David K. Hansen Class of '85
David K. Hansen ’85 dreamed of opening a restaurant, but fate had something else in store. After graduating from the USC Marshall School of Business, he spent 12 years in the Marine Corps, and later, as a civilian, he spearheaded the successful Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle program, which is estimated to have saved thousands of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Restaurant dreams notwithstanding, Hansen already had his eye on military service when he entered USC in 1981 and joined the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps.
“We drilled every morning on Child’s Way at 6:30 a.m.,” he recalls fondly. “I also worked as a security guard every night at University Village, so I was tired.”
Though he majored in business administration, and did well, Hansen struggled with statistics, barely earning a passing grade. Little did he realize the irony in that.
“The day we tossed our hats in the air, we promptly went over to basic training in Quantico [Va.] and got our commissions,” he says. Hansen saw his first tour of duty in Okinawa, Japan, where he learned all about “the business-end of acquisitions for the Department of Defense.” He procured equipment ranging from firearms to optics, and enjoyed it so much that he stayed in the Corps until 1997.
Once out of uniform, he accepted a civilian position with the Corps and eventually advanced to program manager for acquisitions - the highest level in his field. Along the way, Hansen also entered graduate school at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C. This is where the irony comes in.
“I remember in one meeting, some business people were presenting stats to us. I hated stats as an undergrad, but here I was whipping out my old textbook to decide about an acquisition,” Hansen says proudly. He went on to earn two master’s degrees, one in business administration, the other in national resource strategy.
In 2006, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked Hansen to help lead an urgent new program. “Those were the days in Iraq when we were experiencing a lot of Humvees getting blown up on the road” by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), he recalls. “Secretary Gates called on us to develop a strategy to quickly procure and field MRAP vehicles, which raise a soldier higher off the ground and deflect any blast to the sides of the vehicle."
Time, as every businessman knows, is money. In this case, time was American lives. “You hear a lot about programs like the Joint Strike Fighter taking 15 to 20 years. Our program mobilized the trucks within 144 days,” Hansen says. He managed six manufacturers, 300 government employees and 500 support contractors to complete each vehicle. In all, he helped oversee the deployment of 27,000 MRAP vehicles.
For his accomplishment, Hansen received the Department of Defense’s Meritorious Civilian Service Medal, among the highest honors awarded to civilians by the armed forces. “The Marshall School totally paved the way for this,” Hansen says. “The best part is getting feedback from the soldiers in the theater, and hearing them say how much we’ve helped save lives.”
Maybe it’s just as well he never opened that restaurant.