Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. – Fort Benning wants to tap the ingenuity of those Soldiers and civilians who may have good ideas on how to improve things but who don't usually get heard by top leaders.
So Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahoe, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, is casting a wide net to harvest the best ideas for making things work better or to even innovate entirely new things.
It's called the Maneuver Innovation Challenge, a competition modeled partly on the "Shark Tank" reality TV show. In that business-themed reality show, contestants hoping for financial backing for their business ideas, pitch them to a panel of veteran business people, who then decide whether to invest.
For Fort Benning's Maneuver Innovation Challenge, the chance to submit ideas began Dec. 1 and continues through Feb. 1, with winners to be announced Feb. 15.
Donahoe put out the call for innovative ideas in several recent videos published online.
"We're looking for the 50,000 folks on Fort Benning to participate in figuring out what the next critical innovation is for Fort Benning," Donahoe says in a video.
"It can be as mundane as fixing things like how we in-process Soldiers, to you figuring out the next cutting-edge piece of technology we require," he says, "just like one young sergeant in the summer of 1944 in the hedgerows of Normandy figured out how to hook up a hedgerow cutter to an M4 Sherman tank to give us the advantage over the Nazis in France in that desperate summer.
"So that's what this is about," says Donahoe. "This is about getting everybody to figure out the next solutions.
Ideas can be submitted on a special easy to use webpage, then a panel of judges narrows things down to the ideas they want to explore in more detail. Those who offered those ideas then come before the judges, explain their idea and answer questions, after which the judges announce their choice of the three best submissions.
"The best ideas are not going to come from some old, staid general. They're gonna come from some young sergeant figuring out the next great solution. So join us in the Maneuver Innovation Program, and let's figure out the next big idea." – Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahoe, commanding general, U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning
Those whose ideas make the final cut will get a four-day pass, be Donahoe's guests for a luncheon at MCoE headquarters here, and will get official backing to attend the training course of their choice at Fort Benning – provided they meet the course's qualifications for enrollment.
"We're gonna put together a shark tank where we bring in folks to hear your ideas and we'll vote on the winner," he said.
Once winning ideas are chosen, the further work of developing them so they can be put into practice will be done with help from Georgia Institute of Technology, also known as Georgia Tech, said Mike Dempsey, MCoE's Secretary to the General Staff.
The school is teamed with Fort Benning under a Department of Defense program that helps the military make innovations in partnership with universities, he said.
MCoE plans to hold the Maneuver Innovation Challenge on a regular basis, said Dempsey.
The current competition that began this month focuses on one particular area: how to streamline the administrative processes Soldiers, civilians and Army families face day to day. Those could include in-processing, out-processing, seeking on-post housing, and matters related to training.
"This challenge is about how to address administrative issues on Fort Benning and then the next challenge will be looking for something else," said Dempsey.
Some details are still to be worked out, he said, but the shark tank panel will probably consist of: Donahoe; MCoE's senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Derrick C. Garner, as well as a colonel, a sergeant first class, and a second lieutenant.
Those who've come up with the top three ideas would then outline them to the panel, "and then they grade 'em and select winners," said Dempsey.
Training opportunities at Fort Benning include, among others, the Air Assault Course, U.S. Army Airborne School, and U.S. Army Ranger School. Civilians could also be supported to attend training courses appropriate for civilians and for which they qualify, and they too could receive appropriate awards, Dempsey said.
Submissions can be made on the Maneuver Innovation Challenge webpage. Those wanting to take part must create a user name and password to log in.
The webpage is on the website of the Defense Innovation Network, which is part of the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN). NSIN is a problem-solving network that brings together those in the military and academia "to solve national security problems in new ways," according to NSIN's website.
Those submitting ideas must enter:
• The specific problem being addressed.
• Their recommended solution.
• How the problem affects Fort Benning.
• Relevant additional details or background information about the problem.
• A topic tag that applies to the submission.
• A unit tag that shows the submitter's organization or unit.
Those who've submitted ideas can make changes to them at any time during the challenge, the webpage says.
The idea for the Maneuver Innovation Challenge, said Dempsey, came after the Army's XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, launched a "Shark Tank"-like "Dragon Innovation Challenge" which asked for submission of good ideas.
"On Twitter, the XVIII Airborne Corps was doing that," said Dempsey. "So we looked it up, we contacted them and found out what they were doing."
Fort Benning then contacted NSIN, and the Defense Innovation Network set up the webpage for Fort Benning's innovation effort, he said.
Once Fort Benning's winning ideas are selected, said Dempsey, they'll be turned over to a professor at Georgia Tech "and he'll be the one that will take our winners and hand it off to his students," whose task will be to figure out what practical steps are needed to put the ideas into action.
MCoE trains Soldiers for the Infantry and Armor, which together make up the Army's maneuver force. It also trains those hoping to become paratroopers, Rangers, snipers, or to be trained in certain other military skills.
The World War II sergeant Donahoe referred to in the video was Sgt. Curtis G. Culin III, of the 102d Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, a light tank unit that was part of the U.S. Army's V Corps.
Donahoe, in a recent video on the new initiative, says: "The best ideas are not going to come from some old, staid general. They're gonna come from some young sergeant figuring out the next great solution. So join us in the Maneuver Innovation Program, and let's figure out the next big idea."