​The Fallacy of “Low Hanging Fruit”

We were in discussions with a prospective client about supporting their efforts within the DoD space, and one of the directors made a comment about “low hanging fruit.” He proceeded to say that they weren’t interested in taking years to build opportunities or relationships and want the low hanging fruit that will provide quick revenue streams for their product lines.  There are multiple issues with this scenario that need to be addressed.  

1. No such thing as “Low Hanging Fruit”: The Urban Dictionary provides a great definition of targets or goals which are easily achievable and which do not require a lot of effort.  OTAs are the closest thing to low hanging fruit that I know of and they still take a lot up front work to get to the winner’s circle. Typically, it will take two years or more before you break into a serious contract.  

2. Defense Is Unlike Other Industries: The amount of information required to understand the defense industry is a barrier to entry for most businesses.  Sometimes it takes years to break in and then you are still bogged down with cyber, reporting, and other regulatory requirements.

3. Education and Understanding: There are multiple ways to attack this, but it all takes time, effort, and money.  For most small businesses, there isn’t enough of this to go around. Three potential courses of action (COAs).

a. COA 1 - Do It on Your Own – Find your local PTAC and get signed up for classes.  
b. COA 2 - Hired Gun – Hire a part-time consultant to help.  
c. COA 3 - Capital Investment – Hire a great BD professional who knows the business.

4. Skin in The Game:  Are you willing to put some skin in the game?  This gives your potential customers confidence in your ability to withstand the peaks and valleys that come in the defense business.  

Are you willing to take the time to build meaningful relationships and learn the business?  Are you willing to spend the money in education and resources to learn the business?  Are you willing to risk everything to enter the Defense Industry?  

At the end of the day you must ask yourself – “What are you willing to do to get to where you want in the Defense Industry?”  

Mettle Ops Announces GSA Contract Award

On Jul 23, 2018, BIGELOW FAMILY HOLDINGS LLC (dba Mettle Ops) was awarded GSA Contract No. 47QRAA18D00C5 under GSA Schedule 00CORP, The Professional Services Schedule (PSS). Below are the details relating to the awarded IDIQ Contract.

GSA CONTRACT NO.           47QRAA18D00C5
GSA SCHEDULE                   00CORP
SINS                                      871 1, 874 1
DUNS                                    079084144
CAGE CODE                         6XYB2
PRIMARY NIACS                  541330

The GSA Contract Services were provided by GSA Focus, Inc.

Book Review: Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy

I just read a great book by Brian Tracy on productivity called Eat That Frog.  Let’s face it.  We can all streamline, prioritize, and execute more efficiently.  I highly recommend it for anyone’s reading list.  Every chapter is full of actionable items that can be implemented immediately.  Here is a thought that stuck with me…

At whatever level you are in your organization, find the people who are doing it the best.  Ask them what they are doing, and DO IT.  When you move up, find new people at your new level, and ask them.  This is completely brilliant!  Imagine if a colleague turned to you and said, “I see that you do this task well. Will you teach me your technique?”  Most people would be happy to share their ideas.  And maybe, in turn, that colleague will come to you for help in an area that they have a weakness.  We could improve the efficiency and profitability of entire organizations.

Ask questions like:

  • I see you have a great set of employees that seem dedicated to their work.  How do you do this?
  • You accomplish so much daily. How do you manage your time so efficiently?
  • Your marketing materials are top notch.  Can you make some suggestions?
  • How on earth do you keep up with all the email? I’m drowning!
  • You are such a great networker.  How do you get a conversation going with a prospect?

earn from your coworkers, competitors, and counterparts, and share what you know with them. Make yourself better and be willing to build up those around you who have the wisdom to ask. 
Written By: Katie Bigelow

Do Unto Others…Even in Business

The other day I contacted a customer for late payment on a Net 30 contract.  She informed me that the definition of Net 30 is payment in 28-34 days.  I seriously doubt my vendors would agree.  I do understand the billing cycle is set to a specific interval.  We do that, too, but we ensure that a bill due on or after 30 days gets paid at the earlier billing cycle.  After my initial surprise, I decided that they can do business however they want.  They are an organization that runs on a process that their leaders are satisfied with.  I also decided after that call, that my organization will not run like that.  My company has grown into an entity; we are long past a freelance business.  But, I, and the people I choose to join my organization can still choose to follow a standard that each and every one of us should set for ourselves.  Treat others, even in business, the way you want to be treated.  

So often I hear, “This person did it to me, so I can do it someone else.”  It’s a sad state of our culture that we look for an excuse to behave badly.  How about, “This person did it to me, and it caused damage.  I choose NOT to do it to anyone else.”?  Let your freedom allow you to choose what is right and noble. Don’t let it be an excuse to cause more harm.   

Written By: Katie Bigelow

​War Story 3

There I was… a typical sunny day in Iraq when called on a mission along one of the main supply routes (MSRs).  We didn’t have much information except a 9-line for an urgent patient and a grid location. When we arrived, we landed alongside the road about 50 meters from a clump of trucks and personnel.  Presumably the patient was in the middle of the mix, so my medic jumped out to assess the situation.  I noticed he didn’t bring his medical bag with him. We were in the open dessert with no enemy in site, so I sent my crew chief to meet the medic and deliver the med bag.  The next thing I know our crew chief is on his way back.  Only this time, he is moving at about half speed and watching his feet.  It looked oddly like a game of hopscotch.  What seemed like an eternity later, the crew chief arrives, plugs in, and announces that we have landed in a mine field.    

Written By: Katie Bigelow

Photo by Spc. Audrey Ward

NIST 800-171 Compliance for Small Business

Small organizations that are working on military platforms…or hope to in the future…face a difficult challenge.   Late last year, the Department of Defense (DOD) implemented a DFARS clause (204.252-7012) that requires compliance with a cyber security standard called NIST 800-171.

The standard is focused on a specific set of data referred to as Controlled Unclassified Data (CUI).  At a high level this data includes design specifications, product material data, and procedures used to engineer, test, and manufacture both land and air-based military platforms.   It has 110 requirements that include a mix of technical and process controls focused on protecting CUI.   An organization’s inability to comply with the requirements effectively serves as a barrier to entry for working in the industry.  Many proposal solicitations are requiring compliance with the standard as a qualifier for bidding on a project. 

No-Nonsense Approach

So, where do you begin?  For small companies, meeting NIST 800-171 requirements can be especially difficult…but there are a few simple steps that can simplify the process.

1)     Minimize the “footprint” of CUI data.  In other words, try to keep the physical and virtual versions in common storage areas.   Keep it off individual desktops/laptops and on a consolidated server.

2)     Do not use email to exchange CUI data with partners, vendors, or customers.   Utilize secure data exchange frameworks that are available from most tier 1 vendors.

3)     Leverage commercially available templates for process content (policies, incident response plan, awareness training, System Security Plan). 

4)     Have a 3rd party help you with areas of the NIST standard that require clarification.  Most consulting firms are open to answering some questions without charging for a full engagement.   Be honest and tell them that you don’t really need help but had a few questions you were hoping they could answer (but keep it to 1-3 total questions).  

Immediate Action Items

Near term, the most important details to complete are the system security plan (SSP) and plan of action (POA).  The SSP defines scope and approach for compliance while the POA provides a timeline for addressing identified gaps.  Both items were due for completion at the end of 2017.  Online resources like the CSET self-assessment tool can help with identifying compliance gaps and developing the remediation plan.   There are also online templates available for the SSP and POA, which can speed up the process of developing and completing the document.    

Keep in mind that the goal of NIST 800-171 is to protect information that is largely digital so many of the required controls will deal with computer and network technology.   If an organization does not have internal expertise to help sort through the technical details, this part of compliance is where money is best invested with external (consulting) assistance to identify gaps and develop a plan to address them.  

Planned Implementation

Once the SSP and POA are completed, the balance of NIST 800-171 compliance is reliant on following the defined implementation plan.  As the project evolves, any unforeseen obstacles or delays will necessitate updates to the POA.  Stay on top of the schedule and track progress accordingly.  Store all related documentation in a common network folder and when the program is fully implemented, plan on conducting an annual audit, risk assessment, and security assessment.   

By Guest Blogger: Rob Cote of Security Vitals

War Story 2

There I was…after a long day of desert qualification flights in Kuwait.  We were working on the docks reassembling aircraft, test flying them, and then instructor pilots were taking them out to qualify all the pilots in dessert operations.

Dock operations are the safety officer’s nightmare.  Hundreds of soldiers are working to restore dozens of aircraft packed for ocean travel to flyable condition.  The aircraft are shrink wrapped with cellophane for transport.  Once these aircraft are reassembled, test pilots taxi out and fly off the edge of the dock over the water to complete their evaluations.  There was a control tower on a narrow strip of land that ran out into the water.  Next to the control tower was a helipad where the typical procedure was for aircraft to air taxi from the dock across the water to the helipad and receive clearance from there for takeoff.  Conversely, returned aircraft would land on the helipad and receive clearance to air taxi across the water for parking and gas. 

As I recall, it was my first day to fly in the Middle East.  I had no idea what the real desert looked like until I was flying over it.  I could literally see puddles of oil seeping out of the ground.  The coast of Kuwait had the potential to be incredibly beautiful; however, was a paradise of trash…everywhere.  Kuwait could have benefitted from borrowing the ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’ slogan.  The message would have likely been lost in the translation.  The coastal waters consisted of floating oil and trash.  This is the stuff environmentalists’ nightmares were made of.  

It was late in the day and we were returning on bingo fuel.  The instructor pilot had pushed the typical fuel reserves to squeeze one more set of qualifications in for the day.  We were cleared to land to the pad next to the tower and were anxiously requesting clearance to taxi across the water to parking since our fuel was extremely low.  The tower controllers would not have been happy if we had to shut down on the approach helipad and wait for a fuel truck.  

As the seconds are ticking by and tower continues the instructions to hold, we insisted on clearance to move to parking and was denied.  Seconds later, a pilot from our unit called us on another radio to inform us that an “incident” had taken place on the dock, outside of our view.  We were told to shut down the aircraft and wait.  Bored and unaware of the true nature of the incident, I pulled out the Blackhawk manual and reviewed the fuel flow charts based on the amount of fuel left in our tanks.  Sitting there on the ground, I discovered that we had not had enough fuel on board required to cross the water.  Based on the charts and the gas gauge, our flight would have ended in the disgusting Kuwaiti water. And we would only have lived by God’s grace.  

The incident prevented us from a water landing.  A test pilot and co-pilot had not cleared the rotor blades thoroughly during ground taxi and taxied the aircraft into a robust light pole.  The pole was only scuffed.  In fact, two years later when I returned to that very dock, the scar was still there.  The aircraft sustained almost a million dollars’ worth of damage as well as damaging many other aircraft around it.  Despite the hundreds of soldiers on the dock that day and the material damage, not one soldier was injured in the incident.  Without which, I may not be here to share this story.  

Written By: Katie Bigelow
Courtesy Photo

How to Greet a Woman in Business Situations

I honestly don’t know the “proper” thing to do in this situation, but here is my perspective.  Your greeting should not take on a gender spin, ever.  If you would shake a man’s hand, you should shake a woman’s hand.  If you want to hug the man, then I suppose you can offer a hug to the woman, too.  

Please consider carefully here.  Choose a universal greeting that you are comfortable offering anyone. And I mean anyone, regardless of gender, hygiene habits, etc.  If your chosen greeting is as intimate as a hug, then be prepared to offer it to everyone equally not just people with fluffy lady parts.  

As an added note, please don’t involve the use of your lips in any greeting with anyone who is not your spouse. Your victims will appreciate you keeping your lips to yourself and so will their husbands. 

Written By: Katie Bigelow

Lasting Lesson from an OPD Session

Sitting with the officers of a high-powered Field Artillery unit, we thought we were the best thing since sliced bread.  The Battalion Commander proceeded to ask each of us what we considered a successful career within our given profession.  Our answers were most likely typical responses from young company grade officers; Battalion Command is what flowed around the circle.  Each of us thought this was the pinnacle of a successful career.  He proceeded to take the wind out of our sails and provide a lesson that has stuck for years.  He took about 20 minutes to teach us about professionalism through learning.  As he put it, becoming a “student” of your profession is more important than any other trait, and that will make you successful.  How does one become a “student” of any profession?  

1. Education
2. Training
3. Seek out a Mentor
4. Mentorship
5. Relationships
6. Networks

Master these items above, and success will happen. 

Written By: Mark Bigelow

War Story 1

“There I was…inverted with my air medals hanging in my face…” is the way Army aviators start a war story.  There are few rules other than that teller of the story gets to be the hero of the story (if he/she so choose) and the facts need to be as accurate as the memory allows.  My memories of the events, once vivid, have sadly begun to fade a bit.  But, for the sake of storytelling, I will do my best to be accurate.  Embarrassingly, I am almost never the hero of my stories but generally the sidekick and even more often than that, the buffoon.  Be gentle in your judgement.  Enjoy the story.  Stop and share one of your own, if you are brave enough.  

While I will never admit to having been inverted, I intend to stick with Army aviator tradition and tell the story as I remember it.  

There I was…a hot spring day in southern Iraq, number two in a flight of six.  This wasn’t my first time in Iraq, but it was the first time I was flying north out of Kuwait with no plans to return.  We attempted to bring everything but the kitchen sink.  Someone probably tried to pack one of those in a hell hole, too.  It was hot, and our aircraft were heavy.  We were in a war zone with a tank of gas, a map, bullets, food, bedding, and possibly a kitchen sink.  It was HOT.  I don’t mean Florida hot or high noon in July on the beach hot.  I mean so freaking hot it was hard to believe that life would continue at this temperature.  Now, I remember spring time hot fondly, as I had no real idea what hot was. 

Any aviator reading this, would by now deduced the high temperatures combined with a heavy packing list have degraded the aircraft maneuverability which would be of concern in an emergency.  I was flying left seat with CW2 Phil Johnson.  As we continued northward, we performed standard fuel checks with normal results. At first, the situation wasn’t obvious, a minor split in the fuel levels between tank one and tank two.  But as we left civilization (I use the term loosely) farther and farther behind, the split in fuel tank levels was becoming increasingly more significant. Mathematically, we had plenty of fuel to make it to the first planned fuel point at an airfield still an hour away.  But, visually, tank one was holding steady while tank two was in the yellow.  We attempted precautionary procedures to switch the fuel handles, so that the fuel would draw from tank one and even us out a bit.  Despite the switch, the indicator in tank two continued to approach the red.  

Could we limp in 40 more minutes to the airfield with what gas remained?  With one, almost full tank, it seemed like we could.  The last thing we wanted to do was land in a war zone with no commo and try to flag someone down for help.  Phil made the called.  Pilots and crews of five other aircraft were ticked that we were declaring a precautionary landing for a possible maintenance issue while we were amid a ground war.  

Phil and I landed safely in the desert, a highway just over the berm to the east.  Within seconds of landing, engine two failed.  Seconds later, engine one failed.  Had Phil not made the decision to put the aircraft on the ground when he did, gravity would have made the decision for us seconds later.  We had been flying too low, too fast, with too much weight to safely autorotate.  We would have balled up our aircraft, crew, and kitchen sink in the desert of Iraq before we even had a chance to join the fight.

By this time, we were all a bit curious as to the cause of our near doom.  An inspection of the log book revealed the fuel system had recently been repaired.  Dismantling the repair, we discovered that a valve had been placed backwards and refused to allow fuel to flow out of tank one.  We had literally run the engines out of gas seconds after we landed.  

The repair was made, gas was delivered by truck, and we moved on to fight the war.  Phil and I didn’t like each other very much, but we flew together often.  Ultimately, he would not return from war with us, but that is a very sad story for another day. 

Written By: Katie Bigelow

Mettle Ops Receives $4.26 Million in Additional Funding for Department of Defense Contract for Solider Safety and Survivability

Mettle Ops and TARDEC continue partnership on U.S. Ground Troop Efforts
Sterling Heights, MI – A recent adjustment to a contract between Mettle Ops and U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) features a funding ceiling hike of $4.26 million. This previous contract of $9.1 million, which was created as a Research and Development project, has the aim of putting soldiers’ survival as number one priority. Mettle Ops’ signed contract, known as the DoD (Department of Defense) Ordnance Technology Consortium (DOTC) Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) Contract, now totals more than $13 million.
The hike is due to increased budgetary funding allowing TARDEC to aggressively pursue survivability solutions for increased soldier safety. With this additional funding line, Mettle Ops will continue supporting their government customer and be able to make an even larger impact for America’s ground soldiers. 
"We are excited to receive this increase, as this shows that the DoD is taking this topic seriously and allowing TARDEC to pursue survivability solutions for increased soldier safety which is our passion," states Katie Bigelow, President of Mettle Ops.
Both Mettle Ops and TARDEC have unique specializations, and this collaboration makes for a well-rounded service provider.
Mettle Ops is responsible for the program management, design, modeling and simulations, analysis, and documentation aspect of the process for the agreement.
The deal will continue to provide both virtual and physical prototypes for tracked and wheeled ground vehicles, specifically Abrams Main Battle Tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, Combat Vehicle Prototype, and Next Generation Combat Vehicle.
TARDEC is continuously seeking the latest technologies to affordably and effectively enhance vehicle and crew survivability for existing and future ground vehicle systems. This collaboration with Mettle Ops will assist TARDEC in achieving its goals.
“Our chief goal is to serve the warfighter.  Survivability effort deals like this provide soldiers with equipment that protects them better in wartime environments,” Bigelow said.
Both organizations are committed to providing consumers with high-quality, efficient products with safety as the number one priority.

What are the Characteristics of a Good Performance Parameter?

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Too often today, legacy performance requirements are invoked on new military ground vehicle programs without giving any thought to whether they will result in a suitable capability or not.  It is assumed that by invoking legacy requirements from the M1 or Bradley, that a new vehicle program will enjoy comparable performance.  That is simply not the case.

So, if available legacy performance requirements are insufficient to ensure suitable operational capability, what characteristics need to be considered for updated performance parameters?  There are a few.  

First and foremost, each invoked performance metric should be operationally relevant.  That means that metrics should assess capabilities required to complete an operational mission; not simply testing for testing sake.  One example of this type of outdated metric is the ability to ascend and descend a paved 60% grade.  Paved 60% surfaces occur nowhere except at test facilities.  Paved roads grades are typically capped at no more than 8%, but may have short stretches up to 15% grades; well below the typical legacy test requirement for military vehicles. It is understood that military vehicles should be able to traverse terrain that may not be passable by commercial vehicles.  So, is there a better way to assess a military vehicle’s capability to ascend and descend grades?  The answer is ‘Yes”.  Instead of evaluating a vehicle’s grade climbing ability on a dry solid surface, it would be more operationally relevant to assess that capability on natural soil.  

Another feature of good performance parameters is a metric that assesses multiple vehicle features with a single test.  An example of a multidimensional metric is speed on grade.  This parameter considers such features as torque available at the drive sprocket or wheel hubs, capability of the cooling system to stay within operating temperature limits when under load for an extended time and transmission gear ratios and shift points.

The last key feature of good metrics is those that are unambiguous.  Good metrics identify test conditions such as weight (curb, gross vehicle, or both), (air conditioning on or off), fuel type, air temperature, etc. as well as a detailed test procedure.

The bottom line is there are performance parameters that are much better suited to providing appropriate operational capabilities than those invoked on many legacy vehicle systems.  Requirement developers and testers need to try and avoid simply plagiarizing metrics from previous programs and ask themselves “Is there a better way?’

Guest Blog Written By:
Bill Ross, Sr. Mobility Systems Engineer
Nevada Automotive Test Center 

How the Money Flows – A Simplified Look from My Foxhole

Now that we have an approved Budget; what’s next?  When will we see new start contracts for a given year?  

1. President’s Budget
2. Congressional Approved
3. Appropriations – HASC + SASC approval
4. Signed into Law
5. OSD - Office of the Secretary of Defense
6. Service Branch
7. Major Commands
8. Subordinate Commands
9. Program Executive Office or Tiered Command
10. Program Office
11. Product Office

The total process takes months to complete.  Being that we are at #3 today, it will still take upwards of 60 days or more to trickle down the line to #10.  

Yes, we can get into an entirely different discussion on how the services and program offices request funding but that’s too over-the-top for the typical industry partner.  This is a very simplified look from my understanding of the process on how the money flows. 

Written By: Mark Bigelow

Know your core, lead by example, & when necessary, "jump on the grenade."

We recently read the below LinkedIn post and found it to be very agreeable with our goals. We thought it was worth sharing. 

My boss welcomed me into her office & shut the door. I had no idea that meeting was about to deliver the impact of a hand grenade. “Welcome to OUR company. We’re glad you’re here," she greeted me. She quickly moved to a topic sacred to her & to the company: Core Values. She smiled but took on a serious tone. She said, “We stand for 3 things: 1) Do the Right Thing, 2) Teamwork & Trust, 3) Have a Passion for Winning – in that order.” It wasn’t marketing gibberish. These were expected & rewarded behaviors here. She continued, “My job is to make sure the CEO knows who Gary Frey is. Your job, once you’ve built your team, is to make sure I know who your stars are. Hire your replacement & never be afraid to hire people smarter than yourself.” Servant Leadership: She didn’t just talk about it. She LIVED it. She led by example. Her peers & the CEO recognized her for it. She had the most coveted object in our company tucked away on her shelf: a Waterford crystal hand grenade. She never mentioned it. She didn’t have to. It was legendary. A precious few were given by the CEO to associates who had “jumped on the grenade” on behalf of our associates & customers. She remains the best boss I’ve had. My takeaway: Know your core, lead by example, & when necessary, "jump on the grenade."
-Posted by Gary Frey via LinkedIn

Mettle Ops Government Deal Enforces Values and Ensures Safety

Mettle Ops and TARDEC Team Up to Increase Soldier Survivability Efforts

Sterling Heights, MI – A recent deal between Mettle Ops and U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) puts soldiers’ survival as number one priority. Mettle Ops’ first major signed contract, known as the DoD (Department of Defense) Ordnance Technology Consortium (DOTC) Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) Contract, totals $9.1 million. In this agreement, both parties will focus on survivability efforts to provide soldiers with equipment better protecting them in wartime environments.

“Increased survivability for soldiers means more soldiers come home with less long-term health problems,” states Katie Bigelow, President of Mettle Ops. 

Both Mettle Ops and TARDEC have unique specializations, and this collaboration makes for a well-rounded service provider. 

Mettle Ops is responsible for the program management, design, modeling and simulations, analysis, and documentation aspect of the process for the agreement. 

Some of TARDEC’s contributions to the deal include:
• Identification and evaluation of passive, reactive, active, and blast mitigation material solutions in a lab environment for use on DoD ground platforms and high value assets
• Employment of high fidelity finite element analysis tools to derive novel target material solution candidates in composite, integral, or appliqué orientations
• Development of test articles applicable to ground platform applications and high value assets
• Testing of various actual and/or surrogate weapon systems against their developed material solutions

The deal will provide both virtual and physical prototypes for tracked and wheeled ground vehicles, specifically Abrams Main Battle Tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, Combat Vehicle Prototype, and Next Generation Combat Vehicle. 

TARDEC is continuously seeking the latest technologies to affordably and effectively enhance vehicle and crew survivability for existing and future ground vehicle systems. This collaboration with Mettle Ops will assist TARDEC in achieving its goals. 

“Our chief goal is to serve the warfighter.  Survivability effort deals like this provide soldiers with equipment that protects them better in wartime environments,” Bigelow said. 

Both organizations are committed to providing consumers with high-quality, efficient products with safety as the number one priority.