Ashland resident Grady Smalling, an Army veteran who served two combat infantry tours in Iraq, is about to re-enter boot camp.
But the former infantryman who served with the 75th Ranger Regiment won't be endlessly marching, pumping out push-ups or wolfing down chow while on the run.
Before entering the UCLA boot camp, the participants, all vetted by Syracuse, completed on-line courses led by university faculty. During the boot camp session, they learn how to develop strategies for raising capital, attracting customers and writing business plans that are most effective for their business model. Donations from private sponsors pay for tuition, travel and accommodations for the veterans.
Smalling, 29, is one of 16 disabled veterans selected to participate in a new program called the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities that begins today and continues through Aug. 10. The residency camp, which provides free business training for disabled veterans, will be held at the University of California at Los Angeles' Anderson School of Management, one of the nation's top business schools.
"I'm excited about going back to school, to be around like-minded people in an academic setting," said Smalling who suffered a protruding vertebrae while making his last parachute jump a month before being discharged.
"People who have served in the military can really appreciate sitting down and reading in a comfortable place," he added.
The former Army specialist who led a fire team into flash points in Baghdad and Ramadi is no stranger to poring over books. The Klamath Falls native is a 2001 graduate of Harvard University, where he majored in economics. He also played football for the Crimson for four years.
Now he intends to head back to school with the same enthusiasm that earned him a berth on the all-conference team as a Harvard fullback and two Army Commendation Medals — one for valor, the other for meritorious achievement.
His mission is to use the knowledge gained at the business boot camp to launch The Ranger Team, LLC., an enterprise he is starting to provide materials to Uncle Sam.
"I've got a lot of buddies coming back that will need jobs — I'll need a sales force," he said, noting he didn't want to talk about business specifics until his firm is established. "I'll also need people in distribution, moving materials from Point A to Point B. Rangers are awesome at that.
Following the nine days of workshops and seminars at UCLA Anderson's Harold and Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Smalling and other disabled veterans will have a full year to tap faculty experts for advice.
The goal is to provide top training as well as a support structure of experts for disabled veterans who want to start their own businesses, said Al Osborne, senior associate dean of UCLA's school of management and faculty director of the Price Center.
"The EBV is one of the first significant academic partnerships aimed at this unique group of Americans," Osborne said, later adding, "We're interested in helping veterans who are motivated by a small business ownership. This is one way for them to be independent and re-engaged with the community."
Osborne, who will be teaching a business strategy course during the session, noted that some participants have a college background while others don't.
"What they all have in common is that they are service-disabled veterans from all branches of the services who have expressed an interest in entrepreneurship," he said. "We're helping them think it through. We will focus on the specific challenges and opportunities available to these veterans. A little dose of entrepreneurial competency will go a long way toward fulfilling their dreams."
With more than 50,000 Americans in uniform estimated to have suffered some form of disability since 9/11, Osborne figures there are legions of veterans interested in starting their own business.
"We're in it for the long haul," he said of UCLA's commitment to future business boot camps. "We need to step out where we can to help them. We believe it is the right thing to do. We owe these guys something."
Smalling knows a bit about the world of business. He worked as an investment banker on Wall Street for several years before joining the military. He got a job working with a firm making outdoor gear in Seattle after being discharged, followed by a job with an Ashland firm making fire-resistant uniforms. Then he decided to start his own business.
"There is a whole new generation of veteran entrepreneurs out there wanting to get started," he said.
Meanwhile, Smalling isn't just marking time. He has already put in one bid to the federal government to provide materials for those in uniform.
"I'm pretty impatient," he said. "I want to get the business up and running now. I'm excited about this."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.