Story by Laurie Pearson on 03/08/2018The United States Marine Corps is awarding Chad Hildebrandt, Railway Operations supervisor with Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, the highly acclaimed award of Logistician of the Year, for the second time, at a ceremony to be held in the District of Columbia, March 23.
"This is the first time that any civilian has earned the award twice from the Marine Corps," said Maj. Christian Carlson, Operations officer. "Chad winning this award is a huge reflection on all of the hard work by himself, as well as the whole team he has working with him out there at RailOps.
While the award comes with a great deal of prestige, Hildebrandt humbly points out that it is not about him. It is about his team.
"While this award is recognizing me on an individual basis, I view this as a direct result of the actions, commitment, and dedication of my entire team," Hildebrandt said. "I am extremely lucky to have one of, if not the best team of personnel assigned to my section. They are routinely stepping up their performance levels, adjusting to real-world demands, and performing far beyond expectations. This award would not be possible without the entire effort of my Rail Operations team."
In fact, one of his team members will be representing Hildebrandt in the District of Columbia this year to accept the award on his behalf, as he will be out of the country on the ceremony date. Mr. Donald Kalawaia, Railway Operations work leader, will be accepting the award in Hildebrandt's place.
"I may not be a real trusting kind of guy, however, I surround myself with some people I trust wholeheartedly," Hildebrandt said, pointing toward Kalawaia.
"He is the rail crew work leader," explained Master Sgt. Patrick Grabowski, Railway Operations chief. "He breaks down myriad tasks into workable chunks so they can be accomplished. He also manages the crew schedule so there is flexibility in case one or more of the crew is gone to cover some tasks and often sacrificing his time and expertise to fill those gaps."
The team members all know what their roles and responsibilities are, as well as those of the others, explained Kalawaia. If things come up during regular operations, everyone steps up and picks up the slack.
"We all know how the system works," Kalawaia said. "The railroad systems, and unit rotations are something we all understand. We also communicate well as a team and reinforce each other's decisions. I enjoy working with the Marines, Soldiers and civilian personnel. If I can teach them some rail operations from start to finish, then we've done our jobs."
Grabowski pointed out that they, in leadership, think alike when it comes to how to effectively manage all the personnel and equipment that arrives.
"The environment is extremely easy to assimilate because everyone on the crew knows what the end goal is before the day/week/month starts," Grabowski said.
The team is careful not to waste manpower and time because both cost money, explained Grabowski. To do so, they are always assessing their processes. In addition, the team is driven by a "will do" attitude and does not believe something cannot be done. Each member of the team is willing to sacrifice for the customer.
"We have a staff that is primarily civilian and there is a clear dedication to provide a service that is aligned with a military style, which allows integration of planning and manpower requirements to meet mission accomplishment," Grabowski said.
A recent unit to train at MCLB Barstow's Railhead Operations Group Training Course, the only course in the military of its kind, is Combat Logistics Battalion 3 out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Major Sarah Murphy, battalion operations officer with CLB 3 pointed out the critical need for this exact training and the stellar training team led by Hildebrandt.
"We will be the only Marine Unit in Pacific Command to have this training," Murphy pointed out. With a chance that they and other units could deploy to places such as Korea, the training affords her unit critical insights into transportation capabilities.
By transporting cargo, vehicles and equipment via railway, the Department of Defense saves millions of dollars each year, Hildebrandt said. Not to mention the necessity to use rail in some area over other transportation options, due to what may be available in some countries.
"Rail is a major transportation capability on the Korean Peninsula," she said. "There's almost no railway in Hawaii, so being able to come here to get this training with Chad and his staff is necessary."
With this training, in addition to training in air and sea travel, they now have the full gamut of transportation elements ready to move CLB 3 anywhere in the world. The RHOG Training Course is strenuous, dirty work, but the feedback is consistent that attendees not only learn everything they need to learn about railway operations, but they also enjoy the course.
"I see my Marines at the end of a day of training and they're dirty, and I can see that they're worn out," Murphy said. "They love it. Plus we are getting more than just the basics. Chad and his team are really teaching us to take leadership roles at any railhead."
So who are the other members of this high functioning team?
Leonard Hernandez is the train conductor. He is the lead for efficiently managing the daunting task of where railcars are in the various stages of their overall operations which range from inbound, outbound and repair status. He will often also provide brakeman-switcher duties.
James Mitchell and Benjamin Salazar are the locomotive engineers. These gentlemen not only operate the locomotive but often provide brakeman-switcher and blocker-bracer duties.
Blas Chavez and Cristobal Garcia are railroad repairers. This is a critical part to the entire operation. Without proper functioning rail lines, the mission would fail. Both of these gentlemen provide assistance to the operational side with brakeman-switcher and blocker-bracer duties.
Richard Ebel is a blocker-bracer and provides technical guidance to each operation for units transitioning through. He also does brakeman-switching duties and is the Collateral Duty Safety officer for the entire crew.
Last is Jonathan Zepeda, heavy mobile equipment mechanic. Zepeda not only maintains the locomotives, but he is the Hazardous Control representative, Custodian Memorandum Report and Custodian Inventory Report manager and alternate for locomotive engineer duties.
"We all feel that we are able to fill the leadership roles when needed and each other's roles as necessary," Grabowski said. "Each person on the crew is unselfish and simply cares about getting the job done in a way that we are proud of each day."
Hildebrandt has no qualms about where he credits his success. So, as they prepare to send Kalawaia to the District of Columbia to receive the award on Hildebrandt's behalf, there is a sense of camaraderie amongst the crew.
"I have always stated, the success that we realize within the Railway Operations Section and MCLB Barstow is directly associated with the devotion and dedication of my team," Hildebrandt reaffirmed. "When a team of dedicated individuals makes a commitment to act as one then there are no limits to what can be accomplished. Working with an annual budget of less than $40K, we are able to create multi-million dollars in savings for the DoD. By working in and fostering a productive teamwork environment, we are able to reach the heights of excellence and perform the extraordinary on a daily basis. It is amazing how much people can accomplish if they are not worried about who gets credit."