A New Gateway, A Growing Team, The Same Fire

By: LCDR Drew Barker

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A quick introduction for those who don’t know me. I’m LCDR Drew Barker and was one of the original team members from ATHENA Northwest.

As Dave Nobles, ATHENA’s founder, transitions to an advisory role in his civilian job at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, I’m excited to serve the team as a new gateway – here to answer questions, support the ATHENA events growing across our services, and seek new ways to support deck-plate ideas. I’m particularly stoked about working with the ATHENA team because it has made a major impact in my decision to stay Navy – we are having a major impact and we are well set up to do even better.

Let me ask a simple question: What would your dream team would look like and what would it accomplish?

Some thrive on sports victories; others seek popularity, fame, or fortune; still others would rather sit on the couch and watch it all happen. Then there are a few that have a fire in their bones to make a positive difference in the world around them. My hat is off to Dave and the team surrounding ATHENA, who with that fire and some courageous creativity started a project to unite those of us who also kindle a passion for improvement deep in our bones.

Like separate coals brought together, we’ve been able to fuel one another and share that fire with others to make the Navy and the DoD better organizations.   This self-assembled team, inspired by the efforts and outreach of a few, is a dream team when it comes to grassroots innovation. Without policy directives or procedures, this team continues to find a way to refine ideas and bring them into reality – who wouldn’t want to be part of this undertaking and play a role in the future of innovation and rapid adaptability in our Services?

The creative fire is spreading throughout the fleet!

The creative fire is spreading throughout the fleet!

Through ATHENA we are building a more agile DoD, influencing the core of our culture with hopes that our Armed Services will be able to quickly counter developing security risks in an increasingly unpredictable world. By exercising innovation through network based support that is available to any level of our organization, I believe we can influence the military culture to explore positive disruptions and remain maximally effective. Our success will hang on formidable moral courage, engaged critical thinking, and the inclusion of the wide breadth of perspectives contained in the military, industry, education, and government.

Recently ATHENA has seen some major growth in the team. The torch for San Diego events is passing to a new group of leaders and innovators. The first ATHENA Afloat will soon be hosted on the USS ANCHORAGE. Some of the original San Diego cohort are making plans to light the fire in Japan, igniting ATHENA Far East in late fall. New leaders are emerging in Hawaii, looking to add to the growing “ring of fire.” ATHENA East in Norfolk is warming up for their second event, now sponsored by the innovators in the Hampton Roads Surface Navy Association. Also watch out for the group lighting off in the Jacksonville / Mayport area – we are excited to see the development of ATHENA Southeast this fall!  The ATHENA Project recently supported the logistics and design of an innovation competition initiated by members of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum at Dyess AFB, sparking innovation in the Air Force. So the excitement and energy seem to grow exponentially.

There are good reasons for our success so far, and they are founded in the moral fabric that ties together elements of our network. Here are four threads I find very important.

Weaving a network throughout the Navy and the Department of Defense.

Weaving a network throughout the Navy and the Department of Defense.

Human construction – the community focuses on building people – leaders / innovators / problem solvers / warriors that are connected and educated with tools for success. We recognize value apart from rank or position and treat ideas based on merit alone. We offer hope that voices will be heard and valued.

Human connections – trusting and diverse relationships are central to the network that supports the courageously creative. Without the personal connection, there would be little invested.   Without a diversity of connections there would be little to learn from one another. These connections are exciting and collaboration is a natural byproduct.

Passion for improvement – our team see solutions where there are problems, opportunities in obstacles, and aren’t deterred by cynics and unfounded critics. At the same time, the greatest improvements often come when we challenge assumptions, especially our own. Our team values education and upending baseless assumptions.

Positive engagement – there is nothing more motivating than contagious positive energy aimed at supporting others. We seek it, share it, and generate it when no one else has it.

Come join the dream team of grass roots innovation in the military if you haven’t already! Find a way to start, join, or support an ATHENA event. With Dave in an advisory role in the civilian sector working to make projects a reality, feel free to reach out to me with any questions, comments, or concerns – I would be happy to share some of the fire in our bones.

LCDR Drew Barker is an E-6B pilot returning to the TACAMO community as a member of the VQ-4 Shadows. 

Get involved with Athena in San Diego in August and Norfolk in September! Stay tuned for more grassroots projects!

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

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