AI-Vets Co-Founder and CEO James Cavin might not know how to relax. He works full-time for the organization and serves as Command Sergeant Major of the National Guard’s 120th Engineer Battalion based in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
Between CEO functions and his Guard responsibilities, he volunteers for the American Legion, catches his daughter’s volleyball games, and takes care of his family’s land in Pryor, OK. The man is busy. He sat down with our content team to talk about his career and how AmeriinfoVets came to be.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Contact us to learn what it’s like to work with our dedicated team and how we can help solve your greatest mission-critical challenges.
Tell us about your background, James.
I started off out of high school, went to a year of college, and knew I always wanted to join the military. So I joined the Marine Corps, and spent four years on active duty service, on a TOW Missile unit. After I got out of the Marine Corps, I went into the Oklahoma Army National Guard in 1998 primarily as an army engineer, doing horizontal and vertical construction engineering. I’m still in the National Guard, and I’m currently the Command Sergeant Major of the 120th Engineer Battalion out of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
With the National Guard, I deployed overseas to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. Stateside, I continue to do active duty missions during times of crisis. So anytime there’s a tornado, hurricanes, or a big ice storm, we can respond to help at a moment’s notice. We have the gear and equipment to move trees and debris out of the road after a storm, pull people out of ditches, and get them to some warmth. And that’s what I really like about the National Guard, supporting our nation through community service.
Does that community service aspect of being in the National Guard connect up to your original motivation to join the military and be of service to your country?
It’s one of the things that I feel strongly about. Everyone should serve their country in their community. And serving your country doesn’t necessarily mean military service. There’s all kinds of things people can do. I’ve got four children, and I always tell them, “Make sure that you educate yourself, so you can help yourself. And then once you can help yourself, you can help others.” It doesn’t matter about politics or anything like that. If everyone just served their country and served the people around them, we’d be a super great nation.
One of the things I loved about the Marine Corps was the esprit de corps, the brotherhood: looking out for the people right beside you. At AI-Vets, no matter what happens, when it comes to our employees, we always stick by their side; we’re always there for them.
My oldest daughter just turned 18, and she’s in college now. She’s looking at joining the Marine Corps. Of course, I’m trying to talk her out of it, but that’s one of her goals.
“Do as I say, not as I do.”
Haha, right. Yeah, that’s for sure.
Can you say more about your deployment in Iraq?
I was actually out of active duty service in the Marine Corps and was in the National Guard when I was deployed to Iraq. So, leaving your family when you’re in the National Guard, a lot of times you just don’t expect that. We got activated on December 7th, 2003, and I always remember that, because that’s the date of the Pearl Harbor invasion.
We were deployed in-theater for one year, and then there was a transition from active duty back to civilian life. In my engineer battalion, we did construction operations, helping to build up bases in Iraq. We also went into the local community to help clear minefields or other UXO (unexploded ordnance). We worked directly with city mayors to assist the local population with whatever was needed. I was selected to that detail, and I spent about eight months on a team, and that’s all we did. It was a little bit dangerous. Driving down the road, back and forth to each city, was one of the most dangerous things at that time.
How did the idea for AI-Vets come about?
When I first got into the National Guard, I ended up starting college, and getting some certifications in the IT field. Eventually, I worked for a company called Pivot Technology, and was their Senior VP of Cybersecurity, portfolio.
I was at an industry event in San Francisco, and I just happened to come across Mahesh (Mahesh Kalva, AI-Vets President and CTO). We sat down and had lunch together, and started talking. And Mahesh finds out that I was a service-disabled vet, and a member of the Cherokee Nation here in Oklahoma. Mahesh said that I had a great opportunity to find government projects with that type of background.
At the time I wasn’t really looking into it. Where I live in Oklahoma, it’s predominantly Indian, a depressed economic area, eligible for funding through the Native American HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zone) program. So Mahesh and I kept communicating. And then I founded AmeriinfoVets in 2017. I stayed on with Pivot for a little while until I started working full-time with AI-Vets.
How do you describe the mission of AI-Vets?
The commercial sector is always a little bit ahead of the government on tech implementation. So we bring our knowledge base in technology, innovations out of Silicon Valley, our personal experience, and our entrepreneurial spirit into an organization that delivers IT services to federal government agencies to serve our communities.
We have reach in San Jose. Mohanna (AI-Vets Co-Founder and CTO, Mohanna Suggula) is based out of there. The way Mahesh puts it, “We bring Silicon Valley innovations and resources to our federal customers’ missions.”
It’s true. We bring forward thinking, that outside-the-box thinking. We articulate the most beneficial aspects of deploying the best information technology solutions. It’s easy to be nimble in a commercial context, because we measure the benefit: we save money, we make money, we can show ROI (return on investment).
It’s a little bit tougher than we imagined, because in order for the government to transition from one process to another, their systems need to be secure.
We do a lot of work for the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs). It’s one of the largest healthcare organizations in the country. So when you have a breach of security there just by some miscalculation, even if it’s the next-best widget out there, you still have a breach, and all those vets, all the support personnel, all the vendors, now they’re totally exposed. So we need to make sure that the solution we build and develop is actually what they need, want, and is secure enough for them to use. We work to develop the best widget, and bring that solution to market. We make it scalable, efficient, and measurable to fit the federal government’s needs.
Did you know? Our dedicated team brings an ethic of innovation and efficiency to complicated organizations and government agencies that need iron-clad security and scalable systems. Contact us to discuss how we can help solve your greatest mission-critical challenges
As a small business, how do you scale your work, and scale systems for such large, complex clients
Let’s say we have a new project. Mohanna’s team goes out and finds the right people to fill the roles to support that project. Then we hire, let’s say, 100 people for a five-year contract. On the other side, myself, Mahesh, and our business development managers work to find those projects and develop those scenarios. If it’s, for example, an infrastructure modernization project, what is the best server deployment, the best storage deployment, the best route switch? What systems can we build that are large enough to scale up, but also flexible, with the ability to break out into individual branches and locations?
I’ll use the VA again as an example. Here in Oklahoma alone, there’s one main office out of Muskogee, but they have several offices just in the eastern part of the state. Their hospital in Muskogee serves a veteran population of over 50,000 in Eastern Oklahoma. They also have satellite campuses. We need to ensure they can use the health records information across all locations and support that system.
We have our own in-house developers on staff who can develop and build out these different solutions for specific customers. So if DHS, Department of Homeland Security, comes in and says, “Hey, we need this software developed for x project,” we can customize it and build it from scratch.
We’re also leveraging artificial intelligence to scale systems, and we will continue to develop new AI solutions to support government agencies we work with like the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services.
When I first heard about AI-Vets, I thought the “AI” stood for “artificial intelligence.” It actually stands for “Ameriinfo.” Was AI also on your mind when you founded the company?
No, it wasn’t. It was really just an acronym for “Ameriinfo.” By sheer luck, since we had some really good engineers on staff who were already working with machine learning and deep learning, the acronym kind of fit.
In addition to AI, we’re also moving more into the cybersecurity space, both on the federal government side and on the commercial side. We’ve brought on staff with expertise, and we’ve worked on a number of cybersecurity projects, with really good feedback. I’m actually working toward my master’s degree in cybersecurity from University of Tulsa, in addition to my previous cybersecurity experience with Pivot.
What do you get into apart from work? How do you relax?
Apart from my four children, my wife and I, I’m pretty big into physical fitness. I used to run a lot, and I was always at the gym, trying to keep my “girlish figure.” And I ended up hurting my shoulder not quite a year ago. I’m just now starting to get back into it. You go through those growing pains, but it’s good now.
I’ve been helping my son. He’s in the IT field now, working for a company out of Tulsa. My oldest daughter starts Marine Corps OCS (Officer Candidates School) next summer. My middle daughter is a senior in high school this year, and she was accepted and got an offer to go to University of Tulsa to run track and play soccer for them. So we’re pretty happy about all that! And then my youngest, she’s all wrapped up in volleyball, so we spend most of our time going to ball games or going outside and practicing.
My whole family also volunteers at the local American Legion to support veterans, which is their main mission. We’re also helping organize the American Legion baseball team for 16 to 19 year olds. My niece plays softball, so we’re trying to transition the Legion to support girls’ involvement to do fast pitch softball.
Other than that, I take care of my in-laws’ property in Pryor, about an hour from where I grew up on a farm in Stillwell. We currently live in Pryor, where my wife’s from. And so today, I was on the tractor, brush hogging and cleaning the place up.
I’m a bit more of a city mouse than you, so tell me what brush hogging is.
Haha! So think of it as a big, overpowered lawn mower that you take out into a field. It just hooks to the back of a tractor. It’s for cleaning and clearing out land. The biggest branch I want to go over is about a three-inch diameter or a small tree, otherwise I keep breaking stuff. So I want to make sure I stop breaking everything.
Haha! Thanks so much for your time, James!
Alright! Well I appreciate it.