Walking the Line Walking the Line

Walking the Line V


Six months of patience paid off, when I finally had the opportunity to ride along with Command Sergeant Major Mellinger as he traveled across Iraq on his continuous mission to assess conditions of the troops. For three weeks, as we traveled in Iraq, Kuwait and on the North Arabian Gulf, he diligently captured the most comprehensive firsthand picture of what is happening here.

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Walking the Line IV

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Baghdad, Iraq
It’s a dusty walk through blowing heat to the crowded mess hall at Camp Victory. I don’t really know anyone here. To pass the time while eating, I sometimes imagine I’m sitting alone in a jungle with insects chirping and birds singing through the thickness, the fresh smell of green jungle and running water. It could be Costa Rica, or the jungle of Laos, or best of all, the Appalachians in spring. Settled down next to an icy stream, I’m just lying there, reading a book and drifting into sleep.

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Walking the Line II

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USS Normandy, North Arabian Gulf
Jeffrey Mellinger is the Command Sergeant Major responsible for the Multi-National Force in Iraq, including all Coalition officers, enlisted persons and civilians. Every canal and precipice in the battle space, from posh offices to combat-mired swamps, falls under his watch. Across deserts and over mountains, he checks the battle readiness and welfare of the troops. He does not rely on reports, but instead ventures for answers deep into the field with his small nondescript patrol.

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Walking the Line III


North Arabian Gulf
A strange white helicopter landed on the ship to fly us to Kuwait. It was a Puma, with “04″ painted on the nose. A few sailors and soldiers boarded the Puma along with CSM Mellinger and company. I was sitting facing left, and as I strapped the lap belt, I fumbled with the shoulder harness. I was not alone in the confusion–the crew chief crouched around the cabin showing everyone how to use the contraption. The “shoulder harness” actually fastened around the right arm–for those sitting facing left–like a sphygmomanometer.

Read more: Walking the Line III

Walking the Line I


First Published: 19 June 2005 

The Big Picture

Sam was, by all accounts, a practical hands-on man whose grip had the grit of hard work. He started it all with little more than a barren field and some air in his pockets. Through hard work, he turned that into a store. Unfortunately, hard work alone wasn’t enough to overcome beginner’s fumbling, and Sam lost that business, but not his drive for success. So on the next go-round, in addition to hard work, he took the experience that he milled into business smarts, and opened another store, and the customers lined up.

Years later, Sam would attribute the turn-around to one principle: he listened. He asked customers what they needed, where they wanted it, and how they decided which store to get it from. He listened to what they told him, and built his store from their answers. Such a simple idea made his initial success seem more like a lucky play than a blueprint for an empire, but each new store he opened followed that same plan and each met with the same outcome. In a curious bit of irony, as his chain of stores lengthened, so did the distance between him and the people he liked to listen to, threatening to sever the connection that grounded his company. Sam knew he needed unfiltered information from the front lines to keep the road clear so that success could grow.

Read more: Walking the Line I

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