Changing the Guard and Leaning Forward

By ENS Thomas Baker


Waterfront Athena Seven – At Mike Hess Brewery of San Diego – 3812 Grim Ave. on April 24th at 1PM!

Way back in July, 2013, I was a freshly-commissioned Ensign in my second week of service on the BENFOLD. We had just entered the shipyards in what was to become a year-long overhaul, and all of the officers had gathered in our Wardroom for afternoon training, my first formal training experience. Dave Nobles, the Combat Systems Officer, was presenting the topic of Design Thinking – how it launched companies like IDEO into success and a hope that its application in our military would transform our daily groans into powerful solutions.

I barely knew anyone and it was the first time I had ever heard Dave speak. I witnessed the room come alive – complaints, what-ifs, inside jokes, unfamiliar military lingo, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I’d probably totally get now that I’ve had a few years onboard. I remember my eyes shooting back and forth across the room, trying to gauge each officer, attempting to understand what they were talking about…and failing.

What kept me so engaged, despite being lost amongst the material, was immediately recognizing how fired up these people were about solving something. About making things better. And that’s what The Athena Project is all about.

The suggestion to allow us to think in a certain way unlocked a voice – A voice and a platform for all Sailors to share their big ideas with people who will listen! It was refreshing. As an entrepreneurship undergraduate, I read case studies that described these concepts. Those studies were at Fortune 500 companies. What I wasn’t expecting was that I received my first-hand experience in a Wardroom on barge, tied up next to my ship during week two of a new career. Powerful creativity can be unlocked anywhere.


There’s me – “Just an Ensign” that wants your help in making the Navy better through The Athena Project


From that moment, we stand here in April 2015. That wardroom meeting has continued to grow into what is now The Athena Project. Hundreds of sailors have presented incredible concepts at six Athena events in San Diego. Athena Northwest and Athena East are exploding. Admirals, entrepreneurs, professors, and scientists are pulling and pushing our people to grow us further.

Dave Nobles, whom we all recognize as the true founder of Athena, is transitioning from our ship and the Navy, to a career at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Labs that will hopefully continue to help accelerate Athena and creative thinking in our Navy. As many have better stated, Dave left incredibly large shoes on BENFOLD that only our entire team together could fill, but I’m incredibly excited to take the torch here in San Diego.

And, of course, we need your help. You innovators in the area. You Sailors at commands that have thought of a way to make whatever it is that bothers you better. You engineers that yearn to gain insight into what the warfighters really want. You academics that want to help us succeed. We need you all!

What better way to continue to inspire as many minds as possible at Athena 7?

We hope you’ll join us as we continue to build this innovation ecosystem in San Diego, laser focused as always on making the Navy better. See you at Mike Hess Brewery on April 24th!


Tom Baker is the First Lieutenant onboard the Ballistic Missile Defense Guided Missile Destroyer, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is a graduate of Oregon State University in Entrepreneurship.


Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail!


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