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Sergeant's 'stitch in time' streamlines MIT ROTC

Staff Sergeant Joseph Howell, second from left, receiving his award from Col. J.C. Allard, the First Brigade Commander, at Harvard University prior to June 9th Commissioning Ceremony.
Staff Sergeant Joseph Howell, second from left, receiving his award from Col. J.C. Allard, the First Brigade Commander, at Harvard University prior to June 9th Commissioning Ceremony.

The Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps doesn't give a "stitch in time saves nine" award, but that's the spirit of the meritorious service medal recently presented to Joseph Howell, ROTC Staff Sergeant in MIT's Paul Revere Battalion.

Howell, 26, was named Supply Technician of the Year and received a U.S. Army Cadet Command Award for Excellence for 2004.

"Howell reported to MIT in January of 2002 and made an immediate positive impact on our unit's operations. His savvy approach to logistics saved our battalion an estimated $17,000 last year. He is the finest supply technician I have known in 25 years of service," commented Army Lt. Col. Brian L. Baker, Commander of the MIT ROTC battalion.

According to Baker, high on Howell's long list of accomplishments was, literally, a method for saving money, time and materials that relied on a simple sewing machine.

Howell, a native of Dubuque, Iowa, found his battalion faced several overlapping supply-chain challenges when he arrived 2 years ago. There had been no supply technician for 6 months. All allocated resources had been used up, and the battalion has nearly doubled in size since 2000.

A self-described "neat freak," Howell dug into the regulations to figure out how to make the operation more efficient. When he saw how much the unit spent for alterations to uniforms, he set to work locating a sewing machine (a classic Singer) and refitting the battalion's supply room to accommodate tailoring operations.

"I used to work in a canvas shop when I was in the Army National Guard. I learned to sew there with my everyday functions. I told the Colonel that I knew how to sew and wanted to help save the unit money. We are talking about $2,000 dollars or so a year -- no pocket change to me. With Lt. Col. Baker's consent I called my old boss and told him to send me a sewing machine. I paid $700 for it. So I basically paid that off in one semester," said Howell. The machine resides in the alterations room, next to Howell's office in Building W59.

The sewing machine enterprise, while unusual, was characteristic of Howell's overall management style. In his nominating statement, Baker cited Howell's resourcefulness, mentoring, impeccable record keeping, aggressive oversight and reliability.

Howell credits his confidence and his leadership skills to the ROTC environment in which he works, "surrounded by many great senior soldiers and leaders. I feel that ROTC has helped me grow tremendously as a person. I take pride in being able to say that I taught MIT students about the military," he added.

Howell, who attended high school in Dubuque, is currently enrolled at Touro University International and is working towards his B.A. in Business Administration. Assigned to the Paul Revere ROTC Battalion as a cadre member and technical instructor, he lives with his wife and son at the U.S. Army Research and Development Center in Natick, Mass.

Howell "genuinely embodies the Army values. He has effectively balanced his professional and personal life. He is integral to the leadership development program of this battalion," said Baker.

Since receiving the supply technician award, Howell has been "selected brigade Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) of the year and has attended both the basic NCO course and the Airborne parachutist course," Baker noted.

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