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Posts tagged: U.S. Army

It pays to double-check the competition, and to complain sometimes

Spokane’s Garco Construction has landed a $35.8 million federal contract after challenging an earlier award for the job to an Oklahoma competitor.

Garco bid on the project last year to build a large truck and maintenance shop at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma. Last fall the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the job to The Ross Group, based in Tulsa, Okla.

Ross Group got the contract even through Garco’s original bid was lower. The federal contract system gives advantages to small companies that are based in “HUBZones,” a geographical category set up by the U.S. Small Business Administration. HUBZone stands for historical underutilized business zone.

Because Ross Group said it was HUBZone qualified, its bid ended higher-rated due to the HUBZone scoring system.

Later Garco challenged the award saying that Ross Group did not meet the HUBZone requirements. As a result the bid process was reopened.

Garco Vice President Hollis Barnett said Garco last week was notified it won the award. The Spokane construction company already has three current projects at the large Lewis McChord base, he said.

Barnett said it's odd and frustrating that he and Garco had to call into question the legitimacy of Ross Group's bid and status. “That's something the federal government should be doing, not competitors,” he said.

When Garco first loss the deal, Barnett went to Ross Group's site and did some reading. He found mention of its winning an award and having about $80 million in annual sales. That told him, if correct, that Ross Group couldn't be HUBZone compliant. Only firms with less than $33.5 million in sales qualified.

Once the issue was raised, Ross voluntarily offered the explanation that it had incorrectly filed information about its HUBZone status, Barnett noted. 

Army extends its contract with Next IT for “Sgt. STAR”

U.S. Army officials have re-upped their commitment to Sgt. STAR, the tech “virtual assistant” developed by Spokane's Next IT.

The Sgt. STAR tool on provides an automated, conversational set of answers to many questions raised by people looking at joining the service.
The Army first began using Sgt. STAR in 2006. The company also has virtual assistant deals with a number of airlines and firms in the financial services sector.

GU tries out mobile version of Next IT virtual agent Ask Spike

Spokane's Next IT has developed a text message(SMS)-based version of its interactive virtual agent software and has installed it for Gonzaga University's “Ask Spike” application.

Gonzaga has been one of Next IT's early adopters of the virtual agent service, which allows people to chat or ask questions and get responses without human intervention.

Others who've adopted the technology are the U.S. Army (on, some airlines and Merrill Lynch.

With mobile about to become a more dominant area for corporate customer relations, Next IT saw the need to revise the program to allow for SMS or text-message answers.

Until now, the GU “Ask Spike” service was only available on the web. Find that option at in the askspike button on the top of the page.

To text Spike, use 699247 (MyZAGS). The coders have developed a little set of catch-all answers to coy questions.
We tried the question: “Who's your daddy?” 
Answer:  “Next I.T. is the company that provides the tech that makes me work.”
We followed with: ” How old are you?”
Answer: “I don't age. But thanks for asking.”

Images of the Army’s pilot survival gear

OK, we’re still blogging about the deal signed by the Army with Hayden-based Unitech Composites & Structures.  It’s not that we like their name that much.  Instead we finally got our hands on two images that tell half the story — what those units the Army hopes saves helicopter pilots look like.  

Unitech is making the next gen version of the SEA — military for “survival egress air” (Memo to the Pentagon: SEA is the best you can do?) The tanks are meant to help rescue pilots or crew forced down into water.

The two images here show the small tank that holds, at present, about 100 seconds of breatheable air, and the full unit added to the vest pack worn by an air crew. Go to the rest of this post to see the unit by itself.

Unitech’s new design will add 50 or more seconds to the capacity, plus make the unit 20 percent lighter.

Hayden company developing better survival gear for the Army

The U.S. Army is spending good money to improve something most civilians take for granted — survival gear for airmen and helicopter crews.

We found out that the Army is looking for a better survival kit used by crews who fly over water, and Hayden-based Unitech Composites & Structures is working on the next model.

Unitech Composites will get a year’s time to produce prototypes of the backpack rescue kit, called an SEA – for Survival Egress Air system. 

The current U.S. Army tank, attached to the front vest of the pilot or crewman, weighs about 2.5 lbs, with the metal bottle being about 1 pound.  It contains enough air for roughly 100 seconds.

The new design will add 50 percent more air time and will reduce the weight by 20 percent.

“Lightening the load on the pilot and giving him more escape time is very important to the Army.  Its all about saving lives,” said  Al Haase, president of Unitech and AGC Composites Group, an Oklahoma parent company of the Hayden operation.


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The Spokesman-Review business team follows economic development in Spokane and the Inland Northwest.

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Alison Boggs (@alisonboggs) Online Producer Alison Boggs posts and manages content on and its social networking accounts.

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Scott Maben Scott Maben is a Deputy City Editor who covers North Idaho news and higher education.

Addy Hatch is the city editor, and formerly was business editor.

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