For many years my life was on a fairly straight path towards the goal I set in 8th grade: become an astronaut. I had learned about the space shuttle program not long after it began, and I knew with unblinking certainty that space was where I wanted to be. Everything I achieved between 1979 and 1996 was geared for this, until finally I acquired all of the qualifications I needed to apply to the astronaut program.
Or so I thought. One small detail had escaped my attention, and after 17 years of methodically planning my path into orbit, that one little detail knocked me out of orbit forever. I had checked all of the academic and military boxes (M.S. in aerospace engineering, 1,000 hours of tactical aviation training, Navy test pilot school), but it hadn’t occurred to me that NASA’s eyesight requirements would be stricter than the Navy’s. So that was that. Foiled after all that accomplishment by a few uncooperative genes.
I remained in the Navy and had an interesting, varied career, albeit at a lower altitude. But did my unexpected change of plans lead to something better? I believe it did, for two reasons. First, after relinquishing my astronaut ambition, my remaining naval career took me in unexpected, unplanned directions, which turned out to be incredibly valuable. By being open to opportunities suggested by others, I gained skills and experience that my best-laid plans could not have afforded me.
Second, in addition to flying in space, the other abiding interest in my life has always been growing a business. My father was an independent business owner, president of his own company and employing 60 people. Knowing how to be profitable can be deceptively simple and endlessly challenging. I wanted to be part of such a challenge.
Today at Veracity I think of myself as a utility player. I support our work with the Navy and Air Force as an aviation and depot maintenance expert. I understand the arcane DoD budgeting process and how it affects our prospects. Through the extensive networks I built while on active duty, I develop new business for Veracity. I solidify teaming relationships with other companies, write technical proposals, and get us on contract for new work. Many hats, many challenges, but they all contribute to profitability.
I’ve done it two ways in my life, carefully planning every step for a long time, and then allowing career moves to more or less tug me along. I’ve acquired deep technical knowledge and practical experience at every turn, but most of all this dual approach has helped me blend flexibility with versatility, big profit indeed.
Darryl Lenhardt is the Naval Aviation Programs Specialist for the Veracity Forecasting Group. He has more than 26 years of experience with defense acquisition and logistics management, developmental test and evaluation, depot maintenance production management, and Naval Aviation Electronic Attack squadron operations and leadership. He holds a B.S. in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California and an M.S. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland.