In the Washington Navy Yard, surrounded by a sea of red brick buildings, sits a small warehouse. The building is the home of the Marine Corps Institute logistics section. Wedged between a tennis court and the post office and off from the main street, it is easy to miss, but the section is actually a part of Marine Barracks Washington. The logistics section delivers hundreds to thousands of MCI textbooks daily to Marines worldwide, who rely on completing correspondence courses to enhance their abilities and make them more competitive for promotion.
Established in 1919 at Marine Barracks Quantico, Va., MCI moved to Marine Barracks Washington in 1920 and set up shop adjacent to MBW at the corner of 7th and G streets, Southeast. In 1967, MCI relocated to the Washington Navy Yard, where it continues its daily operations of providing distance learning materials to Marines across the globe, as well as supporting Barracks events.
Since 2008, MCI logistics Marines have been modifying their facilities and processes to make sure Marines get their course materials on time, said Master Sgt. Timothy Greenleaf, MCI logistics chief. When he arrived on deck in May 2008, the section was backlogged with orders from 30 days or more still on the invoices.
Marines would sometimes begin packing textbooks at 6:00 a.m. and finish up past 6:00 p.m., said Sgt. Henry Perez-Cano, warehouse chief. Even with the long shifts, the Marines remained swamped with orders, which continued to come in.
Because MCI is a part of Marine Barracks, the Marines must also fulfill duties associated with the Evening and Sunset Parades, funerals and numerous other hosting events. Greenleaf wanted to ensure his Marines were able accomplish the mission with less personnel.
“Initially it was a little overwhelming, but as I geared myself in a little bit more, within two or three months I knew the process, I knew what needed be changed, I knew what needed to be modernized, and from there a couple key things happened,” said Greenleaf. He met with professional developers and engineering contractors to redesign the entire warehouse from scratch.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we be more efficient back here with less people?’” said Greenleaf.
Starting with blank sketches of the room, they rearranged equipment and processes to make the Marines more efficient, saving them time and delivering products sooner.
One such change is the Pik-2-Lite system, a simple but effective arrangement of bins, red buttons and number screens. Much like an arcade system in a gaming room, a red light will illuminate a button above a bin, letting the Marine know which courses need to be shipped. The small screen indicates how many textbooks have been ordered.
The Marine moves from bin to bin, grabbing textbooks, placing them on a conveyor belt and hitting the red button, which deactivates the light and tells the computer how many books were used.
Whenever the bins or raw materials are close to being depleted, the system will report how many textbooks need to be processed or reordered so the shipping process never stops. The Pik-2-Lite system cut down the manning requirement from three people to just one Marine, said Greenleaf.
Along with automated inventory, the Marines streamlined their mailing system. Machines along the belts automatically label and sort textbooks for shipment to various Marine Corps bases in the U.S. and abroad, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Two Marines monitor the belts, weigh the shipments and load bins for the U.S. Postal Service to pick up in the afternoon.
The modern system has resulted in big dividends for Marines all around the Corps. The Marines began fulfilling their backorders and catching up on requests until they finally completed every order on Sept. 28, 2008. In other words, the Marines had mailed out each textbook ordered the day before. The industry standard for online shipments is 72 hours, and the MCI logistics section surpassed that benchmark by 48 hours that day and every day since. Most Marines in the U.S. now receive their order within four days.
“We were all amazed when we finally made one hundred percent completion,” said Perez-Cano. “I took a photo of the computer screen with my cell phone and emailed it to Master Sergeant [Greenleaf].” That photograph, now framed, rests on a cabinet in Greenleaf’s office, above a collection of Marine Corps-affiliated NASCAR race cars and semi-trucks.
The Marines in the MCI logistics section give credit to each other for their continued success.
“There’s not one standout Marine,” said Staff Sgt. George Dobison, MCI logistics platoon sergeant. “Everyone here knows what needs to be done, and even the new people are already on board.”
Their hard work has paid off, as Marines now receive their course materials within days, helping them get ahead in their education, as well as enhance their careers. It all happens inside a red brick warehouse in the Navy Yard, where a few good Marines have a giant impact on the Corps.