I was a kid with a wealth of potential and lots of open doors, although I had little ambition, direction, or drive to move myself through them. My grades reflected the common theme of the notes my teachers sent home on a regular basis, “…if Luke would only apply himself.” I did manage to graduate high school and get accepted into college, but I changed my major following the lackluster end of my freshman year. After my sophomore year, I was no more certain of where I was going or why I should work hard to get there.
I woke up one morning in the summer of 1999, having had a dream that I was a soldier. I’d never given the military a serious look, though they tried very hard to convince me to do so. My ASVAB test scores (which I took because it got me out of a few classes during junior year of high school) had recruiters from every branch promising me the world. I wasn’t interested, so I really didn’t pay much attention. However, I could not shake this dream. It felt real and it felt right. Following this unusual compulsion, I visited a recruiting office the next day, signing up for the Army Reserve rather than active duty, based on some fanciful notion that the Reserves would be like dipping my toes into the life of a soldier.
What I found was that the life of a soldier, or at least the life of a soldier in training, was pretty amazing. The rigid structure of the training, the insistent demand that you always do better, and the ever-watchful eyes of the Drill Sergeant lit a fire in me that I had never imagined was possible. Every day I proved to myself that I could do something I thought was impossible the day before. And though I had little choice in the matter during training, I finally learned how to apply myself. I also learned to expect more of myself.
I entered the Army as a Civil Affairs Specialist and had the opportunity to learn a foreign language. I selected Arabic from the available options after being told it was the hardest program offered. I breezed through it with my newfound fire, but while learning Arabic, the terrible events of 9/11 occurred. September 11, 2001 was the day I gained patriotism and the day my fire gained purpose. Up to that point I was in the Army because it was there, my life wasn’t going anywhere otherwise, it offered a pay check and money for college, and of course there was the dream that made me wonder what it would be like. On 9/11, I suddenly realized that no one and nothing was safe if someone wished to cause us harm.
Serving a one-year deployment to Baghdad, Iraq with my Civil Affairs battalion rounded out my first enlistment and I decided it was time to move into something that offered the opportunity to more immediately impact the threats that were facing us. I transferred into a Military Intelligence unit and became an Intelligence Analyst. Sadly, the unit I landed in was still very much involved in Cold War era strategic planning missions and there wasn’t a lot of tangible impact possible from that vantage. However, it was my training and experience as an Intelligence Analyst that opened a door to a slightly different kind of life. I took a defense contracting job at a company called Centauri Solutions. In this position I supported the National Ground Intelligence Center’s Counter Insurgency Targeting Program. This program looked at all of the intelligence we could gather on our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan with the intent to provide those key pieces of information that would allow the military to capture or eliminate the most harmful of enemy fighters. In this role, I had the opportunity to embed with a Special Forces company that relied on my ability to acquire information, unravel complex social networks, interpret the Iraqi language and culture, and identify and locate those who not only wanted to do us harm, but were positioned to do so with skills in constructing improvised explosive devices (IED) or having command of large groups of armed fighters. I was on fire in this position. I worked 18 hour days for two years straight, living in Iraq, eating and working with these soldiers to capture or kill literally hundreds of dangerous enemy fighters.
I didn’t pay much attention to the world back home while this was going on, but one of the owners of my company had heard plenty about me. When I finally had to take a break and come home, he called me to his office at corporate headquarters because he wanted to shake my hand and to thank me. It embarrassed me then and it still does, but that man thought I was a hero of some kind. No, just a passionate and dedicated kid (in my own mind) that finally knew how to apply himself.
Eventually, my home life came to be a life I was no longer willing to leave. I was married to a beautiful, intelligent woman who gave every bit of herself to her relationship with me and my daughter and we wanted to grow that family. An opportunity to make an impact in a new way came knocking at the door. Centauri had been acquired by CSC which then acquired a small software company called 42Six. 42Six was making software products for the Intelligence Community and wanted intelligence analysts to help design better software for other analysts. This felt like a really great chance that would allow me to still do my part while spending time with and growing my family. We added two pups to our family and bought a home in Stafford, Virginia. I learned about the software development lifecycle and how to be a program manager. Eventually we were blessed with a son whose light in my life is only matched by his big sister. I learned about and obtained a master’s degree in systems engineering. A few years later our family was expanded with a second son who challenged the very notion of a peaceful night’s sleep. I learned about building and growing a business and earned an MBA.
While life was moving along and I had dedicated my fire to engineering software to improve the mission my friends and colleagues were still engaged in, my old boss, the one who likes to embarrass me with his pride in me, had founded a new company, Invictus. Near the end of 2016, he reached out to me and asked me what I wanted to do in life now. We talked about my plans and where I wanted to go professionally, and then he asked me to come do everything we’d just talked about at Invictus. Joining such a young company was possibly a risky leap for a family man. However, starting from the top down, Invictus has an edge that not every company can claim – passionate people with dedication to a mission that is larger than any one person, larger than the company. With that as your foundation, the only place to go is up, and so we have.
I made the move, joining Invictus as the Director of Software Engineering, a title that was more hopeful than actual in the beginning. Today, I’m running a number of software and security engineering programs and projects for our IC and DoD clients, as well as internal projects for the company with an unbelievably talented staff that burns with the same fire I found in myself all those years ago in basic training.