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(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Army appointed four new Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army April 23, 2019, during an investment ceremony here in the Pentagon.

The Honorable Dr. Mark T. Esper, Secretary of the Army, selected Eric D. Ahlness to represent Minnesota; Jim Bland and Steven N. Herman to represent Illinois (North); and Michael P. Flanagan to represent Virginia (South).

"We are very fortunate to add to our Army team CASAs with extensive backgrounds in the military and in the business and public sector," Esper said. "I have no doubt each will do great things for our Army family."

CASAs are a vital part of the Army, promoting good relations between the Army and the public and advising the Secretary about regional issues.

Each state, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories have one or more CASAs appointed to provide a vital link between the Army and the communities for which they serve. CASAs are usually business or civic leaders who possess a keen interest in the welfare of the Army and their communities.

CASAs serve a two-year term without compensation. Terms may be extended to a total of 10 years of service. The secretary may recognize a civilian aide as a CASA Emeritus after 10 years of service with distinguished service.


"Service has always been important to my family, whether it is service to our country or within the community," Ahlness said. "I have a special passion for soldiers and veterans and am grateful the secretary afforded me the opportunity to serve Minnesota. I am thankful for the example set by my predecessor, Harry Sieben, and I look forward to partnering with Mark Ritchie as we serve the soldiers of this great state."

A graduate of Minnesota State University and a distinguished graduate of its ROTC program, Colonel (retired) Ahlness served 28 years in the Minnesota Army National Guard as an infantry and intelligence officer. He deployed to Bosnia in 2003 as the information operations officer for NATO operations

He served 6 years as the government relations officer followed by a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, where he commanded a 58-member agribusiness development team. His final assignment launched a National Guard diversity and inclusion effort.

He continues to serve veterans as Cargill's vice president for operations for corporate affairs and as an advisor to the Veteran Military Support Network. Since joining Cargill the company emerged as a business leader by becoming a Yellow Ribbon Company in Minnesota, mentoring soldiers transitioning to civilian careers, and being recognized by the secretary of defense with an ESGR Freedom Award in 2017.


"It is an honor and a privilege to serve the US Army again in my home state of Illinois," Bland said. "My Army service was one of the most rewarding and personally fulfilling experiences in my life and I look forward to sharing my love for the Army with others. I also look forward to working with northern Illinois community leaders, my fellow civilian aides, veterans, and soldiers to advance the Army's and Secretary Esper's priorities."

Bland earned a bachelor of science degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served over eight years in the Army and Army Reserve as a field artillery officer resigning as a captain.

After leaving the Army, he worked as a strategy consultant and in the banking industry. Holding an MBA in finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Bland spent 15 years helping businesses grow as a private equity investor and board member. He remains involved with his undergraduate alma mater having served 12 years as a member of West Point's Association of Graduates Board of Trustees and Board of Advisors.

In addition, he spent over a decade as a USMA local recruiter where he has served on congressional and senatorial service academy selection committees. In the community, Bland has served as a commissioner on Chicago's Community Development Commission and as a mentor for Boys Hope Girls Hope.


"After spending the first 50 years of my life as an Army dependent and soldier, I feel truly blessed to serve our Army again," Flanagan said. "As a CASA, I'm excited to support Secretary Esper's initiatives for our Soldiers and their families in Virginia, as well as the efforts of our Recruiters to find the next generation of Soldiers."

A graduate of the United States Military Academy, West Point, Colonel (retired) Flanagan served as an armor officer and later acquisition officer with the regular Army. He led Army's Abrams Tank Program from 2004 to 2006 and the Training Devices Program from 2010 to 2013 while the Army was at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After retirement, he served as a defense executive at CACI Federal and now works for Tysons-based LMI, a defense consulting firm. A graduate of Colonial Heights High School located outside Fort Lee, Virginia, Flanagan returned to the area in 2015 and became chapter president for the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). Earlier this year, he also became president of the West Point Society of Richmond.

Flanagan was appointed by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to serve as a member of the Joint Leadership Council for Veteran Service Organizations in 2018. Since his military retirement in 2013, Flanagan has actively volunteered in many areas directly related to benefiting soldiers and their families.


"It is an honor and a privilege to be selected by Secretary Esper to serve the Army and my state as a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, Herman said. "This is an opportunity for me as a CASA to expand my ability to engage and support our service members and veterans in Illinois (North). I look forward to helping the Army tell its story."

Herman received a bachelor of science degree in business from the University of Colorado in 1971 and a master's in business administration from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Business in 1973. He is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Business OPM program in 2000.

Herman is a retired business executive. He is past president and CEO of Triangle Home Products, president of Confidential Online LLC, and is currently a partner in Snap Diagnostics LLC. He has been involved in three business startups that have been successfully exited in the fields of manufactured housing, on line internet privacy, and cable television.

He is a current board member of the Young Presidents Gold Organization-Chicago Chapter, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Harvard Business School Club of Chicago, and the Kellogg Alumni Club of Chicago.