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Tom Rozman: Leadership from the ground-floor & up; both the good & the bad

The Master Printer and the New Hire—A prospective ROTC Scholarship Cadet’s Practical Experience in Leadership

Article by: Tom Rozman

Tom-Rozman

A prospective Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Army Scholarship Program cadet had returned to the United States.  He would be one of the hundreds of Army and Air Force cadets initiating the brand new Department of Defense Army and Air Force ROTC Scholarship Programs.  The scholarships supported a student’s matriculation at civilian universities hosting the ROTC Program across the country and hopefully improved the Army’s and Air Force’s intake of new officers with college degrees.

For the selected cadet candidate to be enrolled in the program it was necessary to report to the ROTC instructor group at the university that had accepted his application.  The instructor group administered the ROTC program on campus and a critical requirement to be placed on the program rolls was to successfully complete an enlistment physical examination and psychological/intelligence evaluation followed by enlistment into the Army of the United States as an Army Reserve Private. The Professors of Military Science of the participating school’s instructor groups would administer the enlistment oath to the prospective cadets.

As with most college oriented people at the time came from middle class families with relatively modest finances, the future cadet had been working hourly jobs for the previous three summers.  He had held a job in Germany at a U. S. Army Europe Army Exchange Service regional bakery working the ovens before return to the States.  To meet the in-processing schedule at the ROTC instructor group using available return government transportation, in his case a troopship, he had embarked at Bremerhaven midsummer making way to New York City.  The timing made difficult the prospects of further summer employment stateside.

USNS General Simon B. Buckner 1965

Though by the standards of the times the scholarship was generous, additional funding to meet all baseline expenses and have any funding for any other purpose was necessary.  As soon as he arrived stateside, taking residence with his grandfather, the candidate cadet aggressively pursued additional work.

Two jobs developed.  The first was a short stint driving a rack truck for a shade grown tobacco farm.  The second with a newly moved printing plant lasted for a month.  The experience on this job would add to the future cadet’s store of leadership experiences—the good and not so good.  It would serve as an early leadership training exercise to the ROTC Scholarship Program he would be entering at the University of Connecticut.  A vignette based on that experience follows—it likely echoes the experience of many readers.  For some it may add perspective of value in how leadership does or does not function even in what may seem the most benign of situations.

***

A Master Printer at a printing plant in Hartford, Connecticut was working a hard schedule to meet several printing orders for business manifold forms.  The company he was employed by had recently relocated to a newly built plant and the privately owned company was catching up on orders.  As indicated by the orders, the company’s business specialized in printing manifold business forms—multilayered and multicolored form copies with carbon paper in between the different colored form copies.  The company did a good business and the work was steady, sometimes with peak periods that taxed resources as the company operated on a very small printing staff and overhead.

The new facility was located in a recently designated and developed industrial park at the local municipal and old state military airport.  The facility had a large interior bay with masonry walls of cinder block that supported steel trussed undergirding of a flat roof.  The roof was about 25 feet above the concrete floor.

The various printing presses used for the differing customer orders were located in the central area of the structure’s large central bay—some 60’ X 100’.  One wall was configured with a number of loading bay doors that opened onto a loading dock.  Another wall opened into an administrative area with offices that ran across the front of the building while two other solid walls had an open space for storage between the wall and the printing area centered in the space.

The large solid wall area was being organized to accommodate paper stock in form of huge paper rolls for current and projected customer jobs.  The owners and the master printer hadn’t yet come to a full decision on the storing system for the paper rolls to best support storage and access for jobs.  The rolls of paper were resting on the circular side on pallets, depending on the type of paper, weighing 1,000-3,000 pounds per palleted roll.  The paper rolls on their pallets were stacked for the most part against the wall for stability, in some cases higher than may have been prudent relative to stack stability and safety.  In most cases the stacking was several stacks deep from the wall.

To assist with the task of getting the stock organized post move into the new facility, the company hired an employee to provide the labor to move the paper rolls into desired configuration.  As well, the employee would make product deliveries to customers in the greater Hartford municipal area..

The new hire on reporting for work to the owner received minimal guidance of task, desired objective and ideas on how to work the task as best explained.   Some very broad objectives were mentioned with minimal specifics.  There was comment that the master printer would provide some ongoing guidance.  But the master printer was a very busy man having only himself to work the presses and multiple jobs.

No organized training occurred.  The new hire began work with the sketchy guidance and when the master printer could break from his work, some assistance.  As it happened, the printer’s route from home to work rode by the new hire’s place of residence and the printer offered to provide the new hire daily transportation.

From this additional opportunity to obtain information on the drive to and from work, the new hire was able to improve his sense of what was to be done on the job.  This information and experience resource proved critical to the new hire, possibly life saving.

But, the owners continued to be less than clear or forthcoming on how they planned to handle paper stock against work orders supported by organization of the new space.  Generally, the operation appeared less than clear in its conduct and the minimum training afforded by the owners on equipment like the forklift and not stressing safe practices around ever higher stacks of paper rolls, accessing them and reorganizing them, gave the new hire some concern about personal safety.

Added to the stock work, the new hire as mentioned was also tasked as the delivery and pick-up driver of the company’s paneled truck of about ¾ ton capacity.  The truck runs could engage a significant part of the day.  With the minimum training and guidance being provided, these delivery/pick-up trips claimed scarce time from the stock work. The combination kept the new hire busy in the ongoing attempt to organize stock given shifting job workloads and focus due to ever changing printing job schedules.  To a degree, in a small operation, this dynamic situation was to be expected.  But the limited guidance provided made the reactive schedule adjustments a challenge to manage on the plant floor given the volume of orders.

Thanks to the clarifying guidance the overworked master printer was able to provide, who again had a minimum of time he could spend away from the presses working job orders, the new hire was able to obtain enough insight into what to do and how to do it to get the work done.  Perhaps more importantly, the master printer assured that injuries were avoided relative to use of equipment, access to stacked paper rolls and safe re-stacking and stacking of new paper roll inventory by monitoring safe practice, especially in the handling of the extremely heavy paper rolls.  But with printing jobs at the level they were he was unable to dedicate himself to oversight of the work. But through their work together, the master printer and the new hire were able to get the initial job done over the weeks the new hire was on payroll.

The basic work completing of organizing stock in the new plant, the owner approached the new hire after four weeks.  He informed the new hire that his services were no longer required.  The release coincided well with the new hire’s plans.  As noted, he had returned from Germany mid-summer en-route to the University of Connecticut. Given the schedule, he had been fortunate in having time for the several weeks of work and income generation.  He thanked the employer for the opportunity to work. He had not informed the employer at any time of his plans to enter the university. The new hire moved on.

Four and half years later, a West Point cadet in uniform was hitchhiking to the University of Connecticut from the Military Academy.  He was near New Haven, Connecticut at the time.  A car stopped to give him a ride.  The driver was a Navy warrant officer in uniform.  He was driving to Windsor, Connecticut.

It was winter and cold.  The driver and the passenger, as the car sped east, thought to themselves that the other looked familiar.  After comparing notes for a few minutes it dawned on them that the warrant officer was the master printer at the printing plant those several years ago, and the U. S. cadet was the new hire.

The latter had, after parting ways at the last ride home from the printing plant, enlisted in the Army Reserve and served for  a year at the University of Connecticut in his duty position as an Army ROTC Scholarship cadet.  He received an appointment to the Military Academy by the following spring and was discharged from the Army of the United States that summer as a Private 2nd Class and sworn into the Regular Army as a U. S. Cadet where he had spent the last three years.  He would graduate from the Military Academy the following year and be commissioned into the Regular Army as a 2nd Lieutenant of Infantry.

 

The cadet thanked the warrant officer for being the positive force he’d been on that job over four years before.  It was then that the warrant officer shared what happened after the new hire left.  The conditions were such on the job that the master printer learned of the Navy’s warrant officer program for printers and investigated further.  He met the requirements and applied and was accepted by the Navy.  He said he’d never looked back, he liked his Navy career experience and would continue with it.

The warrant officer asked the cadet where he needed to go.  On initial pick-up he had said he could only take the cadet as far as Hartford as he was then heading north from Hartford to Windsor.  When he learned who the cadet was he insisted on driving out of his way the additional 40 more miles it would take to deliver the cadet to his destination.

The warrant officer was the type of person on the job and off that makes a difference—he filled a leadership void even when it was inconvenient regarding his ongoing tasks or possibly compromising to his situation with his superior.  But his engagement may well have prevented serious injury or worse.  And the job did get done.

What always remained a question in the new hire’s mind was given that the owner had been a WWII military pilot, why had he demonstrated so little involvement as a leader?  The lack of engaged leadership and guidance from the owner over the several weeks of the job, especially to clarify task objectives, always seemed an odd approach to the new hire.  It appeared to be in conflict with the successful leading of an operation.

The new hire would remember the lessons well.  He would always assess the adequacy of leader task guidance and necessary guidance reinforcement, particularly if major safety issues were involved.  The presence of significant safety risks and hazards in later positions always underscored a need for engaged and involved leadership that would never be sidestepped.  This focus in 10 years of assignment to combat organizations of the Army, seven of those years with armored formations as well as three years training a cadet battalion had much to do with no serious injuries occurring in the units of responsibility—even when conducting aggressive and demanding training and field operations.