Nov. 10, 2023 – This Veterans Day, Sargent & Lundy joins in honoring all who are serving, or have served, in the U.S. armed forces and is spotlighting the lengthy and extraordinary military career of highly decorated former U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kurt Westerman.
Sargent & Lundy has welcomed veterans, like Westerman, and current service members into its ranks for years as part of its core values to maintain a diverse workforce and provide invaluable perspectives.
Westerman, a nuclear engineer who earned his degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, went on to lead multiple units at home and abroad, including a tour in Iraq. Strongly influenced by his upbringing as the son of an Army officer, Westerman is a veteran who has successfully transferred the dedication, discipline, and mission-driven work ethic to the private sector and risen through the ranks of leadership. He is a senior vice president at Sargent & Lundy and has worked at two nuclear operations companies, as well as ARES Corporation, whose energy services division was acquired by Sargent & Lundy in 2019. He has designed advanced nuclear reactors for land, sea, and space applications, among many other responsibilities.
Westerman’s Army career spanned 28 years in active and reserve duty, at one point serving at the “tip of the spear” of the Cold War, about three miles away from the East German Iron Curtain, as the commander of a 225-man nuclear artillery unit. He was on call 24/7 the entire 18-month tenure and would frequently get calls in the middle of the night to decode nuclear command messages from the Pentagon. By far his most difficult challenge was a next-of-kin notification he delivered to a family when a soldier in his unit was killed in a training accident.
As a husband and father of two young boys, Westerman spent long deployments away from his family before being assigned as an instructor at the Defense Nuclear Weapons School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he taught weapons design, physics, and radiation safety. Following 10 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, Westerman decided to file his retirement papers effective Dec. 31, 2001. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks significantly altered his plans.
Westerman volunteered for recall to active duty and received orders to join the Joint Staff in the Pentagon and support imminent security needs for both the U.S. and the war in Afghanistan. He deployed to Iraq in April 2003 to become a team leader on the Nuclear Disablement Team, an 11-man team with the mission of finding and eliminating all Iraqi nuclear materials and nuclear weapons equipment. After returning to the Army Reserve in 2004, he was quickly recalled from retirement a second time, spending four years at the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Command in Aberdeen, Maryland. In May 2008, Westerman retired for good with countless military awards and decorations, including a Legion of Merit and a Bronze Star.
Looking back, he proudly recalls his accomplishments in Iraq as part of a historic, unprecedented mission. Unlike standard military missions, the Nuclear Disablement Team had no doctrine or tactics to follow – they made it up as they went. By the end of their mission, they recovered more than 500 metric tons of uranium and over 1,000 high-activity radiological sources.
The Iraq mission was a great success, but his most “vivid memories are of the worst days.”
In June of 2001, the helicopter carrying his team went down near the Syrian border. They radioed for help and were told it couldn’t get to them for eight hours. “We were deep in an enemy controlled part of the country with only 10 men and two crew-served weapons. That eight hours seemed like forever.”
Westerman’s post-military career path was undeniably shaped by his military service.
“The Army had a significant impact on my character and my values,” he said. “In the Army we had a saying, ‘Mission first, people always.’ The “mission first” part translates into some of the same values we have at Sargent & Lundy – provide high quality, on time, on budget deliverables to our clients. The “people always” part recognizes that nothing gets accomplished without our employees. They do the work. We need to recognize them for their accomplishments and ensure they have a rewarding career path ahead of them.”
For this veteran, his leadership style – in military terms, taking care of your subordinates – is his greatest lesson from the Army. In his words, “Leading 225 men in a high-stress environment requires mutual trust, and you cannot earn that trust if your team doesn’t think you truly care about them. My fellow soldiers were great Americans and I loved being around them.”
Westerman now resides in Tennessee with his wife Nancy. They have two sons and four grandchildren. In his spare time, he enjoys playing golf, and watching rugby, and hockey. He is involved in several veterans charities, including the Green Beret Foundation, and Operation Stand Down Tennessee.
We thank Kurt and all veterans who have honorably served in the U.S. armed forces.