Role of the crew chief

By Bob Coughter

The resources required to design, fund, supply and staff a scientific field project and the logistical requirements for organizing and successfully operating it can be quite daunting. A perusal of the many articles herein reveals that the Aucilla River Prehistory Project is just such a project. The ARPP is one of the more challenging projects to be found within the spectrum of archaeological expeditions. Our reliance on a wide array of specialized equipment and the sometimes taxing conditions in which we live and work make this endeavor a tricky one.

In order to mount productive field seasons year after year, every member of the project is called on to give 100% of their effort toward achieving our research objectives. Often, everyone delivers 110%. It could go without saying, but it shouldn’t, that the cooperation and talents of many dedicated individuals working toward a common goal make the ARPP so successful.

The role of the crew chief is not so easily defined as to allow a tidy list of duties. While I can list some that the crew chief typically carries out, to describe who the crew chiefs are, some virtuous qualities one should possess (or develop), and how they fit into the larger organizational hierarchy will better illustrate what a crew chief does. I believe it will become apparent that to understand the role of the crew chief is to understand the skills and vagaries of personnel management.

Within the field operations organization, the crew chief is found among the frontline levels of the project staff. As with other staff positions (field scientific director, operations manager, operations supervisor, equipment specialist, etc.) a crew chief has at least one, but often several field seasons of experience on the project. This is because she/he must be familiar with not only what needs to be done, but precisely when, and how to do it. Often the crew chief will be directed by the field scientific director or operations manager to resolve a problem, or delegate the responsibility and authority to a qualified volunteer. Being so familiar with operational procedures, the crew chief is certainly free to take the initiative in carrying out necessary activities, thereby relieving some of the task overload from senior staff members.

Since the ARPP tends to attract members who return for multiple seasons, it makes delegating assignments easier when just about everyone already “knows the drill.” Most of what needs to be done is reviewed during the morning meetings (via the omnipresent “punch list”), and anything else is taken care of as it happens throughout the ensuing day (and often into the night). As you can see, flexibility is an important attribute of an effective crew chief, as well as dependability and sagacity.

As I mentioned, there are some duties that the crew chief typically takes care of. Formulating an equitable daily K.P. roster is the responsibility of the crew chief, a necessary and often thankless job (sigh). But, as they say, “an army marches on its stomach”. The crew chief also helps make fuel and supply runs, because only university employees are permitted to drive project vehicles (due to insurance considerations). Similarly, providing transportation to and from the site for out-of-town members that need it can be addressed by the crew chief. Refilling SCUBA cylinders at our Nutall Rise base camp, recharging the air bank on the Florida State University campus (when properly trained), and instructing others familiar with SCUBA equipment are often chores for the crew chief.

In addition, piloting project vessels, monitoring the operation of equipment on site, instructing new members in the various field procedures, and helping facilitate the safe and smooth performance of project activities are all charges of the crew chief. Crew chiefs are also routinely designated lead divers in daily roster buddy team assignments. Their skills and experience make them valuable role models for less seasoned volunteers. It’s not an easy job, but everyone’s effort and passion pay off. I can say that I understand how an orchestra conductor feels, as we perform our symphony of science and discovery each field season.