The Value of NDTA
By COL Rod Mallette, USA (Ret.) Vice President, International Auto Logistics
When NDTA began, it did so with the stated goal of creating trust and knowledge between the military, government civilians and leaders of the transportation industry. Today, NDTA has broadened its scope to include logistics, passenger travel services, and professional training while maintaining its status as a non-political, non-profit educational organization. Its membership has expanded from senior members of the military, government and industry to include junior members of these organizations and students studying logistics.
NDTA’s broadened scope permitted me to gain increased knowledge for any organization with which I was associated while simultaneously increasing my personal value. There is no doubt that NDTA was instrumental to my successful military and commercial career in logistics.
The first NDTA Forum I attended in 1988 was as a Senior Captain assigned to the Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC), now the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC), and proved to be an eye-opening experience. The theme, Deterrence Thru Deployment, was so appropriate as the US Military would deploy into Kuwait in less than two years utilizing commercial airlift and sealift. Senior military officers were on panels discussing the difficulties moving large Army, and industry leaders were concerned with how their companies would support the US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM). More importantly, these senior people were interested in speaking to junior officers and sharing their experience. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were probably trying to identify individuals who had potential to be worthy of their time as a mentor.
The theme of the NDTA Forum in 1998, Partners in Power Projection, was the centerpiece of Operation Iraqi Freedom as the US ocean and air carriers were heavily used during the deployment and sustainment of this campaign. Many of the people I met ten years earlier were now in more senior positions at their companies. Our long-term relationships made it easier to coordinate, smoothing aspects of the deployment for which I was responsible.
The NDTA Conference in 2008, with the theme, The Global Enterprise, was quite appropriate. Discussions and panels centered on the international supply chain. All US-flag ocean and air companies were connected worldwide. Having retired from the military two years earlier, it seemed amazing how commercial and military logistics worked together on a daily basis.
There are five key areas in which my relationship with NDTA helped: mentoring, knowledge, networking, confidence, and leadership.
I met LTG Ed Honor who sat me at his table during the Awards Night dinner in 1988 in an effort to get to know me. We developed somewhat of a mentor/mentee relationship as he became the President of NDTA. During his tenure, I remember asking how to be a good mentor and identify someone who is willing to be mentored. LTG Honor said the mentor must determine if he can help the mentee and balance that against the effort it will take. The mentor must also decide if the mentee is willing to accept mentoring and apply lessons to be a better military or civilian professional. His comments come to my mind whenever I have the opportunity to mentor someone.
Visiting industry display booths and talking to individuals about their respective company is an integral part of attending any NDTA conference. My assignment to MTMC came immediately after graduate school and I had no knowledge of commercial industry. I learned that the different modes of transportation like to work with customers that understand their business and pay their bills on time. For example, trucking companies and their drivers most want to haul cargo for customers that quickly load and unload their trucks, pay their bills on time, and understand their business model. A junior person at a display booth explained this to me and we stayed in touch with over the years; he is now the president of his company.
Similarly, at a subsequent NDTA Forum, I was interested in the US-flag ocean carrier industry and learned why the Maritime Security Program (MSP) is so important to the US maritime industry. MSP provides a core fleet of US-flag privately owned ships that operate in international commerce during peace, but provide capacity to meet Department of Defense (DOD) requirements during war and national emergencies. In addition, MSP ship crews are a major component of the DOD’s surge fleet. The junior person who explained this to me is now head of the US-flag division of his company. We’ve stayed in touch over the years and all of us are in comparable leadership positions in our respective companies. It could be said that we’ve grown up together in the professional world.
NDTA gives me the opportunity to network. When I was serving on active duty, it was networking with commercial industry. Now that I’ve retired from the Army, I continue to network with industry, but must do the same with military members. There are three things on which I focus when networking: increasing my personal knowledge, developing common interests, and ensuring I share my knowledge.
Networking is hard work, but the structure of NDTA makes it easier. All members or attendees at meetings are knowledgeable about logistics, with detailed knowledge of their company and industry. By talking to other members, one can gain some of this knowledge. For example, a member from trucking will always have current knowledge of issues within the trucking industry. This information can enable you to mitigate problems within your company or government contract if you choose to understand the issue. Similarly, one can explain an industry or government perspective to another member and it might be something they’ve not considered. If you’ve developed a relationship over the years through NDTA and social events, it makes it much easier to reach out with questions and get an answer. Conversely, they will reach out to you knowing you’ll provide an answer or know who can provide one.
As I’ve gained knowledge of industry and stayed current with military logistic priorities, I understand both perspectives and can provide better personal value to my company. This is because I understand the limits of my knowledge in these areas, but know who can fill in the holes through my network and relationships found in NDTA.
My observations of senior leaders active in NDTA has shown me how one must always seek knowledge and truly understand each transportation mode. The most successful leaders appear to have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, always asking questions and listening.
Today’s NDTA is an organization that is still creating trust and knowledge among members of the military, government and industry. If one stays involved with NDTA at the junior, mid-level and senior ranks, the opportunity to have good things happen for both your organization and you is there.
Rod Mallette is a retired colonel who last served in the Army as Chief of Staff of SDDC. His civilian career includes senior positions with a US-flag ocean carrier, an international 3PL, a truck company and a government contractor. He served as President of two NDTA chapters, the NDTA Surface Committee, the NDTA Distribution Committee and as Chair of the Council of Regional Presidents.