8th District Marines make mission despite hurricanes
The months of August and September 2005 will be long remembered for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which displaced families, destroyed homes, disrupted operations and pushed the 8th Marine Corps District family to new competitive levels.
In spite of evacuations, the communications challenges, and remarkable odds, Marines in the district operations section defiantly rang the mission bell to successfully close out fiscal year 2005.
“What this group of professional Marines accomplished is unbelievable,” said Lt.Col. G.M. Tolliver, district Operations Officer. “It is a true testament to their will to succeed- their refusal to fail no matter what the circumstances.”
As the month of August drew to a close, a small hurricane was meandering off the southern tip of Florida. The common hope of the district Marines was that Katrina would follow the well-worn script of previous storms and threaten the city before making a last minute turn to the East. As part of standard procedure, Operations sent an advance party to Recruiting Station Fort Worth to establish a “forward headquarters” two days ahead of the projected landfall.
As the hurricane grew stronger and closer, remaining district personnel were evacuated to safety.
The advance party in Fort Worth expected the evacuation to be short-lived and as such, brought enough equipment to sustain temporary operations. “We had three laptops, a printer, and that’s about it,” said Jeff Peterman, operations information technology specialist and former Marine sergeant. “But, every month we have made mission regardless of the circumstances, so we just got here and went to work.”
By September 1, the entire operations section had assembled in Fort Worth. This unity would be crucial to success in the days ahead, said Tolliver.
“The ‘corporate knowledge’ of the unit when we are all together in the same office together is invaluable,” he said. “There’s not much that can come our way that at least one person in our shop doesn’t know how to handle.”
Hurricane Katrina eventually made landfall some 60 miles east of New Orleans, sparing it the potential disaster of a direct hit. Just as things were settling down, a portion of the protective levy system surrounding the city gave way. Uncontrolled floodwaters poured into most of New Orleans, which sits some 10-15 feet below sea level.
Some district personnel, whose homes were spared the worst of the storm, watched in horror as news reports showed waters rising in the Crescent City. Suddenly, the stability
of “home” had been taken away from District personnel who relied so heavily on it.
“You don’t deal with your personal business publicly, but deep down you obviously have concerns,” he said. “We never thought about, ‘what if something happens at home,’ certainly to this extent. You can be a Marine all you want, but it still weighs on you.”
Tolliver, who along with some of his Marines took heavy damages to his house and vehicles, credits everyone in the Operations section with staying focused on the mission.
“Not one of the Marines hung their heads,” he said. “They stayed on point and stayed focused on the task at hand.”
‘ … and then Rita hit …”
Focus would be important, because at close of business on September 15, the Marines were 99 contracts behind phaseline. While the district had successfully faced an uphill climbs thus far, yet another wrinkle would complicate things further. Eight days before mission day, the gravity of the situation would be realized as Hurricane Rita roared ashore near the Texas and Louisiana border. RS Houston- the district’s largest station- evacuated, shutting down processing operations for five consecutive days.
“The average recruiter gets three to five days off in a month, and we had to shut the doors for five days in a row,” explained Tolliver, who compared the situation to a civilian
corporation losing 25 percent of its productive time for an entire month. “Ask any company to shut their doors for a quarter of their business days and see if they can survive.”
At close of business on September 27, there were 163 more contracts to write and three processing days left in the month. RS Houston, following the five- day evacuation, was
tasked with writing nearly 40 of those contracts - almost half their monthly mission.
“Five days is much larger in the grand scheme of things,” said Tolliver. “When your entire market evacuates, you can’t just walk in on the sixth day and resume business as usual. It’s hard to prospect when the entire city is scattered across Texas.”
Needing an average of 41 contracts per day, even the most seasoned operations Marines began to have doubts.
“I’ve been in this game a long time, but I was a little worried,” said Tolliver,
who had previously served as the district Assistant for Enlisted Recruiting. “I had confidence in the ability in our Marines, but deep down inside I thought we were in trouble.”
As it turned out, Tolliver’s confidence spread amongst his co-workers. “As Marines, when we saw we were down 35 with one day to go, something happened,” said Sgt. Dustin Storey, district quality control non-commissioned officer in charge. “Each individual decided to do whatever it took to help each RSS and each RS make mission.”
Ring the bell
And make mission they did. Shortly after midnight on Saturday, October 1, the last contract arrived. Two hours later, the final monthly ticket was printed showing the scope of what happened. Five stations throughout the district had been tasked with writing
between five and seven extra contracts to cover for RS Houston, which was expected to miss mission by 25 contracts.
In response, each RS overwrote at least as many as they were tasked with. RS Fort Worth was the first RS in the district to close out the month, and contributed 10 extra contracts.
Additionally, Fort Worth was recognized as the district’s Recruiting Station of the Year.
Not to be outdone, RS Houston wrote 35 contracts on the last day and made mission outright.
“That is the largest single contracting day since 1998,” explained Tolliver, who recalled a 45-contract mission day effort by RS New Orleans, formerly of the 8th Marine Corps District.
“Basically, the guys in Houston wouldn’t take no for an answer,” said Storey. “They fought and kept fighting until the final whistle. What they accomplished is awesome.”
Success of this magnitude comes with a cost- 8MCD has left themselves one tough act to follow.
“It’s hard to outdo an achievement like this,” said Tolliver. “Other than every RS in the district making mission by third phasline, I’m not sure anything will ever top this.”