Memorial Day 2009

May 25, 2009 on 3:06 pm | In Tributes | Comments Off

As custodians of our defense contracts, we, the procurement professionals, have a special obligation and duty to our fighting men and women. We supply the troops; we bring them the latest and best technology in the world; and we make sure that they have the best America can provide. Fail in our duty, and people can and will die. This is a sobering thought, but the weight of our responsibility should be ever present on our minds.

Today is a day of reflection toward those who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the greatest and freest society the world has ever known. It is not, as our dear President mistakenly observed, the day to honor those who serve – they have Veterans Day. Today is the day to honor the fallen. And to thank the families of those who have died – they too have paid a terrible price for our freedom.

Our liberally slanted society today reflects the youth of the ‘60s. Make love, not war. As Peggy Noonan has observed, “It’s good to remember war is hell. But when we removed the warrior, we removed something intensely human, something ancestral and stirring, something celebrated naturally throughout the long history of man. Also it was ungrateful: They put themselves in harm’s way for us.”

I find it interesting and sobering that so little respect is afforded to our flag these days. Kids have stopped saying the pledge every day in school. When prayer was removed, the religion of humanism was allowed to pervade their consciousness. It is now the National religion. Look at this picture.

memorial-day

Who honors the flag? The man who willingly risked his life to defend it. So many others just don’t seem to care, or sadly, know. Common courtesy has faded; is it any wonder that respect for our country and those who fought to save it has also gone by the wayside?

No one likes war, at least no one who is sane. It is a natural result of the human condition where good must fight evil to prevent it from dominating us. People are born to be free. It is an inalienable right. It comes from the creator – words that our founding fathers immortalized. You don’t have to believe in God to know that there is a split between good and evil. Demonizing? You betcha! And all it will take for evil to succeed is for good men and women to do nothing.
One of our greatest patriots of the modern era had this to say in recognition of this day. “I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them. Yet, we must try to honor them — not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice. Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper.” Yes, those are the words of President Ronald Reagan.
Patriots today come in all shapes and sizes. And the fact that we can still debate the rightness or wrongness of battles between good and evil. I particularly like the words of the hunter, musician, and patriot, Ted Nugent who said, “In paying the ultimate sacrifice, American warriors ensured that not only would America continue to be free but that America would continue to be a beacon of freedom so intense that it no threat of oppression can extinguish it. So long as Old Glory flutters in the wind, there is hope. So long as American warriors are willing to carry Old Glory into battle, freedom’s flame will never be extinguished. Our enemies can knock sometimes down our buildings, but mortar, brick and steel does not America make. It is the irrepressible spirit and undying love of freedom that is uniquely America and it is the American warrior who is willing to fight and die to protect the God-given freedoms and rights of all people.”
We are not brick and mortar. We are free human souls. Our souls are from above. Our freedom is from our forefathers and the many who have died to preserve it for us. It was bought at great price. Respect that. Work to continue the effort they started. And never, never, never, give up.

I Lost My Best Friend

April 27, 2009 on 12:08 pm | In Tributes | 4 Comments
What Does the Best Contract Manager Look Like?

What Does the Best Contract Manager Look Like?

I lost my best friend Friday, and the world of government contracting lost one of the best contracts guys who ever plied the trade. We first met in 1987. He was the lead contract manager at a division of a company when I got transferred in as the legal counsel. Knowing we would be working closely together he made a point of introducing himself early-on. I was intrigued by his thoughtful approach to things – all things business and personal. He was very much a family guy with three kids and a young wife. He told me in that first meeting that he was an alcoholic many years sober. I didn’t understand until later that it was one way of holding himself accountable. That was one of many very admirable traits I would learn about this guy.

As the corporate world is wont to do, we both got transferred elsewhere and it was just natural to stay in touch. He would often call for my legal opinion on something and I would often call him on a contractual matter. We trusted each other. We knew that we both took our professions seriously and worked hard to improve our skills. He would tackle the tough issues, the difficult customers, and the hopeless files. And he would solve them. He didn’t always follow strict corporate procedures, but he would always do what was right. He didn’t always make friends with the program people. If they were trying to cut corners, deceive the customer, or just act illegally, he would put a stop to it. What? You ask! Program managers would do this? Please. Don’t be so naïve. We all know it happens. It’s not the rule – it is definitely the exception, but it takes great strength of character to stop it. And he did. Many times.

Our social lives crossed again in Denver, working for different divisions of the same company. We still shared notes, talked about what was going on in the office. We would talk about those fellow employees who could be trusted and those who could not. And he was always spot-on. He could judge character of another better than anyone I knew. I guess that’s what having such great character yourself allows you to do.

And he never lost sight of his priorities – God, Family, and Work in that order.

I recall one time when I was visiting Washington DC on a business trip. He was living in Dumfries, Virginia at that time. Not really next door, but not too far away. We had made plans for him to come up to the hotel so we could visit. He never showed up (and this was long before cell phones were so ubiquitous). I later learned that a family commitment had come up. He made the right choice and apologized profusely for hurting me –his friend. I told him that he had made the right choice, even if it wasn’t what he really wanted to do. He was just like that.

When my wife went into labor with our second daughter, we dropped our three year-old at his place as he had offered. She hung out with his older daughter and two younger sons. Not having any younger brothers she was exposed to some things that were new to her – such as potty time where the boys did it differently. She learned the word “penis”. I teased him about that privately every chance I got. I knew it embarrassed him, but he always took it good naturedly. That was just his way.

When he was transferred back east he asked if I would be kind enough to serve as his attorney in fact for his real estate closing – actually for he and his wife. When you do this you have to sign the person’s name, then your name and the words “his/her attorney in fact” Anyone who has ever been to a real estate closing knows how many papers need to be signed. So there I sat for what seemed an interminable time diligently signing form after form with both of their names followed in each case by my name and the legend. And I was honored to be asked by him to help him in this way. He so seldom asked for anything and he had done so much for me that it truly was the least I could do. I would have done anything he asked. But he so rarely did. He was left handed. At the closing the closing agent, both real estate agents, and the couple buying the home were all left handed. I was the only righty in the room amidst all those sinister people. There’s just something appropriate about that situation.

I later found myself in charge of the business operations at one of the company divisions. We had a tough customer, a complicated $80 million annual contract, and a plant shut-down staring at us. We had a corporate office that was very demanding and liked to change strategies in mid stream. They didn’t seem to appreciate that contracts can’t always turn on a dime. The lead contracts position would be a thankless job that few would be able to handle. The staff I inherited was simply not up to the task, and the one lead guy who might have been able to swing it had decided to move on. I picked up the phone and called my friend primarily to lament my situation. I casually commented what a shame it was that he was not available. He would be perfect for the job. Turns out – he could be made available and I finally got the chance to work directly with him once again.

I moved him and his family to Florida. We restructured the contract. We hired new contracts staff. And he excelled – as he always did and as I knew he would. There were others before this and after this who did not see him the way I did. He shared with me that he felt like a failure in some positions because he could not create the perfect contract as between his customer and his program folks. He was more of s success than he ever knew. His character screamed so loudly at those who had none that they could not appreciate what he was doing for them. They may not have liked what he made them do, but he saved them from great problems and headaches. Sometimes at great expense and heartache to himself. We would talk about these things throughout our respective careers. I loved this guy. How could you not?

What I couldn’t help him do was kick his smoking habit. He would go outside for his smoke break with a cigarette in one hand and his asthma atomizer in the other. He said they were unrelated. I asked him who he was trying to kid. He would shrug. He always took better care of those around him than he did himself. On one occasion he was letting the stress of a very difficult working situation get to him. I’m not sure if anyone else saw it the way I did, but our general manager told me to replace him. She was wrong. I couldn’t tell him why, but I sent him to the Employee Assistance Program to talk to someone. He didn’t need it, he thought, and he may have been right, but I had to get him to go without telling him why. Probably the hardest thing I ever did in my career. But he trusted me and he went. And we smoothed over the issues with the GM. I never told him what was behind it all, and he never asked. Whether he thought it was friend betraying him or not he never said. He just trusted me and I loved him for it.

He ended up taking a medical retirement after being the lead contract manager on an extremely difficult program – one where Congress gets involved and makes matters even worse. He felt very tainted by it all. He would call me and we would review his options given no-win situations between his management and his customer. I so desperately wanted to pull him out of that situation, but I couldn’t. I had started my own business and was fighting every day just to keep my own expenses covered. And then the routine hospital stays began. I could always tell – he wouldn’t respond to my emails. And yet he wouldn’t call to complain. He accepted his lot and refused to burden his friends. I tried to involve him in my business. I thought it would help him feel like he was still involved. He still had so much to offer. It was hard to tell sometimes which was bigger – his brain or his heart. But the gaps got longer and I would learn that he was back in the hospital.

On Saturday I learned that he had passed away Friday morning at home. His wife heard him in the bathroom and went to see if she could help. She couldn’t. He died there in her arms. As hard as this was for her, just a few hours later and he would have been all alone. She was grateful that she could be there. I am very regretful that I couldn’t be. He was a true friend, a great God-fearing man, a wonderful father, and a devoted husband. The full package of honesty, integrity, character. I will miss him.

My father always said that only the good die young. We don’t get many chances to find heroes in our lives. Damien was mine. No question about it. Vaya con Dios, my friend. I know that you are now in the arms of the Jesus you loved so much. You made me a better man for having known you. I now only pray that I can be as strong in my faith and in my character as you so that we can celebrate in heaven. You made your mark where it really counts – in the hearts of other men. And I thank God that he put you in my life. I’ll miss you terribly.

The Absence of Postings in June

June 28, 2007 on 8:02 am | In Tributes | Comments Off

You may have noticed that there have been no postings this month. The month started out well as I went to Chicago to teach a class on Leadership at Argonne Labs on behalf of my good friend and business associate Dan Jacobs from the Federal Market Group. I was keeping in touch with family all week, but learned just as I was finishing up the last break of the last session on the last day (Friday the 8th) that my mother had passed away.

The loss of a parent is a completely unique experience. I realized that when my father died in 1981. When your second parent dies, you realize that you are officially an orphan. We even started probate of her will in Orphan’s Court in Howard County Maryland. I continue to get condolences from friends who learn about it, and some ask me if I’ve come to grips with it all.

I suppose the answer to that last question is – “no.” I don’t really choose to “come to grips with it” in the sense that they mean. I was always close to my mother in part because she lost two children to still birth between my youngest sister and me. I was thus the “baby” of the family even after two other siblings should have taken my place. We did a lot of things together, and she held me out of school for a year when I could have started early. My birthday is in January, so the school would have taken me. Instead my mother and I jumped on a train and went to New York to see the Christmas window displays. We took day trips around Baltimore to the Walter’s Art Gallery, to Fort McHenry, and to the B&O Train Museum. We took a train to Washington DC to see the monuments and the zoo. We spent a lot of time together.

Mom was always quick with mental math. I guess I inherited that. She taught me to play with numbers and to do calculations in my head for practice. To this day I constantly divide things into parts and calculate percentages – mileage, time, grades, whatever. Maybe that’s how I managed to score a 720 on the math portion of my SAT.

She loved to talk philosophy, politics, and religion. She taught me to think through my positions and to have my reasons. She enjoyed it when I would engage my father in similar discussions at the dinner table. Thanks to her – I was prepared.

So I will certainly miss her. I still think about her often, and I do miss our regular Sunday afternoon telephone calls. But as long as my memory of her remains, she is still alive. And if you have lost one or both parents, you understand. If not – you will, unfortunately, someday. For now, however, it is back to work. Clients to serve, problems to solve, and training to develop and deliver. And everyone who benefits from that, benefits from my mother’s influence on me. May she rest in peace.  Marie Jeanette Reid (1923 – 2007).

A Tribute to Military Wives

May 1, 2007 on 4:21 pm | In Tributes | Comments Off

A friend recently sent me the following tribute to military wives. While it is true that people fall in love and marry for reasons other than the profession of the spouse, it is also true that many serving in overseas conflicts are NOT professional soldiers in that this is all they do. They are accountants, truck drivers, lawyers, and countless other professions that are serving in the military reserves and who have been pressed into service in their “other” profession as soldiers.

 And it is a bit chauvinistic to focus this entirely on wives; there are many women serving who have left their homes and children to the care of their husband. Still the sentiment is genuine. There are many home-based heroes in any military conflict and today we want to pay tribute to them.

The military is not the only beneficiary of the work of contracting professionals, but they are certainly the biggest customer. We owe it to our men and women in uniform, as well as the other contractors who often serve side-by-side with the military, to get them the best possible goods and services on time, on budget, and performing as required. It is an important job, with many complex rules and requirements, performed thousands of times every day by dedicated government contracting professionals in support of our military.

So with that in mind, here is the tribute to the stay-at home spouses for our men and women serving overseas:

I would like to recognize these often underestimated, unseen, and unheard heroes.

This is for the sad military wives, the angry military wives, and the strong military wives.

This is for the young women that are waking up at 6 a.m. every morning, laying out clothes and packing three lunches for those small precious children that they have been left alone to care for.

This is for the pregnant military wife wondering if her husband will make it home in time to watch their miracle happen

This is for the childless military wife, living in a town or on a base alone where she is a complete stranger to her surroundings.

This is for the women that feel like a third leg when they go out with their friends and their husbands.

This is for the military wife that canceled all her plans to wait by the phone, and even though the phone broke up and cut off every time you spoke to him you waited anyway.

This is a pledge to the women that cry themselves to sleep in an empty bed.

This is to recognize the woman that felt like she was dying inside when he said he had to go, but smiled for him anyway.

This is for those of you that are faithfully in that long line at the post office once a month, handling 2 large boxes and 2 small children like a pro.

This is for that woman that decided to remodel the house to pass time, and then realized that she had no idea what she was doing and sighed and wished she had a little help.

This is for all the lonely nights, all the one-person dinners, and all of the wondering thoughts because you haven’t heard from him in days.

A toast to you for falling apart and putting yourselves back together. Because a pay check isn’t enough, a body pillow in your bed is no consolation, and a web cam can never compare.

This is for all of you no matter how easy or hard this was for you. Our marines/soldiers/airmen/sailors/coast men are brave, they are heroes, but so are we.

So the next time someone tells you that they would never marry a military guy, don’t bother explaining to them that you can’t control who you fall in love with. Just think of this and nod your head, know that you are the stronger woman.

Hold your heads up high, hang that flag in your front yard, stick 100 magnets on your car, and then give yourself a pat on the back.

If you are a military spouse or know a military spouse, this is for you whether you are the husband or the wife, or even the grandparent who has had to step in and support the fighting man or woman. We salute you; we applaud you; we thank you!

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