Anvil's Transbay work also started at the "bottom of the economy," says Guy, as the firm successfully pitched Webcor to satisfy the project's small-business-enterprise requirements. Veteran hiring is a key part of Transbay's 2012 labor pact with Bay Area unions.

"As a veteran, Tran is used to being part of a team ... to plan, execute and complete projects from the ground up," says Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, executive director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. "That perspective and experience is a valuable addition."

Nilsson says Tran's Iraq experience allows him to handle construction uncertainties. "In a combat situation, all of a sudden, you need to use creativity and ingenuity," he says. "How do you solve problems that are not in the rule book? HT has become great at doing this."

Anvil's resume and experience have grown with civil construction projects, ranging from infrastructure work for San Francisco Public Utilities and PG&E to city park rebuilds and upgrades at the Moscone convention center and San Francisco International Airport.

Time and experience have reassured new clients and partners that while Anvil's certifications offered boosts, the company is not "entitled" and is adamant about self-performing work. "When we first started, people asked if we were frauds or wouldn't take our calls," says Guy. "Look at us now. We're competing ... with the guys that wouldn't take our calls and winning those jobs."

The Anvil story has been a key tool in recruiting seasoned industry veterans from larger area firms. General Superintendent Paul White joined "for the chance to get in on the ground floor" of a growing firm. Chris Wike, executive project manager, relished the chance to "get back to his roots in the field" and takes credit for sharpening Tran's construction estimating skills.

The CEO admits his work life now "is different than in the military, where you're trained every day and become expert. I am still learning." Guy notes challenges in long-term strategic planning. "I'd never been through a federal budget before or had to put together a plan for work five and 10 years ahead," he says.

Tran relishes his close connection to all Anvil staff, a connection that is fostered by active use of social media and a no-walls office setup that mirrors the collaborative environment of the area's many tech firms. That holds true especially for Anvil's veteran employees, particularly those injured, and for ex-military Tran counsels outside the firm. About 10% of the firm's workforce are veterans, with Anvil's much-stated goal to take that to 50%.

"My mission will always be to mentor and inspire veterans to come home and believe there are options," Tran says. "HT has my back, and I have his," says estimator Forrest Towe, a twice-wounded Vietnam War veteran.

Randall Stone, 28, an Iraq Army sergeant recruited to Anvil last year as a carpenter, credits Tran's efforts to help him secure a union apprenticeship and allow schedule flexibility. "I've overheard many calls at lunchtime on which HT is talking an ex-military off the fence," says VP Hauer. Tran also is adviser to the veterans club at San Francisco State University, which has 400 ex-military students. Treasurer Kyle Garcia, 27, who lost a leg in a 2011 IED attack in Afghanistan, says the group "might not exist without Tran's operations advice."

Tran's firsthand experience and his passion for the cause are much cited in the success of United Contractors' employer-focused veteran hiring initiative. The group has about 450 members, including contractors, vendors and allied firms. Since the effort launched in 2013, more than 70 members and non-members have pledged to hire veterans. Group CEO Breslin says no veteran has waited more than a week for employment. "Coming out of the military, they want to make something of themselves and get on with the next part of life," he says.


He and other group officials acknowledge Tran's role in ensuring that the initiative clarifies expectations for both veterans and employers. "It's challenging for veterans to have [civilian] teammates who are not as focused, determined and responsive as they are," says contractor Michael Ghilotti, the trade group's former president who co-conceived its veteran-hiring mission.

Tran noted in a recent UCon publication that employers should recognize jobsite reactions that could indicate veterans' need for PTS treatment, extra support or mentoring. Tran told the group he still has combat-related impacts, but Anvil's Guy says the two have not discussed them, but they are "not a big issue." Adds the COO, "He was injured by a bomb he didn't see, but he deals with it."

Tran credits his wife, Nadine, a parochial school assistant director whom he married in 2011, with helping him cope. "If my wife wasn't supportive, I don't think I would have made it to this point," he says. Son Clayton, now age 2, "is the only one who yells at me since my boot-camp drill sergeant."