When General U.S. Grant calculated troop strength in reporting on battles, he typically included the support troops along with frontline combat troops. As a former quartermaster, he also would have valued the supplies and transportation resources that contributed to his campaign. Today, I’d like to think he would have included the technologies. He clearly valued and used the latest technologies at his disposal – trains and telegraph come to mind.

As I walked the show floor at AUVSI in Denver, I was impressed by all of the military hardware. I kept repeating one question as I visited many of the exhibitors, “Do you have a commercial version or application of this technology?” 

I have to give some credit for the question to William McHale, CEO of Aeryon Labs Inc. The excitement and pride his team showed in presenting their latest developments was infectious. They demonstrated how the open platform design on their drone could accept a wide variety of payloads and could be interchanged quickly and easily under field conditions. They had videos, their drone, and sample payloads on hand. 

I asked McHale about commercial applications, realizing this interchangability and the corresponding interoperability of the underlying systems could be big news for UAVs in surveying. He excitedly told me about their commercial applications and handed me over to their chief technology officer for more details.

For many military contractors, the government represents such a large part of their business that it appears there is often little time or resource left to pursue commercial applications. Yet, some of the best potential commercial technologies are developed, tested, and proven for those government customers. 

As with flesh-and-blood veterans, it can take a little digging to determine the full value of their developed capabilities. Just like the defense contractors who may never have mounted a marketing campaign to differentiate their product from a multitude of competitors in commercial markets, veterans can’t always articulate how their skills match your needs.

It pays to probe a bit when you are facing a military supplier or a veteran. They may see the 80:20 ratio as 80 percent of their application/skill applying to the military and underestimate their commercial potential. After a little conversation, and with some pointed questions and examples, you may find a common language that leads you to a new solution or a new employee. 

If you do government work, you know how colorless the language of an RFP is and how little the use of superlatives will benefit your bid. Language can be a near-impenetrable barrier in this case, so it may work better to show what you do rather than say what you need.

As I am writing this, I can look at the calendar and see Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day coming. I like to take the positive approach and reflect on the tremendous contribution veterans and those military technologies have made when they transition into the civilian world and say, thank you for your technology and, especially, thank you for your service. 

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