By Kerry McGinley
When Ji Elliott arrived at the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan in October 2016, he had a big job ahead of him. He was the new manager of a task order at Bagram Air Base that was up against some tough circumstances in a war zone with staffing challenges.
He told his Air Force customer he had a plan.
“I convinced them to … give me a couple of months to turn it around,” Elliott said.
His job basically entails keeping every U.S. military vehicle in northern Afghanistan running. That means everything from quick oil changes to rebuilding engines on 650 different pieces of equipment – all in-house.
“It’s anything from a regular pickup truck all the way up to million-dollar aircraft loading equipment,” he said. “We order all the parts, stock the parts, everything necessary for vehicle maintenance. You can’t take it down town to the Ford dealer. Everything we do is internal here. We are all self-supported and self-sustaining.”
In addition to the ongoing conflict around them, the operation is located at the base of a mountain range with brutal weather and little to do besides work. One of the first changes Elliott made when he arrived was to improve working conditions for a staff that’s hard to keep due to the stark environment and demanding pace.
“It’s a constant challenge to find the right people and put them in the right place to make sure we are succeeding,” he said. “The biggest challenge is keeping skilled people here.”
But Elliott is overcoming that and the other challenges he’s faced over the course of almost three years. With a laser focus on process improvement, Elliott took on a vehicle maintenance backlog, re-engineered the warehouse, streamlined inventory and brought together a cohesive team to maintain all the improvements he implemented. That’s why colleagues recommended Elliott be recognized as a prime example of Demonstrate Discipline, one of the eight PAE key values.
“It’s a tribute to Ji’s leadership and operational expertise that he immediately assessed the situation,” said Jeff Leptrone, program manager and Elliott’s supervisor. “He advocated and implemented solutions that drastically improved employee conditions, customer relations and performance. He’s maintained a 93 percent mission-capable rate for the past 28 months that exceeds the 90 percent requirement.”
Chuck Anderson, president of PAE’s Global Mission Services, praised Elliott’s performance and commitment to client.
“Ji has a passion for getting the mission accomplished,” Anderson said. “He knows how to develop solid teams and establish reasonable objectives. Ji communicates with clarity, is visible at the work site and is responsive to the customer. Ji exemplifies the values of PAE and is a role model for all aspiring leadership roles in PAE.”
Elliott said the first step to improving the work at Bagram was opening better lines of communication and finding the middle ground between what the client wanted and the parameters of the contract.
“We found some compromises and were able to meet in the middle,” Elliott said. “We try really hard to provide great customer service, put them first and meet their needs as best we can.”