor at the Miami, Florida, branch of Andersen & Associates (Wixom, MI), where he has worked for a year and a half. His experience from the military enables him to work with electric, diesel and gas machinery. “I had not worked in material handling before, but after looking on the Internet and placing my résumé online, this seemed like a great place to start. In the military, we have our own type of forklifts that are a little bit bigger than what I do now, but the familiarity helped me a lot,” Diaz says. “Plus, I am more disciplined and on time in my daily job.”

Diaz travels once a month to his Reservist training camp in Perrine, Florida, where he trains subordinates in physical fitness during the mornings. The rest of his time is devoted to working on military vehicles. “It’s a lot like my responsibilities at Andersen & Associates—checking for faulty parts, troubleshooting, shipping and receiving, overseeing day-to-day operations, and making sure trucks are being repaired.” Diaz left again on April 29, 2006, this time for a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, and feels lucky to work for a company that understands his situation. “Andersen & Associates is very willing to work with me on my military status, and I will still have insurance.”

Sergeant First Class Tim Unertl

Sergeant First Class Tim Unertl learned to use this Do-King (MV-4) flail to clear minefields. The chains on the front are used to detonate mines in its path.

From Minefields to Material Handling
During his tour of duty in Bagram, Afghanistan, from May 2004 through April 2005, Timothy Unertl was promoted to sergeant first class in the Army Reserve. As part of an engineering unit, his battalion was responsible for route clearance and minefields. “Our company did not really get involved with minefield clearance, but we watched other battalions that did,” Unertl says. “They marked off a lane one meter wide, and then a soldier would go in with a mine detector and pick up sounds with a headset. After he marked off the spots where mines were located, someone else would go in with a probing tool to see if he could contact a mine. If explosives were present, an explosive ordnance division representative would remove or destroy the mine.”

Unertl spent most his time on projects like construction of helicopter pads and air fields. He also helped construct several residences for American soldiers. It was in this role that his 11 years of experience as road service technician with Conger Toyotalift, a Wausau-based branch of Conger Industries (Green Bay, WI), came in handy. “There was a lot of physical labor involved when we did any material handling in Afghanistan. The lack of certain equipment meant that soldiers used their hands to do a lot of things,” Unertl says. He also has learned a lot from his 22-plus years of military experience. “The military teaches you responsibility and pride in your work. If you do something wrong, own up to it and fix it.”

Now that he is back in his position at Conger, Unertl is philosophical about his experience. “If you don’t find a bit of humor in what you are doing over there, you will go crazy.”

Specialist Chris Wood

For Specialist Chris Wood, mechanical experience in the military turned into a career as a service tech.

Military Operational Skills Come in Handy
Chris Wood spent three years in the military as an Army specialist stationed at Fort Story in Virginia Beach. During that time, Wood spent a year overseas as a cargo specialist, operating cranes, forklifts and other material-moving machinery. He had no prior experience in the material handling field, but Wood was able to parlay the skills he learned in the Army into a job as a service technician at Advanced Handling Systems (Cincinnati, OH) once he retired from the service in February 2006.

“My military experience helps me a lot in my current job,” Wood says. “Now that I have seen both sides, I can run machines as well as fix them.” It’s not only hard job skills that help Wood in his current job. His military tenure also taught him discipline, timeliness and leadership skills that are critical in his current position. “When I returned to the United States, I was on funeral detail, burying those soldiers killed in Iraq,” Wood says. “I was also in charge of the fitness regimen for eight other soldiers. I had to keep them proficient in the Common Task Test (CTT) which involved basic rifle maneuverability, land navigation and other things.” Wood’s supervisory role with these soldiers boosted his leadership skills and made him a great hire for Advanced Handling Systems.

Paratrooper Jumps Into Mechanics
The deployment of Manuel Diaz (above) gave Marcelo Londono the chance to step into a leadership role. Londono is a four-year veteran of the Army Reserves with the rank of specialist. He placed himself on the active duty volunteer list three years ago, but has not yet been deployed overseas. “Depending on the state of the battlefront, they might send a group or individual whose name is on the list,” Londono says. “I feel ready to serve my country in that capacity.” Until his call comes, Londono works as a shop mechanic at the Miami, Florida, branch of Andersen & Associates. “I have taken over for Sergeant Diaz. The shop manager tells me what he needs and then my military training helps me to delegate those instructions,” he says. “My military training makes me naturally want to lead and get things done.”

Londono credits Diaz, his civilian and military supervisor, with getting him his job. Both men are in the same special operations unit, and Diaz recommended Londono for the position even though he lacked mechanical service experience. “I’ve been here for six months and I love it,” Londono says, while acknowledging that he has a long way to go. “I eventually hope to possess as much mechanical knowledge as Sergeant Diaz, and I look forward to learning more from him when he returns.”

As part of his Reservist training, Londono has been a paratrooper for the last two years in a special operations unit that is a support company for the battlefront. “We train for the possibility that we would re-supply the front lines, and the fastest way we can do that is by dropping out of a plane!” He has 22 static line jumps under his belt, including one out of a Chinook at 2,300 feet, his highest. His duties also include mortuary affairs—the search for and recovery of comrades killed in action, including dental identification and fingerprinting. “The military has helped me so much in regards to my work habits, because the discipline develops organizational skills. Whether I am at my civilian job or doing my Reservist job, I conduct myself with the utmost professionalism, accuracy, cleanliness and attention to detail.”

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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