A Letter to a Great Client
I've been waiting for a long time to be able to publish this one.
I've had it written in my head for over a decade, because with a client this good, you take nothing for granted.
Until today, it might have been seen as some smarmy buttering-up in order to extract more business from a current customer.
For better or worse, that's not an issue anymore. So I can finally extract this short essay from the can, where it has sat in one form or another for a long time, and share it with the world.
The government shutdown, however, adds another element to the situation. A lot of people are saying that the government shutdown is a good thing, that nothing the government does is useful, and that any money not spent on government is a net positive for the United States.
I'm here to tell you that that is wrong. And the reason is our experience with the United States Coast Guard.
We spend less than $10 billion a year on the Coast Guard. That's $30 for every person in the United States.
For that amount, every day, the Coast Guard saves about 10 people from drowning, and they respond to more than nine pollution incidents. Every week they seize more than one vessel due to safety, security, criminal or environmental concerns; they ensure the safety of more than 300 U.S. ports and patrol 9,000 miles of coastline (think Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii and other Pacific U.S. possessions). They interdict a couple hundred thousand pounds of cocaine and a hundred thousand pounds of marijuana every year, as well as about one smuggler per day attempting to enter the United States.
Not bad for an outfit smaller than the New York Police Department.
They do far more than these obvious missions, however. They break ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic, delivering National Science Foundation teams and supplies to Antarctica. Coast Guard Strike Teams responded to the 2001 anthrax mail attacks, as well as later ricin incidents. The Coast Guard Air Defense Facility Washington, D.C. uses helicopters to enforce a restricted flight area around the national capital. Their Emergency Response Center is the sole point of contact for oil or chemical spills, coast to coast. And they are even responsible for approval of the location and plans of bridges and causeways constructed across navigable waters of U.S. - again, coast to coast.
Well, we didn't, until we got lucky enough to work with them some fifteen years ago. None of us had ever been employed by the Coast Guard or served in the Coast Guard. But for fifteen years we got the chance to work with them and see them up close, and it has been a privilege and an honor.
The Coast Guard is, in our and almost everyone else's opinion, the pre-eminent response organization in the world. Several of us have Marines in the family; Marine aviators have told us of the tremendous respect they have for their Coast Guard counterparts. They, and members of other military branches, often said, "We train every day for a mission that may never happen. The Coast Guard does its missions every single day."
Not that any Coast Guardsman or woman would ever tell you something like that. It is almost impossible to get stories of heroism out of them. But they are common, if you know whom to ask - never the individual him- or herself. And they are truly amazing. Watch "Coast Guard Alaska" and you will get some slight inkling of the "accelerated ops tempo" they live with day after day, year after year.
"Semper Paratus" - "Always Ready" - is the Coast Guard motto. The organization is self-selected for heroes, people ready at a moment's notice to drive their cutter or plane or helicopter into a storm that everyone else (who is able) is desperately fleeing. They need to be ready to answer the bell at a second's notice.
So long-term scenario planning was not exactly an obvious cultural fit for an organization dominated by expert responders. But they had the self-awareness, after a series of strategic surprises, to realize in the early 1990s that they needed to look farther out to anticipate what might be coming.
The service had been refashioned on the fly by events such as the rise of maritime drug smuggling, the mass migrations such as the Mariel boatlift, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill. So in 1998 we got a group of tremendous Coast Guard people together for the first time, and designed workshops for larger groups of tremendous people to consider what else might be coming.
Over the past 15 years our scenarios have anticipated and generated new thinking about a whole range of issues. We analyzed the possibility of terrorism and the rise in importance of homeland security issues, bringing a documentary about a man named Osama bin Laden to the attention of our group at a meeting at the Yorktown training facility in late 1998. We examined the potential for infectious disease to affect international shipping, in advance of the SARS epidemic. We thought through the impact of the Internet on life in general and the service in particular. We began to think through the implications of the underwater realm on the missions of the Coast Guard, once again in advance of Deepwater Horizon.
Throughout our time with them, we were blessed to work closely with some of the most truly outstanding human beings we will ever meet. Not merely military or mission-focused experts, but truly broad thinkers, people like Commander Joe DuFresne, Captain Bob Farmer, Captain Lance Benton, Captain Joanna Nunan, Commander Kenneth Boda, Captain J. Patrick Philbin, Dr. Stephen Wehrenberg, Ms. Jeanine Shipley, Captain Dan McClellan, Rear Admiral Joel Whitehead, Rear Admiral Richard Larrabee, Captain Bob Ross, MCPO Tim Cary, Captain Matt Gimple, Captain George Vance, Mr. Tom Chaleki, Commander Tom Olenchock, Commander Larry Greene, Mr. Malcolm Williams, Captain Bruce Jones, Mr. Walt Sandell, Captain Rob Kutz, Mr. Michael Baker, Captain Doug Fears, former LT Will Cobb, Lieutenant Commander Rod Rojas, Commander Tom Glynn, Commander Erica Mohr, Captain Wayne Gibson, and Captain Sam Neill, among so many others that I KNOW I am forgetting at the moment (luckily this page does allow editing so it can and will be updated).
At the higher leadership levels, in a workshop setting, we benefited from working with people like Vice Admiral Peter Neffenger, Master Chief Petty Officer Jeff Smith, Rear Admiral June Ryan, Rear Admiral Meredith Austin, Rear Admiral Sandy Stosz, Vice Admiral Robert Parker, Vice Admiral Manson Brown, Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson, Vice Admiral Roger Rufe, Rear Admiral Joseph Nimmich, Vice Admiral Jody Breckenridge, Rear Admiral Mary Landry, Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara, and Vice Admiral Vivian Crea. And of course we could not have done what we did without the support and tolerance of several very forward-thinking Commandants, among them Admiral James Loy and Admiral Thad Allen; a special thanks goes to the current Commandant, Admiral Robert Papp, for standing up for the value of our work in a difficult Flag Conference in 2004.
Working together, we pioneered some real innovations not only for the Coast Guard, but also in scenario planning in general. The outstanding efforts of Commander DuFresne these past four years were particularly noteworthy, from a scenario planning perspective.
We hope the service got value for the time that we spent with them.
As for us, we have nothing but gratitude for the opportunities extended to us, and we never took those opportunities for granted for a second.
So, to the United States Coast Guard, we wish nothing but "fair winds and following seas."