FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- A panel comprised of military leaders and civilians is scheduled to place Soldiers in the hot seat as they evaluate their original ideas during a new competition later this month.
The XVIII Airborne Corps developed the competition, called the “Dragon’s Lair,” to encourage creative thinking across its ranks that may benefit units in the corps. Ideas presented to the five panelists could then help drive innovation throughout the Army, said the corps’ public affairs officer, Col. Joe Buccino.
Dragon’s Lair simulates the format of the TV show “Shark Tank.” But instead of business moguls looking to invest in the concepts of entrepreneurs, Army leaders will select ideas from Soldiers.
The next competition is slated to be held at Fort Bragg on Nov. 17. Over 180 entries have been narrowed to five finalists who will pitch their concepts to the panel.
P.W. Singer, an author and renowned defense strategist, joins four other panelists including Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, the corps commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Phelicea Redd, senior enlisted advisor for the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command.
The finalists’ ideas include a photo collection mobile app that lets corps alumni archive and organize photos from historical events; a policy change that helps Soldiers with master social worker licenses become Army social workers; and touch-activated pads for medical patients that record vital signs and maintain medical histories.
The Dragon’s Lair challenges innovators within the corps to present solutions to common work problems or simply to make the work environment better.
“[The goal] is to improve any aspect of life and service within the XVIII Airborne Corps,” Buccino said. “And that applies to technology, process, quality of life, procedure, the way we organize for combat and the way we prepare to do physical training.”
Only one winner will be selected and their idea will be distributed throughout the corps. “So it’s a truer competition in that way,” Buccino said. The winner will be announced Nov. 19 on the corps’ Twitter account and the competition will become a monthly event beginning in January.
Winners receive a four-day pass and the opportunity to attend an Army training school of their choice.
Ideas from within
Innovation has been pushed in part by the Army’s modernization efforts and Army Futures Command, which combines the work of civilian and military developers at its headquarters in downtown Austin, Texas.
The Dragon’s Lair challenge, however, encourages Soldiers of any career field or background within the corps to generate concepts.
One of this month’s finalists, Spc. Trevor Cross, assigned to 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, developed a concept for technicians to curb maintenance time by cutting back hours spent transporting equipment with his forklift trailer attachment idea. This will allow for bobcats, forklifts, or skid-steers to replace Humvees as the prime mover of trailers and generators within repair bays.
Cross said that if Soldiers use his idea, where technicians use a tow attachment to move equipment for repairs, they could potentially save up to 15 work hours per week. The Alabama native said that he built his design from previous Soldiers’ ideas and made it applicable to motor pools throughout the Army.
“I think every motor pool in the Army should have one,” said Cross, who worked as a heating and air conditioning technician before enlisting at age 24. “Not only does it save time … it provides better maneuverability within the bay space, because you have more options to move the generator exactly where you want it to be.”
Cross said that regardless of the contest’s outcome, his concept could help improve productivity for about 30-40 Soldiers at Fort Campbell or at any Army motor pool.
The winner of the first contest, Maj. Evan Adams, showed a penchant for creative design as a graphics design major at Sam Houston State University in Texas. Thirteen years later, Adams brainstormed an idea for Soldiers to manage appointments and training opportunities at ranges on Army installations.
Adams said Soldiers typically have to schedule time on the firing range through the Range Facility Management Support System or by making phone calls to range control. Using the app, known as the “RangeFinder,” Soldiers can schedule bookings with their smartphones.
“We use a lot of this technology to plan the range [appointments] anyway,” Adams said. “My biggest innovation is really just putting those sorts of tools together in one place so you don't have to go searching for them or have to download additional apps.”
His idea took first place among 84 submissions last month. Buccino said Adams’ thorough planning from the development to the implementation stage impressed the panelists.
“It solved so many inefficiencies in one solution,” Buccino said. “He really had the most thoughtful presentation and thought through many of the elements of implementation and many of the hurdles that would come with that.”
Adams said he plans to work with civilian programmers on a prototype beginning December or January and hopes to release the mobile app by the summer.