June 19, 2004, changed Dawn Halfaker's life.
On that day a blast tore through her platoon's Humvee during a patrol mission in Baqubah, Iraq. A rocket-propelled grenade flew straight into the front of her Humvee, and exploded near Halfaker, tearing through her right shoulder, breaking bones, and damaging her lungs. Halfaker lost consciousness. After being airlifted out of Iraq, Dawn Halfaker was flown to Washington, D.C., for treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Halfaker lost her right arm. But even after a trying year of treatment and therapy at Walter Reed, Halfaker hadn't lost her desire to serve.
"I desperately wanted to find a way to stay connected and continue to be part of the fight as my colleagues were still in Iraq and Afghanistan," she says.
She tried interning on Capitol Hill, but it didn't satisfy her. In her words, which she shared with a crowd of veteran entrepreneurs and CEOs at the Inc. 500|5000 in Washington, D.C., "I spent just enough time on Capitol Hill to know I wanted nothing to do with politics."
She founded Halfaker and Associates in January 2006.
"They say necessity breeds innovation. So with my need and desire to be part of the fight, I decided to forge my own path and start my company," she says. "I knew I had something to offer, and could bring new ideas, energy, and a sense of urgency to the defense industry."
She founded the contracting firm alone, taking on anti-terrorism and intelligence-analysis projects for other organizations, including DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. She called herself "an Army of one."
When special projects required outside expertise, Halfaker and Associates began hiring to fill specific roles.
"I would basically find an expert to try to compliment my expertise and experience," she says.
Today her five-year-old firm employs 160 people, and provides professional services and technology solutions to the federal government.
"We're all focused on building the company," she says. "But first and foremost, we're focused on the idea of continuing to serve."
CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.