Maybe it was his time in Berlin. Maybe it was his time in the Balkans. Who knows, maybe it was something from his childhood in Salem, Oregon. But on that afternoon near a small, Middle Eastern village, something told Todd Harrod that the car approaching on the side of the road meant trouble.
“I guess somewhere along the way, I’ve developed good instincts,” Todd says. “Because when the car doors opened and the weapons came out, I was already backing out of traffic and heading down a dirt trail by the road.”We are walking on a pathway along the Potomac River. The D.C. sun has broken through the clouds and brought with it a plethora of joggers and bicyclists. But all the activity is not distracting me from Todd’s story.“So what happened?” I ask. “Were you shot at?”
“Oh yeah, they emptied a whole AK magazine into my car. I lowered my head and just kept driving. I was lucky to escape.”
We’ve been talking about Todd’s storied career. He’s told me about his experience in Germany when the wall came down and how a member of his intel team at Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) in Stuttgart identified the Zarqawi network as the biggest terrorist threat in the theater prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And he spoke about the promotion he received early in his career for his work with the Marines during interrogation training.
“I was a Private (E2) with the Army Reserves at the time, but I was working closely with the Marines, who ‘promoted’ me as an honorary Marine Lance Corporal.”
That has to be rare, doesn’t it? I ask.
“It is. I think that’s why it’s my favorite promotion.”
As we pause near a railing overlooking the river, the conversation turns back to his time in the Middle East, where Todd was a senior operator, collecting information on terrorist activities and foreign military deployments. His friendly face, quick smile and gentle demeanor make him seem more like an affable next-door-neighbor than an intelligence collector.
“It was like the wild west over there,” Todd said, as he takes a seat on a park bench. “I was collecting info on all the weapons of mass destruction sites, the terrorist training camps, all the deployed exercises, all the deployed missiles. Every day I was trying to figure out what the enemy was doing. I loved my job.”
But that had to be pretty risky though? I mean you ended up with a car full of bullet holes.
“Oh, it was dangerous,” Todd agreed. “It was challenging. But it was something new every day. One day you’d have to spend time with the Secretary of State’s entourage. The next day you’d be on the road tracking terrorists. That job was my favorite. It really was.”
So what was the transition like from military life to the private sector, I ask.
“It was different,” Todd says. “I ended up at a big corporation and a project in Africa came up. The team on the ground there really needed intelligence support. Well, the company I was with decided not to bid it. Not because it wasn’t important, but because it wasn’t profitable enough given the considerable risk involved.”
Just hearing him tell the story, you can tell it still bothers him.
“I felt betrayed in a way by that decision,” he says shaking his head. “Because the troops on the ground were people I knew and I knew how much they needed the help my team could deliver.”
So did that bring you to Mission Essential?
“Well, after that I did do a lot of research, explored my personal network, and really considered where I wanted to work. To me, smaller companies were too risky. They do good work but so many of them are here today, gone tomorrow. And, as I said, big companies were often all about profit and risk aversion.”
So what category does Mission Essential fall into?
“Mission Essential is kind of the best of both worlds. As a company, we’re concerned with doing the right thing. People here care. So we go to riskier places. We take less profit. We’re big enough that we’re able to attract great talent and provide a level of stability.”
So is it as satisfying as being out in the field? I ask.
“You know, from the start of my career, it’s been about being a part of something bigger than me,” Todd says looking out over the Potomac. “Working together and supporting bigger causes. Really, it doesn’t matter where I’m doing it, just as long as what I’m doing is making a positive difference.”
And you’re doing that at Mission Essential?
Todd smiles. “At Mission Essential we do it every day.”