YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. — The 75th Innovation Command, based in Houston, Texas, employs reservist Soldiers who have been recruited from the civilian world because of their sought-after technical skills and expertise.
The 75th Innovation Command team also bring decades of combined military experience with countless deployments under their belts.
“We are here because we are engineers, we are scientists, we all have STEM degrees and backgrounds, so it’s easy for us to talk the talk with these developers and innovators,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 3 Steven Dixon, an innovation technician with the 75th Innovation Command.
“I can see where these technologies could be applied on the battlefield, because we have been there. All of us,” added Dixon, who has been deployed six times.
Lt. Col. Martin Plumlee, officer in charge for 75th Innovation Command from the Huntsville Innovation Detachment said, “That’s sort of the beauty and secret sauce of the 75th. We are looking for those people who have those unique skills and abilities who can help the Army when they are wearing this suit [Army uniform] and still help the Army when they are wearing a different suit.”
So, who better to provide Soldier feedback during the aviation-centric Experimentation Demonstration Gateway Event, better known as EDGE, that took place at Yuma Proving Ground in late April through mid-May than the 75th Innovation Command.
The three-week event brought Army Futures Command’s Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team and industry and international partners to the Yuma desert to work through network connectivity, frequency communication and flying maneuvers. The event culminated with a live capabilities demonstration for senior leaders and members of Congress.
“Our job here is to integrate and to be embedded with [Future Vertical Lift team] to support all levels of their mission,” Plumlee explained.
That meant boots on the ground at Yuma Proving Ground for the duration of the exercise to assess the technology and provide feedback. The 75th Innovation Command Soldier feedback in some instances provided the missing link to get a system just right.
Capt. Eric McClure, an innovation officer with the 75th and UH-60 Blackhawk pilot by trade, said there were several moments with technology creators where the collaboration led them to think, “Oh, I never really thought about this” or “The feedback you just provided will help us go back and fix a software error or bug we saw, or potentially help improve a system to make it more user friendly.”
EDGE provided the unique ability to gather creators, engineers and software developers with Soldiers for their instant assessment and recommendations.
“Failure is a gift” is a term McClure said someone coined during EDGE. He went on to explain, “It’s a great learning moment, so they can take that back and improve their system. You can see there is care in the eyes of these industry partners to fix those problems, and some have been doing that rapidly on the fly. They have their engineers and their software coders on site. They experience a problem one day, they immediately go back and try to fix it.”
EDGE’s location in the hot Arizona desert made for a perfect training ground. Yuma Test Center at Yuma Proving Ground provides unrestricted airspace to allow for air and ground testing.
“You can design something, but if you don’t know how it’s integrated, if the person who is putting in the equipment, or the crew members landing, don’t interact on true missions, or mock missions where they are actually flying the aircraft in the dust with sweaty hands using the equipment, it makes a huge difference,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 4 Gerrit Jenniskens, a tech scout with the 75th Innovation Command.
“You see where the failure points are here in a test experimental environment. So, when they get out in the desert or mountain or wherever they are going to be operational, those variable points are reduced. Let’s get it right in the experimental phase,” Jenniskens added.
And that’s ultimately the goal of EDGE — looking to see if the presented systems will be effective solutions and useful for the Army of the future.
“We want to win and bring all our men and women home,” remarked Plumlee.
o learn more, visit the 75th Innovation Command's website.