Focus on People: U.S. military Veteran and Duty First Consulting founding partner Ron Aument

Q:  Ron, we are so proud that Duty First Consulting was founded by military Veterans. When and how did you serve?

I served in the Army from 1970 to 1972. The Vietnam War was at its height while I was in college in the late 1960s, and in December 1969 during my senior year, the country conducted the first draft lottery since WWII. I was one of the lucky winners, drawing a number in the thirties. I graduated later in 1970, was drafted and inducted in the Army within 30 days following graduation, and was in Vietnam within six months following my induction.

As a matter of full disclosure, I must admit this was not a path I would have chosen were I to have been given a choice. There was rising public sentiment against the war by that time, and it was becoming increasingly less clear what strategic national interest was being served by this conflict. I served my year in Vietnam and was honorably discharged upon my return to the states.

Although I neither entered the Army voluntarily nor served in Vietnam voluntarily, my service was one of the most formative, as well as transformative, experiences of my life. Through that experience, I learned so much about leadership, teamwork, shared endeavors, and most importantly, comradeship, all of which helped shape the person I ultimately became. As Soldiers transitioned to civilian life after returning from that war, our nation had not yet learned how to distinguish the warriors from the war, and the stigma I felt then was a decisive factor in my career choice of joining the Department of Veterans Affairs, at that time known as the Veterans Administration, where I served for the next 34 years. I am grateful to have been able to serve my country to the best of my ability, both in and out of uniform.

Q:  What was the best part of your military service?

The people.  I grew up in rural America in a highly homogenous cultural setting. Entering the Army interjected me into the most culturally diverse setting I had ever experienced at that point of my life, and the experience was both instructive and broadening. Being part of a shared enterprise where trust and reliance on teammates from all walks of life was imperative helped me grow in ways that would never have been available to me but for the opportunity to serve in uniform.

Q:  What are the skills and capabilities gained in the military that you still find useful?

I cannot say that I gained technical skills of enduring value, but I did learn much about practical leadership and the value of teamwork. Prior to my military experience, the notion of leadership was somewhat of an abstraction, often defined either through business school coursework or through the “boss/employee” paradigm to which we are all exposed in the workplace. In the service, one is exposed to boots on the ground leadership, some good and some bad. The same can be said of teamwork, which most young men and women then experienced primarily from athletics. The Army provided lessons in both leadership and teamwork transcending those learned either in classrooms or on the fields of athletic competition.

Q:  After your military service, you spent 33 years in the public sector serving Veterans with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  How can private citizens best support Veterans?

There are countless ways today for citizens to support Veterans. Many nonprofit organizations have formed over recent years with missions of providing a wide variety of support for Veterans, service members and their families. A great example of such organizations is the Aleethia Foundation, of which I am a member of the Board of Directors, and DFC has supported since we began as a company. For over 10 years, the Aleethia Foundation has provided dinners nearly every Friday night for seriously injured service members and their families while the troops are receiving care at Walter Reed and Bethesda medical centers (now consolidated into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center). The simple goal has been to support the healing process by providing these recovering warriors and their families an opportunity to resocialize outside the military hospital setting. Anyone who wants to help support Veterans and service members needs only to look around their community to find worthy organizations, like Aleethia, that they can support either personally or financially. And, oh yes, another equally worthy and needed way to help Veterans is to help them find jobs – this is probably one of the most important ways we in the business community can assist Veterans.

Q:  Why did you choose to start Duty First Consulting?

I retired from federal service in early 2008 and joined a large consultancy later that year. As luck would have it, the consultancy entered into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early 2009 – I like to think the two events are unrelated! As the company went through an asset disposition process selling most of its public sector work to another, even larger consultancy, my business partner, Terry Speegle, and I decided we really wanted to go out on our own as a small business rather than entering into another very large company. We had both worked in very large organizations for our entire professional careers, and we yearned for the agility and potential rewards associated with becoming a successful small business. We were able to work out an acquisition arrangement through which we acquired some of the contracts we were supporting by our former employer, and DFC was thus born. 

Q:  I have to ask — what’s the background behind the name “Duty First”?

I wish I could take credit for naming DFC, but it is the progeny of my business partner, Terry Speegle. Terry is a West Point graduate, and the concepts of duty and honor are part of his DNA. “Duty First” naturally flows from that background, and it symbolizes our connection with our core client base – the Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies providing services that support our nation’s service members and Veterans. Make no mistake; we are in business to be successful, but our name helps remind us or our roots and take pride in the work that we do.

Q:  How would you describe your work with DFC?

DFC’s core business is providing professional services in the federal marketplace. Having already completed one career as a senior executive in the federal government, I am able to bring deep insights regarding government operations and the strengths, weaknesses and needs of many potential government clients. Over the years, I have also developed an extensive network of professionals throughout the government contracting world and have been able to help connect DFC to many like-minded businesses to help leverage development of promising business opportunities. Knowing what services the government needs and who we can most effectively team with to offer compelling, exceptional services to fulfill those needs is a DFC role I take very seriously.

Q:  Thank you so much for your military service, and for guiding us in our work here at DFC in support of military Veterans. We will observe Veterans Day in a few weeks – what does the day mean to you?

Two American holidays are dedicated to the men and women who have worn the uniform to defend our nation and its underlying principles; Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The principal distinction between the two is that Veterans Day is largely to honor the living while Memorial Day honors those who are no longer with us. To me these two holidays are of equal significance, but Memorial Day is the more solemn of the two, while I salute all my fellow Veterans on Veterans Day, on Memorial Day, my thoughts are with the families of the fallen who have given the most they can give.