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Monday, May 03, 2021

Professional Volunteer Work - What Makes It All Worthwhile

By Ken Larson  Smalltofeds

"I had two mentors at key points in my 36 year career in Aerospace.

They were a combination of technical, management and communications talent, rarely found in high tech industry. Neither placed salary, position or ego ahead of developing their subordinates and each reached the pinnacle of their respective careers for exactly that trait.  Their skills at developing and utilizing people were their most highly valued qualities.

I owe my survival in a very hectic environment to those two and much of my ability to guide and counsel individuals as well as communicate effectively springs from their legacy of guidance.

 Mentoring can be a dynamic, two way street.

The most successful organizations pair experienced personnel as models on a staff basis with junior ones. Each has individual assignments and reports to the boss but the senior party is the example in the process/experience-driven aspects of the job and is available to answer questions. The younger individual infuses the older one with energy and new ideas much like osmosis.

The result is a hybrid of old and new that works and has been put together by a team.The approach works extremely well, imposes on no one, results in the young and old learning by observation, satisfaction and recognition for collective efforts and reduction in the boss’s work load. A win-win all around."  Mentoring Dynamics

Saturday, April 17, 2021


On August 1st, 2007, I was having dinner in a restaurant next to the Highway 61 Bridge in Hastings, Minnesota with a retired businessman, his girlfriend, and a local lawyer and his wife.  Glancing up at the TV over the bar, we were witnesses to the news of the 35W Bridge collapse into the Mississippi River.  

As we left the restaurant we looked up at the underside of the Highway 61 Bridge since we had parked on the land side parking lot beneath it.  We noted the general condition of the structure and wondered if it too was a risky passage, 26 miles further downstream over the same body of water on which the 35W tragedy had occurred.

Within months the Minnesota DOT had come to the conclusion that the bridge was indeed  risky.  They began making immediate temporary repairs while planning for a new span.  The existing Hastings Bridge had been erected in 1951. Its planned replacement, scheduled for 2019, was accelerated to commence in 2010, based on the condition of the structure and the fact it is one of the busiest bridges in the state, handling enormous traffic as a major north/ south artery from the Twin Cities. 



Planners at the Minnesota DOT are to be applauded for the manner in which this project has proceeded and the people of the community, as well as their civic, government and industry leaders should be congratulated for the businesslike, cooperative and efficient manner in which this project has been conducted. 

Local community meetings solicited input from the citizens on the design. The options were carefully weighed in terms of environmental and aesthetic impact.  Hastings, Minnesota is an old river town with a preservationist ethic that spans generations. That fact was not ignored.  The Highway 61 corridor has remained open, eliminating a major detour for commuters.

The state ran a competitive bidding process.  The winning contractor joint venture was a team of reputable companies who planned to use state of the art pre-stressed concrete as a design to construct the longest such span on the North American Continent, costing millions below the state estimate for the job.

Heavy girders have been manufactured locally in Minnesota and transported from north of Minneapolis to the Hastings site with computer steered special transports involving minimal disruption.  The large, arch frame for the bridge was recently floated downstream from a staging area near Lock and Dam 2 on the Mississippi after having been assembled by skilled union iron workers. 
It was lifted in place on 24 September by the largest heavy lifting equipment company in the world, who traveled from Europe to support the project. 

The Coast Guard, Corps of Engineers, State DOT, Hastings Community and all related support organizations have worked in a cooperative manner to achieve a demanding schedule.  The bridge work will be completed and the new span will open in the near future.  



I have yet to hear a politician or agency official attempt to take credit for this project or pursue some form of attention-seeking advantage as a result of it.  In an election year, considering the nature of politics these days, that is a highly unusual occurrence. 

I am sure there will be events commemorating the project success, as there should be; but it is my hope those events will celebrate the true nature of the achievement. 


It has been a pleasure observing the Highway 61 bridge replacement over the Mississippi at Hastings. Its planning, execution and achievement have been exemplary to an old project manager who has witnessed difficulties with entrenched bureaucracies in industry and government for years.

This has been a shared, community, cooperative venture, worthy of note when considering models for the future of our country and the path it must take to overcome many challenges – political, economic and technological.

Certainly similar projects can be undertaken involving other infrastructure programs such as  education using the same form of cooperative, shared, professional action.

Let’s build bridges like this one in many other fields of endeavor!

Monday, April 05, 2021

Help for Veterans In Translating Military Experience To Civilian Job Openings

As Veterans Ascend CEO Robyn Grable put it, her site is essentially “ for veteran employment.” (Photo provided by Veterans Ascend

“Veterans Ascend, a website that gives veterans a direct link to contact prospective employers and also translates military-speak into the keywords that recruiters are looking for on a resume. “
“When Col. Mindy Williams took her resume to a civilian recruiter for fine-tuning, she was told that it would “scare people.”
Apparently, the Marine language she was using essentially “translates to ‘hired killer’ in military terminology,” Williams said she was told.
As Williams learned, it can be very hard for veterans to explain on a resume how the skills they learned in the military are applicable to civilian jobs.
“At Veterans Ascend, you have people who served in the military and cut through all the formalities and make that match between a civilian employer and the veteran,” she said. “And they know what they’re talking about.”
Veterans can sign up for free and create a Veterans Ascend profile that contains information about what they did during their military service. Then the site’s algorithm translates that language into layman’s terms, to highlight skills recruiters are looking for. Finally, employers who have also made profiles can match with veterans and contact them for interviews.
It’s essentially “ for veteran employment,” Veterans Ascend CEO Robyn Grable said.
“Because we’re matching on skills, veterans are getting the ability to match with jobs they’d never find anywhere else and for jobs they wouldn’t even begin to think their skills would qualify them for,” she said.
Veterans Ascend launched in late 2018. Grable said that about 2,000 veterans have signed up for it so far, as have several employers. Recently, Lockheed Martin signed up, and the company has pledged to do interviews with at least three veterans, according to Grable.
Grable believes that Veterans Ascend solves a few issues veterans face when applying for jobs. For one, it eliminates the chance that computer-screening software won’t be able to interpret their resumes and will scrap their applications before they ever reach a recruiter.
Grable hopes that it will also help diminish veteran under-employment as well as unemployment.
“Veterans can get jobs … It’s the problem of under-employment and getting good careers that use our skills,” she said. “For a veteran to come out of the military and get offered a $10-an-hour job to support their family, it’s embarrassing. That’s the bigger issue, getting them into a job that’s commensurate with all their skills.”
Such a service probably would have helped Stacey Wiggins, Veterans Ascend’s chief operating officer, when he was separating from the military. The Air Force veteran said he went through the military’s Transition Assistance Program and yet still had to send out about 200 resumes before he landed a job.
A very small percentage of the population has served in the military or has an immediate family member who has served. That means there’s a gap in civilian knowledge out there about the terminology the military utilizes to describe skills that could translate to a civilian workplace, Grable said.
“Those are skills that go across every civilian occupation,” Grable said. “But employees are missing out on these people because employers don’t understand those skills.”
Veterans Ascend hopes to bridge these gaps.
“I just really want all the veterans and all the employers to jump on this bandwagon,” Williams said. “It could do great stuff for both.”
Wiggins believes that Veterans Ascend can help vets who feel like they were “left hanging” after TAP didn’t prepare them well enough for finding civilian employment.
“Networking is one of the most important things, because it really is about those connections,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to facilitate those connections.”
Williams also felt that TAP didn’t get her sufficiently ready for life after the military. That lack of preparation creates a huge divide between what employers want to see from veterans and what veterans think employers are looking for, Williams said.
“If we could focus on that chasm, we could have results,” she said. “I think that Veterans Ascend does provide a really great fix to the chasm.”

Military Times

Thursday, March 25, 2021

"ODYSSEY OF ARMAMENTS" - Inside Pentagon Procurement from Vietnam to Iraq

This document is free electronically in pdf format. An excerpt is provided below.

If you desire a copy of the book please download it in Adobe format from the "BOX" Cube in the mid- margin of this site to your immediate right. 

- Ken Larson - from the book, "Odyssey of Armaments, My Journey Through the Defense Industrial Complex"

In 1968, I came home from serving two US Army tours in Vietnam, having been awarded five medals, including a Bronze Star. During my second tour I acquired Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression. Treatment would not become available for either ailment until the mid to late 70's. Returning to the University of Minnesota at Morris, I found that most of my former classmates were either facing the military draft or were violently against the war. I was not their favorite person.

Feeling isolated and alone, I was unable to relate to my family due to untreated Depression and PTSD. Disillusioned with school, I moved to Minneapolis Minnesota and began a career in the Defense Industrial Complex that would span over three decades from 1969 through 2005. I thought that through working on defense systems, I could contribute to the quality and quantity of weapons that the next generation would take to war. Given a clearly defined mission and the best armaments and systems in the world, I believed that another Vietnam could be avoided for the American Soldier.

In pursuit of this goal, I participated in the design, development and production of 25 large scale weapons systems under Federal Government and Foreign Military Sales Contracts. I worked in several different disciplines for the companies that produced these weapons, negotiating and controlling the associated contracts with procurement agencies in the US Armed Forces and in 16 allied countries.By the time treatment for PTSD and Depression became available, I had such high security clearances that had I been treated for these disorders, the US Government would have revoked my clearances and my career would have ended or would have been sharply curtailed. This quandary led to my journey through the Defense Industrial Complex.

I found that accepting extreme challenges and succeeding at them became a way to displace PTSD and elevate depressive moods. For extended periods of time this method of self-management led to a satisfying, although somewhat adventurous and diversified life. However, down periods always occurred, especially after the latest challenge had been met. A new challenge was then required. Family, friends and acquaintances were often puzzled by the frequent changes in my job sites and locations. Two marriages fell by the wayside.

I became known in the industry as a front-end loaded trouble shooter on complex projects, installing processes and business systems required by the Federal Acquisition Regulation. These systems included estimating and pricing, proposal preparation, contract administration, cost and schedule control, program management, design to cost, life cycle cost, export management and other specialties unique to US Government Contracts. Getting through government source selection boards and surviving audits during competition was a significant challenge for defense contractors. 

Installing required business systems after contract award, under ambitious cost, schedule and technical conditions, was an even more difficult undertaking. I became a leader in the problem solving and creative processes necessary to win contracts and successfully fulfill them. When my mood demanded it, there was always a new job, with a new challenge and a subsequent elevated feeling from success. It was not unusual for a career professional in the Defense Industry to move regularly with the ebb and flow of competitive procurements and associated government funding shifts.I came to know many of the career military and civil servants who managed the government procurement process. These individuals never went away, regardless of elections or politics. They developed the alternatives from which elected officials must choose. The American Public rarely heard from these powerful insiders, while the insiders slanted the choices supplied to elected officials in a self-perpetuating manner.

I recognized the mirror image way in which procuring agencies and defense contractors organized their operations on the largest systems acquisitions. Key executives regularly moved back and forth between government and industry. I often observed the short, happy life of a defense company program manager. Appointed by the powerful insiders to head a single project, he had no authority over company resources, he perpetually competed with other program managers for the same talent pool and he always took the heat from management when things did not go well. His counterpart in the government quarters had similar experiences. I often supported several program managers at the same time. They all were desperate to achieve success. They each believed they had the most important program in the company.

In early 2005, approaching age sixty, I found myself unable to self-manage an extremely deep depressive episode. The journey had simply wound down. This situation nearly resulted in an end to my life. Recovering with help from my family and the US Veteran's Administration, I now reside in a veteran's home, volunteering through the Service Corps of Retired Executives(SCORE)and MicroMentor Foundations to Small,Veteran-Owned, Women-Owned and Minority-Owned businesses that are pursuing contracts with the Federal Government. I provide advice, alternatives and business examples based on my experiences. It is refreshing to witness the successes of small, motivated and flexible companies. I believe they deserve every special consideration they have achieved under our system of government.

After thirty-six years in the Defense Industrial Complex my greatest satisfaction came from watching "Stormin Norman" and his Gulf War Forces defeat the Iraqi Army in Operation Desert Storm. They used the Abrams Main Battle Tank, the Hellfire Missile and an array of communications and other systems on which I worked. I have had the privilege of meeting several young soldiers coming back from current conflicts in the Middle East who have praised these systems for their life saving performances.Operation Desert Storm had a clearly defined mission to liberate a small country from an aggressor. We accomplished the mission utilizing the best weapons in the world. Unfortunately, we did not leave the area. 

The lessons of Vietnam have not been remembered and once again political factors govern our presence in several countries. This time it is the Middle East. Future combat systems are now under development geared for urban warfare with unmanned vehicles, state of the art sensors and remote standoff capabilities. The enemy has grown to become a formidable force, cable of striking without notice even within our own country. He threatens the world economy with violent disruptions in several domains at the same time. He is a product of our own creation, rebelling against the "US Police Force" with help from neighbors who play either benign or active roles. 

Our enemy knows his neighborhood far better than we do. US intelligence and military capabilities are strained to the maximum monitoring perceived hot spots all over the globe. We must face the fact that our long term presence in other countries is resented.

How much longer can we afford to be the "World's Policeman"? We are spending over $700B per year for defense, homeland security and nation building. Investments we are making in developing new democracies are draining our domestic programs such as health care, stifling the education of our young people and limiting research and development in valuable commercial technologies. 

The largest corporations selling to our government are no more than extensions of our government in the cloak of industry. They are not in the business of making money for the stockholder. They are in the business of spending money for the government. As a result they are some of the poorest growth stocks on Wall Street.

Recent consolidation in the Defense Industrial Complex has dramatically reduced competition. Only public laws mandating a twenty per cent allocation of Federal Contract Funding to small business have kept diversification in the mix. Even then, much of the moneys that flow to small business go through a select group of large business prime contractors who add their respective overhead and general administrative expense to the small business cost and pass it on to the government.

When we consider the largest evolving countries in the world today, such as China, India and others, we should note that they are successfully competing with us in a fast moving, complex world economy. These countries are not all pure democracies and probably never will be. No overt action on our part created these powerhouses. As we struggle to compete with them we must have education, research and development and a healthy work force to keep pace. How much can we afford to spend forcing our capitalistic ideologies on other societies? Events have proven that the world has become a tightly wound place economically. Countries who wish to succeed and grow will play the game anyway.

I hope that this account of my experiences has supplied useful insights into the US Government Defense Industrial Complex. My odyssey was driven by a need to manage illnesses acquired in warfare. I found a way to deal with the maladies for years by spreading myself thin and accepting every new challenge. I thrilled at success and moved on after defeat, pursuing a misguided goal. 

Out of necessity I have now been forced to look inward, wind down to a smaller perspective, take care of my health - begin serving the little guy.

Perhaps it is time for our country to consider a similar transition.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

The Dire Necessity for U.S. Long Term Strategic Vision

Although by far the most powerful country in the world, the U.S. is suffering from a lack of long term vision. The individual citizen is as much at fault for this condition as the politician or the military industrial complex.  

From our political parties to our relationships with each other and with other countries, from corporate board rooms to Wall Street stock run ups, we have lost our long term vision in favor of short term gains. 

The results are polarization between the "Haves" and the "Have Nots", ignoring geopolitical realities, engaging in costly war intrusions, neglecting education/infrastructure and accumulating a $28 Trillion National Debt, heavily mortgaging future generations.

National Debt Clock
Geopolitical Realities and the US Role

George Friedman accurately sums the present geopolitical state in a recent article atSTRATFOR”:

“To put it simply, a vast swath of the Eurasian landmass (understood to be Europe and Asia together) is in political, military and economic disarray. 

Drawing on the recollection of Desert Storm  it was assumed that American power could reshape the Islamic world at will after the US was attacked September 11th, 2001.

All power has limits, but the limits of American power were not visible until later in the 2000s. 

At that point two other events intervened. The first was the re-emergence of Russia as at least a regional power when it invaded Georgia in 2008. 

The other was, of course, the financial crisis. Both combined to define the current situation. 

The United States is, by far, the world’s most powerful nation. That does not mean that the United States can — or has an interest to — solve the problems of the world, contain the forces that are at work or stand in front of those forces and compel them to stop. Even the toughest guy in the bar can’t take on the entire bar and win.”A Net Assessment of the World 

China the Peace Maker 

David Grammig enlightens us in a recent article in “Geopolitical Monitor to an alternative to war and debt laden international finance being practiced by the Chinese:

Geopolitical calculations are as much a reason for this 2-trillion-dollar project as economic ones.

The OBOR project represents one of China’s new overarching foreign policy goals, and it demonstrates a willingness and ability to challenge old power structures, especially in Central Asia and the Middle East. 

The Silk Road, or OBOR project, aims at creating an enormous economic bloc and fostering trade, cultural exchange, political collaboration, and military cooperation among its members – under Chinese domination.

An obvious competitor against Russia’s Eurasian Union and India’s Act East and Connect Central Asia initiatives, the OBOR project has many Central Asian and Middle Eastern states justifiably worried of being caught up in a race for dominance in the region, producing somewhat cautious reactions to China’s big plans. Yet, some countries in the region – even those torn by sectarian conflict – may still be inclined to step into a new age due to China’s vast investments and its associated desire to protect its economic engagements.

The United States and its military interventions on the other hand, which aimed at securing political influence and protecting economic interests, bore no sustainable fruits and have led to growing instability in the region. Furthermore, US policy in the Middle East yielded anti-American resentment in the public and political spheres. 

China’s approach, however, will most likely not lead to demonstrations, burning flags, and attacks against its embassies, because it will not be seen as a war-mongering imperialistic force, giving itself a chance to establish itself as a partner whose outstretched hand is worth taking.” China - The New Peace Maker in the Middle East 

The US Market Mirage 

“One of the hardest-dying ideas in economics is that stock price accurately reflects the fundamental value of a given firm. It’s easy to understand why this misunderstanding persists: price equals value is a simple idea in a complex world. But the truth is that the value of firms in the market and their value within the real economy are, as often as not, disconnected. In fact, the Street regularly punishes firms hardest when they are making the decisions that most enhance their real economic value, causing their stock price to sink.

There are thousands of examples I could cite, but here’s a particularly striking one: the price of Apple stock fell roughly 25% the year it introduced the iPod. The technology that would kick-start the greatest corporate turnaround in the history of capitalism initially disappointed, selling only 400,000 units in its debut year, and the company’s stock reflected that. Thankfully, Steve Jobs didn’t give a fig. He stuck with the idea, and today nine Apple iDevices are sold somewhere in the world every second.

CEOs, who are paid mostly in stock and live in fear of being punished by the markets, race to hit the numbers rather than simply making the best decisions for their businesses long term. One National Bureau of Economic Research study found that 80% of executives would forgo innovation-generating spending if it meant missing their quarterly earnings figures.

Nobody–not Economists, not CEOs and not policymakers–thinks that’s good for real economic growth. Yet the markets stay up because of the dysfunctional feedback loops. Eventually, of course, interest rates will rise, money won’t be cheap anymore, and markets will go back down. None of it will reflect the reality on the ground, for companies or consumers, any more than it did during the boom times.”
The Market Mirage 

Achieving Strategic Vision

From the above analysis by experts, it is apparent that the US is in dire need of strategic vision.  To achieve it we must:

Face geopolitical and economic realities, stop war interventions and invest in relationships within and without our country by offering mutual collaboration.

Cease dwelling on threat and build long term infrastructure, education and international development.  The threats will melt away. 

Invest for the long term at the stock holder, company and  national levels based on a strategy dealing with present day and long term challenges in education, communication and society value transitions.

Elect a Congress and an Administration that know how to strike a balance between long and short term actions. We must then let them know what we think regularly by communicating with them. 

Know that most cultures and societies in upheaval today are watching our national model and choosing whether or not to support it, ignore it or attack it.