BATTLE CREEK, Mich. –
“You don’t have to be the fastest driver to get it done.”
Those words of wisdom came courtesy of Travis Ocker, uttered before he learned he had been named Best Material Handling Equipment Operator 2018 at the inaugural DLA Disposition Services MHE Rodeo held in Battle Creek Oct. 23-25.
His driving philosophy rang true as he took both bragging rights and the traveling trophy and banner home to his site in Letterkenny, Pennsylvania.
“It was fun. It was a good time,” said Ocker, who has spent eight years with the Defense Logistics Agency, splitting that time between its Distribution and Disposition Services sub-commands. He earned the top mark among 13 of the best forklift drivers the Defense Logistics Agency has to offer.
“I put my effort into it, did it as well as I thought I could,” he said, calling his trip to Battle Creek a valuable one and saying he would definitely recommend others try to make the cut in coming years.
“It’s worth it, if it’s something you do every day,” Ocker said. “Just let your instincts carry you through the competition.”
Second place went to David Gwartney, a Corpus Christi-based DLA Distribution employee competing on behalf of DLA Disposition Services at Arifjan, here he's currently on deployment in Kuwait as an equipment specialist there. Third place was awarded to Lorne (Dwight) Minke, a material examiner and identifier from DLA Disposition Services at Bragg, in North Carolina.
“I messed up everything,” laughed competitor Hideki Fujita, an operator and 12-year employee from the agency’s disposal site in Sagami, Japan. But overall, he said, “it was pretty fun,” and he had made friends and gained some new insights about the impact of speed on safety.
Participants earned additional recognition for best individual performance during the bonus challenges. Gwartney won the “Quarter Bounce” competition, Ocker won both the “Serve and Volley” challenge and the “Rubber Meets the Road,” and Pearl Harbor’s Jeff Hallauer earned the best score in the “Slam Dunk” event.
“This is a great morale builder, getting everyone together, joking and laughing,” Gwartney said. He said he appreciated the networking opportunity the event had created and said that while he had attended euipment rodeos in the past, the event had exceeded his expectations because of the variety of courses and the depth of knowledge of the volunteer judges.
Courses with names like the "Pallet Ballet," the "Killer Crossover," and "Basket Slalom" challenged rodeo'ers in a variety of ways and forced them to consistently apply safety rules to their driving.
“It turned out to be a lot better – more information on policies, safety – than I expected,” said Chris Everman, a materials examiner and identifier from the disposal site at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. “I think I held my own, and I also learned where there’s room for improvement.”
Operators were judged on their written test scores, the course challenges and their ability to identify equipment deficiencies like missing warning labels and operator’s manuals and fire extinguishers, loose battery cables – the kinds of daily checks that should be a routine part of safe equipment use.
“I saw the way you guys handled that MHE, and you ain’t scared of nothin’, not even cones,” DLA Disposition Services Director Mike Cannon joked during the awards ceremony, where he reiterated that the event was all about having fun while focusing on safety, awareness and proficiency. He said he thought the rodeo had provided the perfect opportunity for participants to “show off in front of leadership; to show how good they are.”
Cannon gave commander’s coins to all the competing fork truck drivers, volunteer judges and support staff. He said that the sub-command’s seven geographic regions had been tasked to send their best and that they had delivered. He congratulated the winners and told competitors that they could all be extremely proud of the way they represented their sites, regions, families and selves.
“You are now my 13 ambassadors to the field for MHE safety and proficiency,” Cannon said, noting that he was optimistic that some of the agency’s other major sub-commands might eventually take part and it could eventually become a DLA-wide safety event benefitting equipment operators throughout the enterprise. “I think it’s going to kind of grow wings.”
Later, Cannon said that he thought it was "awesome" to see regional leadership - who were simultaneously on location for an annual planning session - get the chance to observe the competition and cheer on their competitors. He said next year's event would be similarly scheduled to coincide with the leadership meeting, and that it could include additional skills challenges incorporating property receipt concepts.
"If we prevent even one mishap," Cannon said, "The rodeo will have paid for itself. It's a very good deal."
A short highlight video can be found on the DLA Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/dla.mil.
The 2018 MHE Rodeo participants:
1st Place – Travis Ocker
2nd Place – David Gwartney
3rd Place – Lorne Minke