By April Dudash
Federal budget cuts still threaten and a recession persists, but even so, it's been a busy couple of months in military business. A company expands. Employers are hiring. And a cool $2 million is up for grabs.
Combat Medical Systems near the Yadkin Road gate to Fort Bragg not only reopened after a tornado damaged its building but added 15 workers, 12 new products and a brand, spankin' new showroom, which company president Corey Russ showed off at a grand reopening in April.
Russ is a former Special Forces combat medic. He now has 26 employees, half of whom are military veterans.
He encourages the community to mentor small startups, where combat technology is born in someone's spare room, garage or attic, companies he describes as "five- and 10-person startups that turn out to be $100 million companies. And this is where they start."
Russ knows of what he speaks. CMS was the only Fayetteville company to make the Edward Lowe Foundation's 2012 North Carolina Companies to Watch list.
About 150 job seekers dropped by the Holiday Inn Bordeaux in Fayetteville recently for a chance to meet with 15 companies looking to hire veterans.
The two-day job fair and workshop was sponsored by Orion International, a recruiting firm based in Raleigh. Tim Isacco is Orion's chief operating officer and a former Fort Bragg soldier who has linked his company with Joining Forces, the White House challenge to train or hire 100,000 unemployed veterans and their spouses by 2013.
"It really helps to have the White House name behind you," he said. "Companies will continue to want to do the right thing."
Start Me Over
A former Special Forces master sergeant picked up the book "Primal Branding" four years ago while working with the Department of State. As he began to read, Leonard Casiple realized the book's analysis of successful companies such as Apple, Nike and Starbucks uncovered branding techniques that could help soldiers transitioning from the service to civilian work.
Casiple got in touch with the book's author, Patrick Hanlon, and the two created Start Me Over, an organization that is beginning to offer workshops across the country. One of the first was held in Fayetteville in May.
Casiple medically retired in 2011 and considered his own soldier-to-civilian transition a scary one. He ended up working for a few months as a program manager for a contractor before deciding he had a higher calling.
Casiple said he knows some soldiers feel as if they've lost their Army creeds, their unit slogans, their iconic uniform, their daily PT rituals when they retire.
"But when they realize all this, that they have these tools, they can go start a company on their own, they can reintegrate."
Robot battle royale
Last month, we chatted with Fort Bragg soldiers about how they use robots in the field. But there's more - $2 million more.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been gathering proposals for a DARPA Robotics Challenge. Teams from universities and businesses of all sizes, as well as individuals, will battle for a $2 million prize, starting in October.
Winners will use the money to create semi-autonomous and autonomous robots that would help the Department of Defense in future disaster recovery missions.
DARPA already has similar projects in the works now including the Legged Squad Support System (pictured above). I wouldn't want that thing chasing after me. But its ability to carry heavy equipment is crucial to a soldier already weighed down. The LS3 will be embedded and tested with Marines starting this summer.