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Top 40 Under 40 Military Spotlight: Brent Vogt

By Heidi Russell Rafferty, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: URS

 

At the age of 19, Brent Vogt was already in charge of 60 Airmen and had "learned dozens of important lessons in leadership and accountability of one's actions" during six weeks of training in San Antonio, Texas.


Those lessons at that tender age weren't lost on Vogt, who, since leaving the military service in 2006, has done field engineering for a construction firm, project managed additions to an ethanol plant, launched a personal hygiene business, inspected Afghan National Army and Police buildings for the U.S. Corps of Engineers, performed management consulting for a nuclear power plant - and today, is working in Spain in management consulting for an Information Technology organization.


Yes, that all has taken place in a five-year period.


And that doesn't even cover Vogt's wartime service in Baghdad in 2003. As a communications liaison, his medical squadron worked with Army and Marine Corps units in theater to evacuate wounded Department of Defense personnel.
Vogt looks over his fast-paced life in and outside of the military with a take-it-in-stride coolness. The military taught him that, too.


"What the military taught me is that if you say something, back it up with your actions," Vogt says. "You have to do what you say, period, and a lot of people have forgotten that. The world's not perfect. I'm not perfect. But my experiences are very unique and give me perspective a lot of people don't have. I have to find opportunities to use skill sets to make the world a better place. Other people want to get paid and go home. The military did an excellent job of saying, 'All right, Brent. If you say this, you'd better back it up or you'll have a problem.'"

Vogt, a native of Olivia, Minn., first learned that ethic from his father and late grandfather, who were in the masonry business. His dad took him along on jobs when he was 10, and by his mid-teens, Vogt was working alongside adults.


"It wasn't like you were 14. You were, but you weren't. It's almost like you were 20, because you were surrounded by people 35 and 50 all the time, and also surrounded by the construction business as a whole: plumbing, HVAC, those types of people. I was a kid thrown into the big pool of adults," Vogt says.


He also aspired to be like his grandfather, a sergeant major in the Army National Guard during World War II. "I saw his uniforms and pictures, and I always had an interest in it. He was a very take-charge, my-way-is-the-highway type of guy," Vogt says, adding that his grandfather passed away in 2005.

After high school, Vogt started college at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn. The school was expensive. Vogt's priest in Olivia was a major general and the Chief of Chaplains in the Air Force who told him that if he joined the Air Force, it would pay for the school and he could get his degree while serving. He joined in December 1999. Vogt received his B.A. in business in 2004 and an Applied Associate of Science in Information Systems Technology (an Air Force degree). He was in radio communication system in the 109th Air Medical Evacuation Squadron for the Air National Guard in Minnesota.

In 2003, Vogt served one month at Camp Wolf in Kuwait and then deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, to work in the Green Zone (now known as the International Zone). He was the only member of his team sent on this mission and spent three months traveling from the Green Zone to the Baghdad International Airport on missions to evacuate the wounded to Germany and the United States. "We traveled these roads in unarmored vehicles without doors. The war, at this point, was far removed from the years in 2005 - 2007. I became a much stronger person enduring the hardships of conflict while evacuating over 1,300 individuals," he says.

Also while in school and serving in the military, Vogt continued to work with his father's masonry business. After his honorable discharge as a staff sergeant in 2006, he took a job as a field engineer for DH Blattner & Sons (now Blattner Energy), a construction firm in Minnesota. During the next 18 months, he traveled the country working in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and western Texas. "I worked on a project worth $20 million building an addition to a railroad line stretching from Houston to Los Angeles. In early 2007, I spent eight months working on various projects in wind energy ranging from $80 to $180 million. We built over 300 wind turbines throughout the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles," he says.

In July 2007, Wanzek Construction of Fargo, N.D., hired Vogt as a project engineer. The firm added three buildings to an existing ethanol plant in Chancellor, S.D. "This was my first experience in industrial construction and the third such instance of working in an unknown area of my professional understanding in project management. The new plant started the first time and was brought in under the $5 million budget," Vogt says.


During spring 2008, Vogt and a friend launched a personal hygiene business based in Sioux Falls, S.D., called Klenz, a combination "shower-and-towel." His photo is even on the product wrapping. He and his friend worked to get it into Wal-Mart and the Army/Air Force Exchange Service. Eventually, they decided to take the product overseas to market it in places like Afghanistan. At the time, Vogt had accepted a job with a contracting firm, and he decided to hand out the product to people in Special Forces and the Drug Enforcement Agency.


And that was in February 2009. Vogt worked with the Army Corps of Engineers as a Quality Assurance Engineer, building several outposts all over the country. At the same time, he was able to sell the Klenz product to individuals and organizations.

"We were tasked to liaison with engineering professionals in the Afghan theater to inspect various Afghan National Army and Police buildings located throughout the country. It was the perfect opportunity to move our product overseas and continue my personal education in construction while serving the people of America and our Coalition allies in southern Afghanistan. In nine months, we worked with several countries in theater while exploring Kandahar, Spin Boldak, Shah Wali Kat, Maiwand, and the Arghandab Valley. In this position I instructed our Afghan security force in tactics while learning Pashtu through Rosetta Stone," Vogt says.


The job requirements changed later in 2009, so Vogt left to do a management consulting project with his current employer, Dewolff, Boberg & Associates of Dallas. He was assigned to the Watts Bar Nuclear Facility under the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) banner. His company worked directly with first-line supervisors and superintendents to build a better understanding of their processes and procedures. He taught the professionals to find and fix problems while doing more work. "Our sixth-month project resulted in a 293% return on investment for TVA," Vogt says. After that, he moved to another project at the Prairie Island Nuclear Facility in Red Wing, Minn., doing the same thing. That project ended in November 2010. Vogt moved to another Minnesota project shortly after - and then was tasked to his current assignment in Spain.

"I'm hoping for more time overseas, maybe Europe or Brazil. I would like to do international projects, be fluent in languages and learn more about the world," he says.

Freelancer Heidi Russell Rafferty is a reporter with 19 years of experience who writes about employment and business issues.

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