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Defensive line

By Vince Blaser
Times-Call News Group

LOVELAND — Last year in Colombia, Loveland residents Kevin Cooper and Rob Whitfield became friends and business partners while working under contract for the U.S. State Department on an anti-terrorism assistance team.

The two former Marines sketched out plans on a cocktail napkin to start their own security and military training company.

About six months after starting Front Range Training & Consulting LLC, Cooper, Whitfield and Cooper’s wife, Cindy, have secured a five-figure contract with the U.S. Defense Department and are traveling around the country providing training to military units, police departments, homeland security outfits and even women for self-defense purposes.

Front Range Training represents a growing revenue source in Larimer County: defense contracts.

Large defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin or Halliburton do not have a major presence in Larimer County. However, defense contracts awarded to businesses and research institutions in the county nearly doubled from more than $15.6 million in fiscal year 2002 to more than $29.3 million in fiscal year 2003.

Colorado State University brought in almost $12 million from the Defense Department between July 1, 2002, to June 30, 2003, said Kathi Delehoy, an assistant vice president for research at the university.

In the 2003 calendar year, CSU received 100 defense grants, contracts or other awards in 19 different departments, according to records in the university’s research database.

Henry Thompson, a professor in the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Department, received the largest grant, worth $1.05 million, to study the use of selenium to prevent breast cancer.

“The type of funding that CSU receives from the Department of Defense improves people’s lives through study of disease, new technologies, furthering the educational opportunities of our students and innovation of business,” Delehoy said.

She said defense grants are just a small portion of the university’s total research grants, which are estimated to be worth more than $200 million for the 2005 fiscal year. She added that the Department of Defense has shown an increased interest in contracting with CSU to do environmental surveys of military land.

Sue Piatt, research director for the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said many of the contracts in counties such as Larimer come from subcontracts to larger companies.

Loveland-based technology company Special Applications Robotics primarily deals in subcontracts to clean up nuclear facilities for the Department of Energy, said Rob Owen, director of business development for SA Robotics.

The company has also dealt with defense subcontracts. “We’re second tier,” Owen said. “We don’t have a Washington group.”

But government business has been booming for SA Robotics. “We went from a steady $2 million a year this year, to where we’ll probably bring in $10 million to $15 million,” he said.

Front Range Training has tried to develop its niche by traveling to the people it is training and to hot spots around the world.

Cooper, 38, spent 20 years in the Marines, working in special operations units and with the State Department at embassies around the world. Whitfield, 25, served as a sniper team leader and an instructor at a Marine sniper school.

From February to April, Cooper went to Baghdad under a private personal security detail contract. Whitfield recently returned from Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he worked under a contract with the CIA.

Cindy Cooper handles Front Range Training & Consulting’s marketing and scheduling from home, and Kevin Cooper and Whitfield travel to their trainees with a truck and trailer full of gear.

“It doesn’t make any sense to show somebody how to do something if you can’t prove to them that what you’re trying to show them actually works,” Kevin Cooper said.

In May, Cooper and Whitfield traveled to Camp Pendleton, Calif., on a defense contract to train Marine units going overseas on high-threat personal security detail.

While Cooper said they enjoyed training the Marines, he would like to provide more services to law enforcement and emergency personnel locally. To that end, they plan to put on a free course for local police in the future.

“It’s just a matter of time and place,” Cooper said. “We firmly believe we need to put more into the community than we take out.”