Operations Lessons Learned and Best Practices

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(Note: This article was modified from an article I wrote that was published in the Winter 2019 issue of the Army Chemical Review, the official publication of the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School (USACBRNS), where I have worked as a Department of the Army civilian for nearly twelve years.)

Background

As I reflect on my military experience over the past 34 years, I am ever mindful that God led me to serve in the Army.  He brought me through every challenge I ever faced.  God enabled me to perform beyond my expectations.  He used me in my military service to love my neighbors and meet their needs.  God put me in my current position as it clearly fits my unique skill set and background.  God continues to use me in a critical role to advise Army leaders and staff.  (See article I wrote where I reflect on my Army career.)

By God’s design, I worked in operations from company to corps level for thirteen of my twenty years while on active duty.  During my time in civilian service, I have worked as the Operations Officer at the USACBRNS.  In this position, I have used my operations experience to take care of my leaders at the school and Soldiers around the world, contributing to the defense of this Nation.  God has given me wisdom.  Perhaps it is time I shared some of the operations lessons I have learned and offered some best practices so that those who work in operations at any level can be more effective in their work.

Team-building

I have only been successful in this position because of the great work of the professional noncommissioned officers (NCOs), officers, and civilians who have been part of our operations team.  You may find it hard to believe, but just over one hundred employees have worked for me in the past twelve years.  (I can actually name them.  I have a list.)  I have had much experience in team-building here in this job because I have had to constantly fine-tune my efforts as the membership of our team changed often as people came and went.

Besides me, the operations section is authorized only two NCOs and one civilian.  The NCOs were normally here for a year or two; some less than one year.  They were the backbone of the section.  They made things happen.  I also had numerous lieutenants and captains that worked here as temporary augmentees on a limited basis either before or after coming here to attend a course.

Combinatorial Theory Applications

One of the most fun classes I took when I was a college student earning my mathematics degree was Combinatorics.  Wikipedia defines it this way: “Combinatorics is an area of mathematics primarily concerned with counting, both as a means and an end in obtaining results, and certain properties of finite structures.”  Okay, sure.  So what?

Decades later, I have found a useful application that I believe many others who manage a team of any size will find to be extremely helpful.

We can use what I learned about combinatorial theory to compute how many distinct relationships we had in our section of four people.  It is a relatively simple mathematical formula: n x (n-1)/2 (where n is the number of people you have).  Let’s see how this turns out.

With four on your team, you merely multiply it by three (which are the three other people that everyone has to work with) and then divide it by two.  (The reason is simple: you do not need to count relationships twice.  My relationship with you is the same as yours with me).  In this case, four x three = twelve, divided by two, yields a total of six relationships.

What if you add two good lieutenants to the mix?  (I am grateful for the help!)  Now you have six on the team.  How many distinct relationships do you have?  Using the formula, it looks like 6 x 5 / 2 = 15.  Fifteen!  So, by adding two more people to your team, it is not just two more people to care for.  It requires you as a leader to maintain nine more relationships from the six you had earlier.  (Each of the two newbies has to relate to the previous four and relate to each other.)

These calculations have some serious implications.  Every relationship is important and needs to be monitored by the leader.  The chain is only as good as its weakest link.  Everyone has to relate to each other, not just to the boss.  Where there are more people, there is more potential for conflict.  With so many relationships to maintain, we each have to work hard to communicate positively with everyone we work with, and resolve conflicts at the lowest level possible.

I praise God for the team I have been entrusted with and for the opportunity to serve with them.  (See article on how God worked through my team to plan, prepare, and execute events for the 100th anniversary of the Chemical Corps in June 2018.)

360-degree mentoring

In terms of building a team, maintaining positive working relationships between team members is absolutely essential.  However, there is an individual aspect to team-building that is equally important.  We call this process mentoring.  I developed a slightly different approach to this topic.

We are all taught to mentor those who are subordinate to us, to make on the spot corrections, and to develop character.  Those things are all very important.  However, I have to wonder if this is being done on a consistent basis by very busy leaders.  Who is mentoring those above us?  I have observed that we cannot assume that someone higher is looking out for him or her and helping them to develop as a leader.  Who is mentoring your boss?  Your boss’ boss?

The process of 360-degree mentoring is an approach where everyone on the team consistently cares for and makes an effort to develop everyone else: below us, above us, and right next to us.  The goal is to improve the entire team.  If we are able to tactfully mentor our boss occasionally, they can mentor us better.  If our employees mentor us when needed as we mentor them, we can take better care of them.  Everyone benefits when everyone intentionally mentors one another.

God speaks of mentoring: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.  He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored” (Prov. 27:17-18).

Collaboration with Counterparts

We have discussed the process of building our team from within.  But what about how we relate to our counterparts from outside organizations?  I have found that these relationships also need to be maintained to be successful as an operations leader at whatever level I have served.

Who are your counterparts?  I use this term frequently, but others may not know what I am referring to.  These are people who are at the same rank or pay grade as you, who are serving in the same function in a different organization on your left and right.  It also refers to someone who is at a higher or lower rank or pay grade than you, who is serving in the same function, but with a different organization above or below you.  Let me give a few examples.

At the USACBRNS, we have a taskings NCO who has counterparts in the other two schools here.  This NCO also has a counterpart at the center above and at the brigade that falls under the school.  Another example is the battalion operations NCO who would have counterparts in the other two battalions in the brigade, on the brigade staff above, as well as each of the companies below.

What do we do with our counterparts? Here is what I have learned here:

  • Coordinate with and share information freely with counterparts on your left and right
  • Coordinate with and receive guidance humbly from counterparts above
  • Coordinate with and mentor your counterparts below as needed
  • Handle things at the lowest level (i.e., operations channels vs. command channels)
  • End State: Establish and maintain a good reputation with all counterparts (build trust)

By the grace of God, there is a great deal I have learned along the way as I have served in various operations positions as an NCO and as a civilian.  I am hoping these insights I shared will be helpful for many, and will enable you and your hard working team members to be more successful in doing their seemingly unending and thankless jobs.

Know this: your work truly matters!

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

How Does Proverbs Allude to the Ten Commandments? (Part 2)

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(Note: This is the second part of a two part study.  See part 1 here.)

As I read through several chapters from Proverbs this week, it became obvious that Solomon purposefully addresses two other commandments from the Decalogue: do not commit adultery (Ex. 20:14) and do not covet (Ex. 20:17).  Let me describe how and why he does this.

Adultery is addressed in depth in large portions of chapters 5, 6, and 7.  However, this is not the first time we see it.   In the context of teaching on the moral benefits of wisdom to keep us from the ways of the wicked, we read this admonition: “It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God” (2:16-17).

Solomon continues his warning, stating that “her house leads down to death” and “none who go to her return or attain the paths of life.”  Again, we see the contrast between the path of the wicked leading to death vs. the path of the righteous leading to life, which corresponds with our discussion on the commandment to honor our parents.  This is more parental advice that sons (and daughters) do well to pay attention to.

Later, near the end of chapter four, right before Solomon hits this topic head-on, we read this command, “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” (4:24).  Those who are wise, as Solomon will say numerous times throughout this book, watch what they say, avoiding evil, deceptive, and selfish speech patterns.  The adulteress knows nothing of this, as we read in 5:3, “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.”

Solomon begins his warnings about the adulteress here in 5:3-14.  His admonitions include the following: “her steps lead straight to the grave” (v. 5) and “keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house” (v. 8).  Taking what is not yours will lead to financial consequences.  He also paints a dismal picture of how it will end, with pain, loss, ruined reputation, and regret.

Solomon’s advice to his son takes a surprising turn in 6:20-35.  He provides what I have held for many decades as the ultimate protection against adultery.  For most of my marriage, I have stated this sure-fire biblical solution this way: “Have an affair with your spouse.”  This implies priority, intentionality, anticipation, commitment, passion, and just plain fun, which is right and good.

Yahweh, through this very flawed king who certainly knew nothing about having only one wife for life (perhaps inheriting his own father’s adulterous tendencies), gives us some solid reasons as to why husbands should find their sexual satisfaction at home rather than abroad (pun intended).

Solomon directs his son’s focus to his wife, the one who should be the source of marital joy, and not some strange woman. He uses the metaphor of water to describe his wife, instructing him to “drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well” (5:15).  It is not difficult to grasp this picture of God’s provision to every husband of a wife who is life-giving refreshment in a dry land.  The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary explains, “The images of a cistern, well, or fountain are used of a wife (see SS 4:15) because she, like water, satisfies desires.”  Amen!

We read a graphic description of the physical union that is appropriate between man and wife.  The husband is to find blessing, rejoicing, satisfaction, and captivation as he becomes one with his wife’s body.  This powerful activity is essential in marriage, intended by God to be a glue to keep the family intact and increasing the number of God’s people to fill the earth.  Marriage, as designed by the Creator of the universe, was meant to be one man and one woman for life.

What I see here in Scripture and reflected in my own life is that God provides our spouses as a gift to be received, protected, sacrificed for, cherished, and enjoyed.  Adam saw Eve that way when God brought her to him and he exclaimed, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23).  I translate the next verse loosely, “She shall be called woman because she makes me say, ‘Whoa, man!’”  This warm, intelligent, and beautiful partner that God gave Adam, made in the very image of God, was going to be his primary coworker to accomplish the job that God gave them both in the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:26-28).

Solomon continues his teaching against committing adultery and coveting one’s neighbor’s wife in extended sections in 6:20-35 and again in 7:6-27.  He directly addresses not only the activity of adultery, but the lust in one’s heart that precedes it in 6:25 and 7:25, alluding to the tenth of Ten Commandments.  (Jesus addressed this in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:27-28).  Solomon paints a vivid picture of the destruction which usually comes as a result of pursuing this sin.

This major topic that is a focus of nearly one tenth of the chapters in the book of Proverbs is something that Solomon’s sons, our own sons, and all men need to pay close attention to.  It is too common of a tale.  It has been so from the beginning, as it is boldly stated in 7:26, “Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng.”  If we determine ahead of time to do all we can in the power of the Holy Spirit to flee from lustful thoughts and evil actions that could eventually lead to selfish and foolish adulterous behavior, and choose to rejoice in the wife that God gave to us, we will see God’s blessings on our own lives, our families, and our society.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

How Does Proverbs Allude to the Ten Commandments?

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(Note: This is the first part of a two part study.  See part 2 here.)

Since this is the beginning of a New Year and a new decade, I decided to read through the book of Proverbs again, one chapter every day.  It is a great book to help me focus on living wisely.

One recurring theme in this book that I never noticed before are the allusions to the Ten Commandments, specifically the fifth one that Moses gave to Israel in Exodus 20.  Once you see this often used literary device where one writer deliberately connects us to earlier truths, you cannot unsee it.  (Check out this link for the first of a series of 12 articles that highlight how the Psalms uses the Old Testament.)

These words are from Solomon to his son.  We are reminded that Solomon is the son of David (Prov. 1:1).  After laying out the purpose of this book in the first seven verses, he starts his very personal exhortation, “listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Prov. 1:8).  When I read this I recalled God’s command to honor our parents.

Solomon implores his son to listen to his and his mother’s instruction and abide by the godly advice that they gave him when he was a child because it is the best way a child can apply the command to honor his or her parents.  (Note:  It is important to distinguish that the command to obey one’s parents (Eph. 6:1) is a command for actual childrenAdult children no longer have to obey their parents, but they do have to honor them.  See article in my blog.)

This commandment is the only one of ten where Moses provides Israel incentive to obey.  Those who do “may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12).  This divine cause and effect (honoring one’s parents leads to life) is echoed several times in Proverbs.

We see it first in Prov. 1:8-9, where listening to parental guidance results in “a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.”  It makes us look good.  People will notice us.  That sounds like an incentive to obey, corresponding with Moses’ words, to “live long in the land”.

Solomon uses the term “my son” again in verses 10 and 15 in his warnings about not giving in to negative peer pressure.  Those who do go along with fools will suffer the consequences.  They clearly will not live long in the land.  He concludes chapter 1 with a contrast.  He reminds his son that “the waywardness of the simple will kill them”, but those who choose to fear the Lord “will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm” (Prov. 1:29, 32-33.)

We see this allusion to the command to honor parents again in chapter 2, where Solomon addresses his son in verse 1, “my son”, and then lays out the benefits to paying attention to the wisdom that God freely provides those who humbly seek it.  God gives us wisdom, so that those who seek for it, find it, and follow it will see God provide victory and protection (Prov. 2:4-8).  This is indeed the life “in the land” that was promised to the Israelites who honored their parents.

Next, we see that Solomon begins his wise reminders with the personal invitation, “my son” in Prov. 3:1, 11, and 21.  Interestingly, in Prov. 4:1, he begs his “sons” to listen, pay attention, and do not forsake his teaching by reminding them of the godly teaching he received as David’s son.

Finally, we see another direct link to the value of honoring one’s parents by heeding their advice which results in a long life in Prov. 4:10: “Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.”  This appears to be another clear allusion to the Decalogue that Solomon’s sons would have understood, but all of God’s people who hear or read this should be able to see.

It is refreshing to see some new insights in this study after reading this book countless times.  God’s Holy Spirit does indeed teach us and speaks to us what we need to hear in His time.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Called to Write – Helping Others Walk in God’s Presence

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(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

As the New Year begins, it occurs to me that I need to address my own calling as a writer.  This career field is no different from many other fields I have already addressed from a biblical perspective in my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, and in several articles I posted on my blog.  (See article on how God uses senior executives for an example.)

Last fall, I began to see myself called to be a writer of practical theology.  People may wonder about this hobby that has taken up so much of my time.  They may be asking themselves several questions: How did this sense of calling develop?  Why do I feel so compelled to write?  Who is my audience?

How did my calling as a writer develop?

I did not do much of any writing until I was a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army over twenty years ago when I submitted my first article to be published in the NCO Journal.  I had several articles published in army publications in the early 2000’s, long before I got serious about writing on theological topics.  To date, I have had a dozen articles published in a handful of military publications.

I started this blog three years before I began writing and publishing articles on various aspects of the theology of work.  My intent at the time was to reflect on my seminary experience as I was pursuing my master of arts in biblical studies from 2012-2015.  However, it was a challenge keeping up with my classwork, so I did not post any articles.  After I graduated, I went back to my blog and started posting some of my research papers and other writing assignments, as well as some of my better adult Sunday School lessons.

Then, in the fall of 2015, I began to take portions of my final project for my independent study on the theology of work, and turned them into short articles which I posted on my blog.  After a while, I had the idea to submit some of them for consideration to be published to various faith at work organizations’ blogs.  Surprisingly, several of them posted my articles on their blogs.  God was really blessing this process!  Since April 2016, I have had a total of 65 articles published or posted on several faith at work organizations’ blogs.

My collection of articles grew over the next four years.  I have now written and posted 160 articles on various topics on my blog.  In 2019, I wanted to write 30 articles on faith and work, which would bring me to a total of 100 articles on various aspects of this subject by the end of the year.  By the grace of God, I was able to write and post two or three articles every month and met my goal.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work that I wrote over a two-year period and was self-published by WestBow Press in February 2018.  This was a huge answer to prayer!  (No, I never wanted to be a paperback writer!)

There was another milestone I noticed as I updated my LinkedIn profile last fall.  When I added up all the articles published on faith at work topics, the ones published by the U.S. Army, the one I wrote for Campus Life magazine, plus my book, I had a total of 50 publications to my name.  When I saw these results of years of work, I concluded that God had indeed called me to be a writer.

Why do I feel compelled to write?

There is power in words to change lives.  This is obviously true when we consider God’s words.  (See Ps. 119 and Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”)

This is also true when we use human words.  Sometimes they inspire us.  We still quote from the U.S. Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  Sometimes they make us buy things: “Have it your way”, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”, and “Just do it”, to name a few slogans.  Words from the heart that combine biblical thoughts with doctrinal soundness and practical teaching have helped Christians grow spiritually from day one.

Elihu, one of Job’s friends, said this: “For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst” (Job 32:18-19).

On a deep level, I have felt compelled to write because God changed my life, especially in light of my career.  He gave me an original perspective due to my unique career path of math, ministry, and military over the past forty years to prepare me for such a time as this.  God also gave me spiritual gifts of encouragement and teaching to help build up the body of Christ.  I absolutely must share these biblical truths with others because they need them as much as I do.  God’s truth sets us free.

Who is my audience?

The obvious answer is that I am writing for my brothers and sisters in Christ who work ordinary jobs, extraordinary jobs, rather boring jobs, or something in-between.  But there is more to consider.

As I write, I am mindful that what I am saying may reach someone who needs to hear these practical truths now.  I am also mindful that there are a great many others who will read my words down the road.  I am boldly praying that my unique viewpoint focused on the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work that I refer to as “Immanuel labor” will change the lives of thousands of ordinary Christian workers and be discussed hundreds of years from now, should the Lord’s return be delayed.  As I press towards this last season of my life, I am at peace that I have left behind a body of work that God can use to encourage those who need it.  God’s truths accomplish what He intends for them to do.

I never know who is reading what I have written.  Sometimes it feels like the old saying: “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?”  Although I have had some minor disappointments, there have been so many more surprising blessings where God in His grace has used my work.  I have seen articles and my book quoted or referred to by writers in other publications a few times.  I have gotten positive feedback from several faith at work leaders and authors.  My wife often reminds me that my writing is changing lives, sometimes just one at a time.  This keeps me humble.

The best answer I can give is that I write for God’s glory.  As I write about how to experience God’s presence at work, I am working in God’s presence.  Paul asks the first-century workers in Colossae and those of us who have just begun our third decade in the 21st century to consider, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24).

One final thought

Recently, I providentially stumbled on a conversation between the Lord and Jeremiah where I read this statement, “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman” (Jer. 15:19).  In the margin, I indicated that this is another example of Immanuel labor – a clear connection between God’s presence and human work.  If Jeremiah’s heart was right, God would speak through him to a rebellious nation who needed to hear His message.

These words have personal meaning for a Christian writer like me.  The only way that the words I write and post to encourage the body of Christ can be worthy and not worthless is if I remain in right relationship with the Lord.  When I remain in His presence by grace through faith in Christ, depending on the Holy Spirit, He will enable me to be His spokesman.  God will speak His truth through my words.

And that, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is why I write.

I hope that this helped some of my friends to better understand my God-given passion to write.  Perhaps it may also encourage others to boldly pursue their own.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.