World traveler collects life lessons on the way home

U.S. Army soldiers from D Co., 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment patrol outside Contingency Operating Site Taji, north of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Forget what those beer commercials say. Robert Gentzke might be the most interesting man in the world.

He’s president and CEO of a specialty shipping firm called Final Mile Logistics, which contracts with U.S. military government agencies that need to move equipment into regions of the world where travel can be tricky and deliveries can be dicey. Once, for example, his team was headed into Iraq from Jordan when they heard the earth shake.

“We are coming in and a U.S. convoy is moving out,” he said. “Suddenly, a quarter mile down the road the U.S. convoy got hit.”

The heavily fortified military vehicles withstood the blast, but Gentzke was glad it didn’t happen any closer to his folks.

“West Africa is a different sort of challenge, especially in the rainy season,” he said. You know how fast a forklift travels in the mud after several days of rain? Zero miles per hour.

“We went out to the neighboring village and just hired a bunch of guys” to move the material, he recalled.

More recently, a planned trip to Guam happened to coincide with President Donald Trump’s war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Fun, right?

That’s actually the exact word Gentzke uses to describe his unique line of work.

“Getting on a plane is pretty easy,” he said. “Getting a package delivered in London is easy. Getting a package delivered in Niger or Burkina Faso? What do you do once you get there? That’s the fun part.”

A Buffalo, N.Y. native who moved to Atlanta with his family as a high school student, he first worked for a more traditional shipping company before deciding to explore more of a niche market. Along with business success have come some life lessons that seem especially pertinent during the holiday season.

Robert Gentzke

“I’ve been all over the world and the people are great,” he said. “I absolutely love Jordan. I’ve never felt uncomfortable in Iraq. I walked through old town Qatar.

“You go out west of Amman to the Dead Sea, and they have all these beautiful resorts,” Gentzke continued. “We spent the night with the Bedouins inside one of their big tents, drinking tea. It was an incredible experience to sit in the middle of the Sinai desert in one of these giant huts. I tell my kids, you don’t realize what the rest of the world is like.”

His business is headquartered south of Atlanta in a nondescript office park. From the outside the building looks like it might house plumbing equipment or stationery supplies. The multiple layers of security necessary to walk through the front door hint at the true nature of things. Security measures ramp up overseas.

“I won’t ask anyone to go anywhere I won’t go,” he said.

This time of year, Final Mile is sending items like PlayStations and donated quilts for wounded soldiers, and the holiday season underscores the importance of something world travel has revealed when it comes to global understanding: “Turn off the TV.”

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