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  • I was drafted in 1962 and after basic training, was stationed stationed near Heidelberg, Germany. I was a private assigned to the U. S. Corps of Engineers Supply Headquarters for Europe. My primary duty was to order all the lumber and related supplies for 7th Army, (France & Germany).
    A Lieutenant Colonel was assigned this responsibility, ordering a total of $6 to$7 Million a year of these supplies for all 7th Army supply Depots. (a LOT of money 50 years ago, even by military standards.) He then assigned the task to a Captain, who assigned it to a Master Sergent, (Msgt) who assigned it to me, a lowly private draftee, (not even a Private First Class), earning $89/month, at that time.
    I went into the Msgt's office to "learn" how to order lumber. We ordered $1 to 2 Million every three months to be shipped form the US within 6 months. So we had to plan an inventory of at least 9 months ahead.
    He told me the job is easier than it sounds. He pulled out the order from 3 months ago. He put a little piece of paper over the date (we did not have "white out"). He made a copy of the previous order, (numerous pages). He then took his pen and wrote in the current date, went to the Captain's office and had him sign it. Then we sent it to the US Procurement Center.
    He said that I landed one of the easiest jobs in the military. I could volunteer for office work, motor pool, etc. if I wanted to, as long as I did this 15 minutes of work once every three months. I had a desk next to a Sergent, who befriended me. He also ordered supplies for 7th Army Supply Depots, but in different categories. He invited me to take trips with him to the various Depots, and get a look at how vast they are and, by the way, meet the lumber yard staffs.
    He had method to his madness. After going to the first few Depots, which were indeed vast, I came to a stunning realization. The lumber yards were not getting supplies they ordered and really needed, but had huge quantities of useless lumber supplies. I vividly remember the frustration of one poor soul who had been trying to stop the inflow of thousands of sheets of 1/4 inch plywood, every three months for several years. By the same token he was desperate to get board lumber. For example, 2x4 lumber and many other lumber products he always ordered but never got. Other Depots had thousands of 2x4's they never used, and kept getting more.
    When I got back from my first excursion, I asked the Msgt about this. He said they were "cry babies" and "complainers", and not worth his time dealing with. He told me to ignore their lumber order forms, since it "just made things complicated".
    After I had seen a few of the lumber yards, the Sergent who was taking me around on these trips made a suggestion (do you remember Sgt. Bilko from TV?). He said that they move his equipment, including empty trucks, around Europe, from Depot to Depot and if I coordinated the excess with the realistic needs, it would at least solve part of the problem. He showed me how to manipulate the requisitions to trade the supplies among Depots.
    Then I got accurate counts and filled in the gaps with the quarterly order. After 9 months, they all had what they needed and had traded off their excesses to other Depots, through my networking. Word of this had gotten to the Captain, and the Lieutenant Colonel and the Captain received appropriate praise for working out the "bugs" in the lumber system.
    I in turn had my responsibilities increased, to "in charge of the coffee pool". They thought that if I could solve the lumber problem, I would be able to collect a few dimes and quarters from the staff, and make sure that all 3 floors of our office building (about 175 troops and civilians) all had enough coffee supplies, cream, sugar, cups, stirrers, napkins, etc. on each floor. Which seemed to them, a much more serious problem than the lumber crisis. I almost blew it when I insisted that the top brass also kick in their dimes and quarters, which was a radical idea, (no one since WW 2, had ever dared to ask them to chip in), but they were the reason that coffee supplies kept running out. Being it was Engineering Headquarters for Europe, there were a LOT of top brass, who drank a LOT of previously free coffee. It worked. The coffee flowed and was all paid for. Success #2.

    I had loads of friends in the buildiing, and had finally worked my way up to Private First Class (PFC). This meant I was making just over $100/mo, after taxes. It was a shame to have completed my service, but the prosperity of civilian life was beckoning my name. I knew I could make about $150/week in the "economy" as they referred to the real world.
    (As an aside, I had a role in coordinating the building of the massive grandstands in Berlin when Pres. John F. Kennedy went there to give his famous '"I am a Berliner" speech. We built that grandstand by coordinating existing supplies and had virtually no emergency procurement cost. The Army Engineers were authorized to spend millions on this single use structure, but didn't need to.)

    As Paul Harvey would say, and now here's....the REST of the story.
    The Msgt. called me into his office when it was time to prepare my last quarterly lumber report. He said he was taking over the job again, and he knew that I had done great things with the lumber supplies requisitioning. This time he asked ME to teach HIM, what I was doing that made all the 7th Army lumber yards in Europe so happy, and how I had saved the military close to $3 Million in lumber costs, while improving availability and inventory.
    I started to go through the last 3 month order documents page by page, explaining it to him. Half way through the 3rd page, he grabbed the stack of papers out of my hands. He put a little piece of paper over the date, ran it through the copier, and looked at me with the most smug look he could muster, as he chomped on his cigar and wrote in the current date. He looked at me and said, "Private, THAT's how you order lumber." He left to go have the Captain sign it.
    I cringed and got a very ugly feeling in my gut to know what I had developed over 18 months would be destroyed by a little white tab over the requisition date. Eventually I rationalized that at least I had saved the US Army about $3 Million, but on the other hand it probably just meant some other military budget got bloated by that much.
    Whenever anyone brings up the military budget to me, I contemplate how many other millions and billions are also wasted, and have been wasted over the last 50 years, since my experience. If anyone out there ever asks you if the military should have more money..... PLEASE say NO.
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