Athena West 9.0 Roundup

By LCDR Mark Blaszczyk

West 9-1

2015 just came to an end, and Athena West 9.0 wrapped up the year with another great event.  We saw another batch of great ideas from innovators poised to make impacts in the coming year and beyond.  

This time we changed things up by kicking the event off with a keynote talk from a Department of the Navy Innovation Hatch winning entry SPIDER 3D presented by Michael Russalesi.  Another first for Athena West was the use of a “shark panel,” providing a unique diversity of perspectives for Athena.  NAVFAC Southwest Commanding Officer CAPT John Adametz joined Prospective Commanding Officer CO of LCS 203 CDR Doug Meagher, and Principal Software Engineer at Fuse Integration Mr. Dell Kronewitter to question, comment, and spark discussion among the innovator-voters in the audience and the great line-up of presenters!

West 9-3

Keynote speaker Michael Russalesi demonstrates his winning entry on The Hatch, SPIDERS 3D.

Without further ado, our winner is:

*** The Athena West 9.0 Afloat Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage***

“Mobile Application for Command Sponsorship” – IT1 Ronald Coleman, COMLCSRON ONE

In today’s world almost everyone has a smartphone, why not take advantage of that to ensure our sailors can get the best support? An idea embracing current technologies and the realities of modern living, IT1 Coleman set out to solve the problem of connecting prospective sailors with their future commands.  From IT1 Coleman, “In my experience sponsorship programs within the Navy are inconsistent.  Many individuals seem to have a sense of burden when trying to contact new Sailors and vice versa.   My solution to that “problem” is the development of the In-Hand Sponsor Mobile Application.”  IT1 Coleman has created an application for mobile technologies (ios, android, blackberry, etc.) for our DoD personnel to connect with their prospective command and give them a concise source for the information they need, what the command mission is, who the chain of command consist of, what department to report to, who they should contact, and any other other useful information needed to guide the New Check-in to their new command on time.  

West 9-4

IT1 Coleman displaying his winning idea.

Having checked into a few commands myself,  I can’t wait to see this one go live.

“Surface Fleet Shift Work Concept” – FCC McKinley Fitzpatrick, COMLCSRON ONE

West 9-5

FCC McKinley Fitzpatrick talking about how to help ensure the fleet is always ready.

Looking at the challenges presented to sailors during a 24 hour duty day, FCC Fitzpatrick saw an opportunity.  Using an idea he not only saw tested but work effectively, he developed a shift work program to eliminate the 24 hour duty day.  From FCC Fitzpatrick, “The idea is to incorporate (3) eight hour overlapping shifts onboard ships to eliminate the need for 24 hour duty by utilizing the proven concept of duty section manning to meet all workforce/training needs. There are two concepts; Legacy concept (CVN, LHA/LHD, LPD/LSD, CG, DDG) & LCS concept (Minimal Manning).”  His idea maximizes crew readiness by limiting the length of the the work day to ensure a rested and aware crew while at the same time keeping the working 24 hours a day.  He acknowledged the difference between hull types and the challenges of implementing the system but he believes if this is fully embraced the Navy would see an improvement in readiness and quality of life.

“Vertical Integration of Admin Program Management” – LT Josh Sando, COMLCSRON ONE

West 9-6

LT Sando fielding questions from the panel.

While working to increase readiness in the OPSEC and Safety programs for the Littoral Combat Ship Squadron ONE, LT Sando stumbled on to the idea that tremendous efficiencies can be had with very simple changes to the implementation of those programs.  By moving program managers designations to the staff, LT Sando saw a reduction of 74% of the administrative burden for the individual units under his cognizance.  Talking about the fleet as whole LT Sando stated, “PACOM stands to benefit should it direct CNSP as a subordinate unit to ensure all Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) Staffs under their cognizance adopt a ‘vertically integrated’ program management construct in relation to their Afloat Safety and OPSEC programs.”   This simple modification implemented at LCSRON ONE resulted in a swing from 0 of 6 to 8 of 8 crews earning the Yellow “E” for Battle Efficiency.   LT Sando’s idea’s simplicity and proven results made it one of the top contenders for the ADM Simms award and idea with truly huge implications.

“Improved Electronic Engineering data and log integration” – LCDR Steve Hartley, ATGPAC SD

West 9-7

LCDR Hartley making his plea for better use of engineering data.

LCDR Hartley experience as chief engineer officer and as an ATG assessor has led him to believe their is a better way to use the data collected by smart ships to save time and money in ship repairs.  He presented an idea for an automated logging system to bridge the gap between Smart ship engineering systems and the needs to evaluate the trends in operating parameters to save money and time in repairs. His vision is of a web based application that takes the base data, places it in a standard US Navy log format, is reviewable by the required watch standers and applicable Chain Of Command, and automatically performs some of the functions that a watch stander would need to take. The system would be accessible from both shore base and sea based units, have automated data sorting routines, and be able to run while not connected to its shore based server.  Ship and civilian counterparts would be able to communicate real-time to analyze and review data, and digitally sign the individual logs. This system would incorporate the equipment operating logs, the ships bell logs, and the Engineering log.

“Virtual Landing Signal Officer (LSO) trainer” – LT Clay Greunke, SPAWAR 59000

West 9-8

LT Greunke pitching his trainer concept.

Landing Signal Officers (LSOs) are the backbone of tailhook naval aviation. Currently, once a junior officer is selected from a squadron to become an LSO, that person typically will go through an entire workup cycle before going to the Initial Formal Ground Training (IFGT) course. This means that an LSO will undergo months of on-the-job training at sea and assume different roles needed to recover aircraft before that individual receives his/her first formal training during IFGT. At the center of IFGT is the LSO Trainer, Device 2H111, in which the LSO receives a series of six one-hour long sessions. For many LSOs, this will be the only interaction will be this training simulator.  The aim of his project was to develop and evaluate whether major training objectives for the 2H111 could be supported by other means. The result of LT Greunke’s study is a light-weight, portable VR trainer with a VR HMD as its display solution.  Using off-the-shelf technology, LT Greunke created a proof of concept, that has the potential to not only replace Device 2H111, but provide LSO’s the ability to train anywhere at any time, providing a more distributed, cost-effective, and more capable trainer.

It was great seeing many new faces and returnees to the event.  Thank you again to 32 North Brewing Company for hosting, to our Sharks, and to everyone that attended.  It’s was awesome to see the diversity of backgrounds at the event and watch the networking at work.  The driver of Athena is not just the ideas but getting those like minded individuals in the same room talking and Athena West 9.0 continued that tradition.  

We look forward to serving the Fleet to continue the US Military with it long running tradition of innovation!


LCDR Mark Blaszczyk is the Combat Systems Training Lead in Commander Littoral Combats Ship Squadron One and the co-lead for The Athena Project’s San Diego chapter.  He is a graduate of Purdue University with a BS in Civil Engineering and Duke University with a Masters in Business Administration.

There are loads of Athena Events coming up! If you’re in the San Diego, Groton or Yokosuka areas, connect with us if you want to be a part of our upcoming events! Connect with us on Facebook: or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail!


Introducing, ATHENA Far East!

By LTJG Tom Baker


USS BENFOLD (DDG 65), the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, and a team of innovation veterans from fleet concentration areas across the United States have teamed up in Japan to establish ATHENA Far East, our first permanent ATHENA hub outside of the continental United States!

Rooting itself at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY), Japan, the opportunities to collaborate with Japanese and American sailors are tremendous.

The surface and submarine mariner of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces across Yokosuka Bay, an entrepreneurship professor from a local university, the talented civilian maintenance community, an aviation mechanic in Aircraft Carrier RONALD REAGAN…we will reach at every corner of civilian and military entrepreneurship to bring the same diverse conversation under one roof that has made every ATHENA so successful before us!

If you are in Japan, make plans now to join us on January 15th from 1245 – 1430 at the Commodore Matthew Perry General Mess “Tatami Room” on the Yokosuka Navy Base.

Any Military members or DoD Civilians interested in pitching ideas at this event can reach out on facebook or connect with us on the gmail account listed below!

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


Waterfront Athena Six Roundup

By: LT Dave Nobles

Fugate Athena

On Friday, the sixth installment of San Diego’s Waterfront Athena took to the Coronado Brewing Company tasting room with some amazing ideas that will one day shape the Fleet.

This time, we had ten presenters from four different organizations in the San Diego area, all pitching great concepts geared toward making the Navy better, one innovation at a time. For more about how The Athena Project works, check this out.

There were plenty of familiar faces at the event – a huge contingent of engineers from SPAWAR’s System Center – Pacific were on the scene to take part in the ideation, and Dr. Ben Migliori talked to the crowd, more than 60 strong, about the upcoming Grassroots S&T/Athena collaboration workshop. More to follow on that very soon!

Then, we had some new friends joining in this time around. From IBM, Jim Pietrocini gave a quick pitch on Social Collaboration within the Navy, and the future of knowledge sharing. And, we were lucky to have our new friends from the innovative San Diego tech company, Interknowlogy, showcase some of their cool new technology. Representing the organization, Rodney Guzman helped us out by picking the first presenter, and then it was time to get down to the ideas.

Here’s how it all went down:

***Waterfront Athena Six’s Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage***

“The Effing Awesome 7000” – ENS Jason Benning & DCC(SW) Jake Wright, USS BENFOLD 

While the name is a bit squirrely, the concept is not. In fact, it’s one of those ideas that you hear and you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

On every ship at sea, each Sailor is a firefighter. In the unfortunate event that a fire were to break out aboard while underway, Sailors not only have to fight it, but they also have to figure out how to get rid of the firefighting water and residual smoke afterward.


From the “why haven’t we been doing this for decades” department, DCC(SW) Jake Wright and ENS Jason Benning present the “Effing Awesome 7000”

With a simple prototype, these two Damage Control innovators demonstrated a ridiculous efficiency increase in desmoking efforts. Typically, Sailors hook up a RAM fan to what’s called an elephant trunk, or a huge hose to transport smoke from an interior space to the atmosphere topside. A RAM fan is rated at 2,000 Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) and is typically used to desmoke because it hooks up to the elephant trunks. However, a shipboard Box Fan, rated at a much higher capacity (3,200 CFM), has no way to hook up to an elephant trunk.

Until now.

With a prototype made out of a sheet of metal and a trash can, these two Sailors invented an adaptor that leverages the increased output capacity of the Box Fan with the elephant trunk, resulting in the ability to desmoke a shipboard space in nearly half the time. The effort was good enough to bring home the day’s biggest prize, and Benning & Wright guaranteed that videos of the “Effing Awesome 7000” would be postable soon!

Runner Up: The SPY Ladder – LTJG Adam Levine, USS BENFOLD

Once the crowd realized that BENFOLD’s Systems Test Officer wasn’t THAT Adam Levine, they were able to focus on his great idea.

Yes, folks, those are little zombie people cleaning that foamcore SPY array.

Yes, folks, those are little zombie people cleaning that foamcore SPY array.

With a few brackets and a removable ladder, LTJG Levine proposed an innovative solution for cleaning and repairing SPY arrays on Cruisers and Destroyers, thereby saving the Navy millions of dollars over the life of a ship. Each time a ship requires array cleaning or repair, the only present solution is to erect scaffolding for the duration of the maintenance period, which costs nearly $20K each time. With LTJG Levine’s innovative ladder, which would be affixed to rails at the top and bottom of each fragile array, Sailors could clean the arrays without scaffolding and effect repairs on the fly when the situation demanded it. Not only would the money savings be staggering, Sailors would finally have a solution to repair arrays at sea which would greatly enhance readiness in important mission areas like Ballistic Missile Defense.

Third Place: Jamming Drones – FC3 Josh Wade & FCSN Dallas Baranosky, USS BENFOLD

Sometimes innovations come to you when you’re engaged in focused thought, directing all your available brainwaves toward the creative effort. Then, there are times when you’re exhausted on a midwatch conversing with your buddies and you stumble across a great idea. In the case of these two Fire Controlmen, the latter is true.

The Midwatch: Hub of creative thought since 1775.

The Midwatch: Hub of creative thought since 1775.

Late one night, after a discussion of threat missiles and their associated seeker types, these Sailors suggested an innovative solution to a potential home-on-jam threat. In their proposal, a ship could launch an unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with an organic jamming pod from its Vertical Launch System (VLS). Under shipboard control, the drone could then fly out a few miles from the ship and stay airborne for multiple hours, jamming any and all inbound missiles that might have a home-on-jam capability, causing the enemy missiles to fly at the drone instead of the warship. The pair is currently working with the team from SPAWAR to develop their concept.

Spray-on PCMS – CTTSN Lucas Amido, USS BENFOLD

In the day’s first presentation, CTTSN Amido proposed a method to save time and maintenance costs by replacing ships’ stick-on radar cross-section reducing countermeasure systems by creating an aerosol version of the coating. In his two-part system, Sailors could spray on a coating that would serve the same purpose as the Navy’s Passive Countermeasure System (PCMS), then seal it with a second solution.

Shipboard Robotics Club- FC2 Mike Owen & IC3 Katie Rogers, USS BENFOLD

Many of today’s enlisted ratings require technical skill sets to deal with extraordinarily complex systems, and the Navy is currently trending toward more advanced systems that will demand even greater technical acumen. As a fun way to sharpen these skills, FC2 Owen and IC3 Rogers proposed the creation of a Robotics Club onboard ships. Sailors, both enlisted and officer, could work together to build robots and see their creations square off against other commands and community clubs while developing a skill set that will serve tomorrow’s Fleet well.

Pigeons for Bandwidth – Dr. Sunny Fugate, SPAWAR SCC PAC

In what was certainly the most entertaining pitch of the day, Dr. Fugate delivered the ultimate innovative communications solution to solve data latency issues at sea and resolve challenges that Sailors face in low bandwidth: Pigeons. Backed by compelling data, Dr. Fugate proposed using trained pigeons to transfer data packages between units. Ok, ok: There are some challenges, sure – like training the pigeons, attaching the data to pigeons, not losing the pigeons, etc. that could result in increased data latency (or loss of critical information). However, Dr. Fugate’s pitch brought some welcome technology-driven levity to Athena.

"Just one word: Pigeons."

“Just one word: Pigeons.”

eyePARTS – LSSN Vashti Kronaizl, USS BENFOLD

Often times, the Navy’s supply system can be a source of frustration for not only Logistics Specialists, but any Sailor trying to find that specific part of a system or subsystem. As a solution to this problem, LSSN Kronaizl proposed building a visual database of all parts associated with systems to enable a camera-based program to search for systems based on a photo of a specific part. While there are several challenges to this system, like differentiating gasket sizes and identifying small parts that are used in multiple systems, LSSN Kronaizl’s vision for the future of the Supply would make Sailors’ lives a whole lot easier!

Super Commos- LTJG James Martin, USS BENFOLD

BENFOLD’s Fire Control Officer explained the importance of the shipboard communications suite to a variety of missions that ship’s conduct, from Ballistic Missile Defense to Air Warfare to Visit, Board, Search & Seizure. As such, he proposed that Communications Officers onboard ships should be second-tour division officers because of the relative importance of communications, both voice and data, to the mission. LTJG Martin proposed that, if altering the division officer sequencing plan was a bridge too far, Communications Officers should at least be afforded the opportunity to attend Communications Officer School prior to reporting to their commands. Currently, there is no such requirement.

Virtual Flight Academy – Flack McGuire

In a pitch right from the pages of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Flack McGuire talked about a way to determine the best pilot candidates BEFORE they arrived at Flight School. He likened the way that we find pilots in the military to hiring an inexperienced quarterback to helm an NFL team. With exercises and tests given to prospective pilots at younger ages, Flack’s Virtual Flight Academy aims to identify the best qualities for future pilots before selection, ensuring that the Aviation Community is stocked with the most talented personnel possible.

3M Billets – HM3 Michael Gardner, USS GREEN BAY 

The Navy’s Maintenance and Material Management (3M) program often elicits a visceral response from those that have to use it every day, and HM3 Gardner is no exception. Since the 3M program is extremely admin-intensive, HM3 Gardner proposed forming a separate division onboard ships specifically to manage the various maintenance actions taking place all over the ship. These Sailors’ primary duties would be to schedule preventative maintenance, ensure that maintenance requirement cards were always up-to-date, generate reports and implement administrative changes to the maintenance index pages. While the program was not specifically designed to have a separate division maintain it, the increasing administrative burden that comes with 3M makes HM3 Gardner’s solution quite realistic.

At the event, we recorded each pitch, and once the video has been edited, we’ll post those to the Athena Facebook page and right here on this blog.

With so many great ideas, it was awesome to see the real-time innovation and collaboration between Sailors and Scientists that happens at an event like this. It’s both inspiring and encouraging for Military Innovation that The Athena Project continues to grow. While the West Coast iteration of The Athena Project continues to march along, regions are throwing together Athena Projects all over the place! Just last month, the first-ever Athena East took Old Dominion University by storm, and next month The Athena Project will be visiting the great state of Washington as Athena Northwest gets in on the action.

As always, we’re truly humbled by the support that this initiative has received both from the fleet and from industry. It’s amazing to think that what started as an unfortunately-named experiment called WikiWardroom has blossomed into a stage for Sailors to have their voices heard!

Thank you to everyone who participated in this event and we can’t wait to see you guys at our next one! And of course, a very special thank you goes out to our friends at Coronado Brewing Company for helping us host this awesome event.

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!

The Supply Corps: Cracking The Code on Military Internships


Editor’s Note: For quite some time, many have called for improved internship opportunities for unrestricted line officers. From Esteban Castellanos’ DEF 2013 externships idea to CDR Michele Day’s pitch for Sailor internships at last week’s Waterfront Athena Five, folks within various communities in the Navy have been beating the drum for internship opportunities to strengthen their contributions to the service. As it stands now, the opportunities are rare and at senior levels, like the SECDEF Corporate Fellows Program – which is only open to Commanders and Captains and is usually post-command. The Navy Supply Corps, on the other hand, offers “Training With Industry” opportunities at more junior levels, and this post is the story of one experience with that program. It would appear that the other communities have a lot to learn!

By LCDR Shannon Walker, SC, USN

Would you like to enhance your supply chain skills and learn from an industry leader?   If so, your next set of orders could take you to Atlanta, GA, as a Training With Industry (TWI) Supply Chain Executive fellow.  My introduction to The Home Depot (THD) and the home improvement industry has been nothing short of great.  My selection for this wonderful opportunity was a direct result of following the career guidance Supply Corps Officers receive from the Office of Personnel via the road shows and advice from countless mentors.  Sustained superior performance is required to get you on the short list of eligibles for a TWI tour, and is mandatory to get the most from a year working as a member of THD’s supply chain; this ensures a valuable relationship between the Supply Corps and The Home Depot, a win-win situation for both organizations.

My career followed the typical path of a mid-grade Supply Corps officer and prepared me for success at THD.  Tours at the U.S. Fleet Logistics Center, Yokosuka, Japan and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) in Fort Belvoir, VA gave me the supply chain background necessary to be a valuable contributor and member of The Home Depot supply chain team.  As a member of Commander Pacific Fleet (N4) and a prior Flag Aide, I was groomed to understand the strategic picture.  Earning my master’s degree in business administration at the College of William & Mary ensured I had the formal tools necessary to contribute immediately.  In terms of education, experience, and skill set, Supply Corps officers stand toe-to-toe with our counterparts at THD, and in many cases, our career track is more diverse thanks to our experiences and broader perspectives.

Corporate Challenges & Key Take-Aways:

My duties as the Deputy National Account Manager and working with the comparative supply chain operations at DLA enabled a seamless transition to the THD Store Support Center.   The Supply Corps and THD have many of the same challenges including increasing stock turns, budgeting, and personnel management, although, I would submit THD has the benefit of autonomy in selecting their team.  A couple of big distinctions include the daily management of profit/loss statements and the drive to keep a step ahead of competitors.  Shareholder accountability and fiscal viability are top priorities.  They have to continually improve and innovate to maintain and grow their market share in their industry.  For example, their transition into the e-commerce sector with the opening of a new direct fulfillment center in Locust Grove, GA with two more on the way supports their interconnected retail strategy and adds versatility to their supply chain strategy.

Companies like The Home Depot have Core Values too --- and a lot more to offer!

Companies like The Home Depot have Core Values too — and a lot more to offer!

Culture Analysis:

Similar to the Navy, THD’s core values are the fabric of the company’s culture and are central to their success. THD has developed its culture based on 8 values:

  • Taking care of our people
  • Giving Back
  • Doing the right thing
  • Excellent customer service
  • Creating shareholder value
  • Building strong relationships
  • Entrepreneurial spirit
  • Respect for all

In fact, THD’s values are a competitive advantage in the marketplace.  Associate pride and its “orange-blooded” entrepreneurial spirit are distinctive hallmarks of the culture proudly symbolized by the  orange apron.  The THD value wheel is prominently displayed on every apron.  There are significant parallels in both THD culture and the culture being embedded by RADM Yuen including a “work environment characterized by communication, command climate, and collaboration”.

Business Operations: 

Operationally, THD is divided into the 3 divisions: West, North, and South.  They also have operations in Mexico, Canada, and China.  The supply chain supports each with divisional teams including: inventory planning and replenishment; transportation; distribution; direct fulfillment; finance; and supply chain development.  With the exception of direct fulfillment (eCommerce), the Supply Corps performs each of these various functions globally.  The Home Depot operations are further broken down into store operations and support – very similar to the Navy’s concept of line/unrestricted line and staff corps.

The battle rhythm is fierce and the pace is built around key events like the spring season and “Black Friday”.  The housing market and its recovery is a key driver and leading indicator of the home improvement industry and thus, THD’s success.

In support of my executive fellowship, The Home Depot provided me with access to meetings and reports, allowed me to travel to various locations in order to learn operations, and had me work with matrix teams in support of numerous projects.  A refreshing aspect of being assigned to THD is that they expect you to bring your experience and expertise to the table and contribute.  This tour will allow you to go as far as you want in terms of participation and involvement, providing left and right limits, and allowing you to problem solve.

I spent my first six months in transportation working on various projects including alignment of regional fleets and as the transportation lead for the realignment of distribution centers.  The regional fleet initiative was designed to reduce transportation costs by taking advantage of backhaul opportunities and improving equipment utilization by implementing continuous loops. I represented the transportation division as the point person for store moves in the North and South Divisions.  This included being the focal point of coordination for the transportation work plan ensuring we remained on task and schedule.  The work plan contained in excess of 200 tasks.

The last six months were spent in distribution assigned to the Southern Distribution Team.  My individual focus was on process improvements within the distribution centers (DCs) that helped drive increased operational efficiencies and productivity.  I participated as a member of a matrix team chartered to lean out processes and promulgate changes to other DCs in the network.  This was a great utilization of my lean six sigma green belt skills.

Unique Opportunities: 

My tour at THD provided several unique opportunities including weekly face-to-face executive level meetings, quarterly office calls with several senior executives, travel opportunities with senior executives including corporate travel via THDs private fleet, earning reports announcements, and Spring in the Store and Fall in the Field (unique programs that allow corporate associates the opportunity to work in a store 1 day a week during Spring and or Fall). I also attended two major supply chain conferences including Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.  Senior Supply Corps leadership attended both conferences including RADM (Ret) Bianchi as the guest speaker for RILA in San Diego, CA.  Involvement with THD foundation was another benefit of my TWI Tour.

The Home Depot Foundation is the philanthropic arm of The Home Depot.  The Home Depot Foundation makes an impact in thousands of communities nationwide through cash grants, product donations and thousands of hours of volunteerism by Home Depot associates.  For every dollar or product donated and every hour volunteered, the goal is to support nonprofits that focus on repairing, remodeling and maintaining affordable housing for deserving families and individuals.  The Home Depot Foundation is dedicated to ensuring every veteran has a safe place to call home.  To achieve our mission, the Foundation has committed to investing $80 million over five years to nonprofits who specifically address veterans’ housing needs.  In addition, through Team Depot, our associate-led volunteer force, our associates will be volunteering their time and expert skills to repair and remodel veterans’ homes and facilities.

Imagine what the Navy could learn through symbiotic partnerships with any number of organizations!

Imagine what the Navy could learn through symbiotic partnerships with any number of organizations!

Personal Perspective:  What truly made this tour great is the unfettered access to the executive level leaders in the supply chain and throughout the entire organization including finance, merchandising, store operations, field level executives, the planning process, reports, etc.  The exposure to senior executives is unmatched unless you have had the opportunity to have been an admiral’s aide or worked on a Flag level staff.  I participated in daily and weekly meetings at the executive vice president, vice president, and senior director level to include business reviews, steering committee, and productivity reviews.  I was also privileged to be a part of executive outings including supply chain reviews and other educational opportunities.  To be in the conference room, car, or plane and participate in discussions and witness the thought process that goes into the decisions making process made my tour at THD invaluable.

During my year on board The Home Depot I came to realize there is a lot more to The Home Depot than the brick and mortar stores and the 10% discount.  Just as Supply Corps officers are in the background supporting the warfighter, behind all the commercials and advertisements there are lots of supply chain professionals.  They support much more, including, merchants, compliance, Home Depot University, The Home Depot Foundation, the many associate resource groups including the Military Appreciation Group, and many others.

I left The Home Depot a better, more well rounded officer and logistician who positively contributed to improvements in transportation and distribution operations during my time on board.  Naval Supply Systems Command Weapons Systems Support Philadelphia gained an officer with a less myopic approach to problem solving and more open to the change as the operating environment changes.  I attribute much of this success to the training and experience gained in my previous tours and the willingness of The Home Depot team to allow me use my skills as a member of the supply chain executive team.  I “earned my apron” and you can also.

Swinging Level – How Baseball Can Inspire Innovation

By: LT Dave Nobles


Growing up, I played a lot of baseball. While I was certainly no child prodigy, I wasn’t half bad either.

Like every Little Leaguer, I desperately wanted to knock the casing off the ball, a la Roy Hobbes in The Natural.  So, like most kids in Little League, I’d swing about as hard as I could, trying to uppercut the ball right out of the ballpark.

And, I usually missed.

Not to be discouraged, I practiced.  I took hours upon hours of batting practice, and I worked hard to get my swing right.  One thing that sticks out in my head about those hours at the ballpark was something that my Dad told me as he pitched me buckets upon buckets of baseballs, likely doing permanent damage to his pitching arm:

Just swing level, and the power will come.

So I did, and I actually got pretty good. I was consistently making solid contact and before long I was comfortable in the batter’s box and was spraying line-drive base hits all over the field.

But, I wasn’t hitting any home runs. Sadly, I wasn’t blasting baseballs into the lights, creating explosions and raining sparks onto the field as I trotted triumphantly around the bases as I had hoped. But, I was doing very well for the team and I was having fun.

Then it happened. With a level swing, I crushed a ball in a game further than I ever had, straight out of the park.

The Old Man was right: Swing level and the power will come. And it did.

Now maybe it’s just because baseball season is upon us and it makes me feel a little nostalgic, but I was reminded of this story as I considered the Navy’s relentless (and often misguided) pursuit of innovation.

Now, let the record show that I do not think that innovation is a false pursuit. I wouldn’t be on the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell if I did. Calling innovation a fruitless goal is like saying Home Runs are a bad thing. Home Runs are always good, provided you’re on the team that’s hitting them!

Rather, if we want more innovation, perhaps we should pursue and inspire creativity. Just as if we want the long ball, we should take the time to coach fundamental baseball to our young players. If we want our folks to innovate, we need to teach the tools necessary to realize that goal, rather than preaching the goal.  Maybe pursuing innovation as an end state is the same thing as taking that big, hacking, hard-as-you-can uppercut swing when you’re at the plate.

If what we really want is more innovation, then perhaps we should advocate creativity in thought. Maybe we should make training more effective by injecting a dose of creativity.

Maybe we could inspire a new generation of creative sailors by using tools like General Military Training (GMT) as a vehicle to provide exercises to managers that encourage Sailors to think differently and hone an ability to connect dots.

Sure “Creativity GMT” is a pretty lofty goal that would likely take some time to implement. In the meantime, there’s no reason that we can’t apply some of the myriad tools easily found online to the training regimens for our respective divisions, departments and commands.


What are you doing building spaghetti towers?!?! Get back to work!

Here are just a few of the awesome websites out there that can spark the creativity training process:

Stanford University Here you can grab a boatload of guidance on the brainstorming process, including tools for facilitation. While you’re there, check out the virtual crash course in design thinking!

Mind Tools: A site dedicated to honing ideation tools for businesses, there are tons of exercises here that you could use to spark a great session within your work group.

Marshmallow Challenge: Here’s a specific exercise that you can equip yourself for in the grocery aisle, aimed at bringing teams together.

Creative Confidence: A book by Tom and David Kelley of IDEO, the matching website gives a page full of tools to learn design thinking.

Creative Thinking: The Web’s repository for brainstorming books, techniques and exercises. This site could populate your training plan for a year.

And those are just the tip of the iceberg. Google is your friend when trying to find some fun exercises that can train the brain to not only think outside the box, but to rip the old one down and build a new, bigger box.

By unlocking the latent creativity within our Sailors, especially our junior Sailors who may have joined the Navy looking to be inspired, we drastically widen the innovation aperture. And, like a muscle, exercising that creativity will only strengthen it, leading to some great things.

Maybe doing that crash course on reimagining the gift giving experience will be all the inspiration needed for a Sailor to start believing in their own creative abilities and looking for ways to make things better. Then, the next time that Sailor sees a problem, rather than becoming frustrated, they’ll craft a creative solution and make the Navy better.

Make no mistake: The Navy is 100% a People Business and those people are our greatest asset. By empowering our people to be intellectually curious, we might spur even more participation in so many of the great groups that are trying to grow the creative culture within the Navy, like CRIC[x], TANG, DEF[x], CIMSEC and, of course, The Athena Project.

One of the goals of Athena has always been to inspire a cadre of young officers and junior Sailors to think differently, relentlessly question the status quo and not be afraid to do something about it.

Let’s get creative and keep growing the wave!


Dave Nobles is the Combat Systems Officer onboard the Ballistic Missile Defense Guided Missile Destroyer, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is also a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

Interested in presenting an idea at the next Waterfront Athena Event, May 30th at Societe Brewing Company in Clairemont Mesa? Message us on Facebook or Twitter @AthenaNavy. Do you hate social media? Send us an e-mail instead!:


Societe Brewing: Home base for Waterfront Athena Five!



Project Pulse: Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN)

ImageAs we approach our next Waterfront Athena Event – February 13th at the Ballast Point Brewery Tasting Room in Little Italy – we’re going to showcase some of our past projects here on the blog. Both to give everyone an update on what our Sailors have done, but also to stir up some creative juices from any would-be presenters out there. What better place to start than our last winners? Enjoy!

-The Athena Team

When USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) deployed last year to the US Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility, she spent an awful lot of time in the Arabian Gulf. The ship, like most Ballistic Missile Defense destroyers deployed to that AOR, spent that time conducting a plethora of mission sets while waiting to be called upon for any exercise or event that would require the use of the specialized mode of SPY radar.

As any Sailor who’s spent time in the Arabian Gulf can attest, it is a high-traffic environment. While steaming around the area, from mission to mission, watchstanders FC2(SW) Robert VanAllen, FC2(SW) Michael Owen and FC2(SW) Lisa Stamp became frustrated with the way the destroyer identified ships in her vicinity. With the available systems and tools, BENFOLD managed to effectively identify nearby ships, but the three Fire Controlmen collectively felt that the process was ripe for improvement.

Fast-forward six months later, the team got wind of The Athena Project and put together a presentation on a system that could remedy the process. They called it the Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN).

“Millions of dollars of technology and thousands of hours of training were put on hold as watchstanders played advanced ‘Pictionary: Warships Edition’ attempting to identify visual contacts,” said FC2(SW) Owen, a CIWS Technician. “Watchstanders flipping through a Jane’s catalog in the middle of this environment is one of the most ridiculously, inexplicably inefficient sights in our modern Navy. The expertise and technology already exists for us to do better, and we sought to codify that with our ODIN presentation.”


A great resource, to be sure, but is this really the best way to identify surface contacts in a tension-filled AOR?

And codify they did. In their pitch, the team proposed using software (not unlike the facial recognition software resident on nearly every smartphone) to pick out easily-identifiable aspects of nearby ships – mast location, heat signatures, size and aspect, etc. – and narrow down the list of ships that a contact could be down. By their assertion, simple algorithms could do the lion’s share of the legwork using visual data already being collected by ships.

Well, their pitch was clearly top-notch, because these three junior Sailors won Waterfront Athena, taking home the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage.

Shortly after the event, the team began working directly with a group of individuals at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) working a project called RAPIER that would use overhead imagery to identify surface contacts. The marriage of the ODIN and RAPIER teams was smart, as many of their efforts would work toward the same goal: Building an accurate Recognized Maritime Picture that all could use.

The RAPIER team, led by Ms. Heidi Buck in the Advanced Analysis Systems Branch at SPAWAR has been interfacing directly with the three BENFOLD Sailors on a path to make their idea from Athena a reality. The teams have exchanged media, had several meetings, and have arranged for an upcoming ship tour to give the scientists at SPAWAR a better view of the challenges Sailors face at sea. In fact, the Learning Warfighter Needs Workshop was born through the continued, strong relationship between The Athena Project and SPAWAR!

Currently, the SPAWAR team is sifting through the hours of imagery that the ODIN team has sent over. Soon, they expect an algorithm to be built to demonstrate proof of concept – an important step for any project.

“The response to our ODIN presentation has been really encouraging- scientists and engineers are interested and increasingly invested in a solution presented not by admirals, or master chiefs, but by the very people these technologies are intended to aid,” Owen said. “I sincerely hope anyone else out there with an idea sees what we’ve accomplished so far with ODIN and finds a way to come forward, be it via Athena or another format, and help shape their Navy and the Navy of generations of future Sailors.”

The road to realization for the ODIN team is still a long one, but the three FCs are speeding down it, with their phenomenal idea in the passenger seat!

And they aren’t stopping anytime soon!

Defending Traditions or Encouraging Innovation – What’s a Chief To Do?

By: FCC(SW) Christopher Roberts


The Navy Chief has long been charged with defending tradition, ensuring procedural compliance, and having a coffee cup that has not been washed since the Gulf War. From muster, instruction, and inspection to the glorious sounds of a Bosun pipe to let you know when chow is ready, traditions are at every turn of shipboard life.  However, it seems that more and more technology, innovation, and creativity creeps into our daily routines. Bosun pipes are now being replaced by an MP3 audio recording available at the touch of a button, and port and starboard lookouts capabilities are enhanced with night vision goggles. Sounding tubes are now read electronically, and paper navigation charts are all but obsolete as the Voyage Management System has come to the forefront.

Sailors are changing too. Everyday, more Sailors are coming into the Navy with higher education and a profound level of expertise with technology such as smart phones and apps. Let’s face it: Us old guys sitting in the Goat Locker have to make a conscious effort to somewhat keep up with the new technology. We also find ourselves in an all-too-familiar “expectation management” role with young Sailors, as the whiz-bang gadgets we have on ships don’t exactly look like the whiz-bang gadgets you can purchase at Best Buy (or what you see in your typical Navy commercial). This can be a challenge.

While us old guys try to communicate with these “digital natives” on their terms – usually via text message – we also have to recognize that these young Sailors think differently too. Many of them come in the Navy looking for a way to make a difference. Looking to contribute to the organization. Looking for purpose. They’re not only tech savvy, they’re creative. Not only do we have to make an effort to learn about the tech, we should strive to speak their language too.

So where does the modern day Chief draw the line between defending tradition and encouraging innovation and creativity? I say we listen to our Sailors. For the longest time, the saying has been “a bitching Sailor is a happy Sailor”. Now, technology has changed so fast that our junior Sailors are not just complaining, but bringing up very valid points about the tools, gear and processes in the Navy that could be improved with a little innovation. Listening to our Sailors is nothing new. The Navy has always practiced some kind of Total Quality Leadership (TQL). But now more than ever it is important that we filter through our Sailors’ comments and try to differentiate between the normal gripes and ones that may lead to a better way of doing business.

If one of your Sailors came up to you and told you that they thought it would be nice if the cameras on the ship facing the ocean could automatically identify surface vessels based on their physical attributes. A grumpy old Chief might say “Yep… that would be nice, now go do sweepers and make sure your weekly boards are turned in”. Onboard the Benfold they say “you want to pitch that at Athena?” Good thing too, because the camera idea won and now a prototype is being built.

Innovation can take place anywhere - in this case, building a target to shoot!

Innovation can take place anywhere – in this case, building a target to shoot!

So where does a Chief draw the line between defending tradition and encouraging innovation? Why can’t innovation be the best tradition we ever protected? Maybe we’ve been protecting all along and just haven’t called it innovation.

If innovation is introducing new or novel solutions to problems, isn’t that what we do, as Chiefs, when our Sailors come to us with a problem? We listen, we think, then we do. We find ways to get the job done. We find unique solutions – sometimes repurposing existing items or realigning a group of Sailors – and we make it happen.

Typically we see it from the other side. Someone up the Chain of Command wants something crazy done and we do not have the right resources so we end up “making shit happen”.  Well, brothers: That’s innovation. And we should protect that tradition.

The guiding principles of the Chief Petty Officer say “I will strive to remain technically and tactfully proficient. All Sailors are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership. I know my people and will always place their needs above my own”. The Sailors of today’s Navy are some of the most creative since the Navy’s conception. As Chiefs, we need to treat our Sailors’ ideas like a campfire. And we shouldn’t treat it as a Class Alpha Fire – put it out, set the reflash watch, and secure – but instead fuel the fire of innovation and challenge our Sailors to make their ideas even better. If we the Chiefs embrace innovation and encourage our Sailors to improve the Navy, I wonder what the Navy will look like when they are in the Chiefs Mess.

FCC(SW) Christopher Roberts is Training Department Leading Chief Petty Officer onboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is also the ship’s MWR Chief and has initiated several innovative shipboard procedures to improve Energy Conservation.

You can like Athena 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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ATHENA Project Showcase: Illumination


For surface ships in the U.S. Navy, day-to-day operations can sometimes feel like a cavalcade of inspections, assist visits and assessments across a growing spectrum of warfare areas, programs and processes. Many of these assessments are conducted by different organizations, and in typical Navy fashion, the requirements for each are contained in a handy checksheet.

Unfortunately, because each inspection is independent of the others, the checksheets will often contain redundant (or even worse, contradictory) guidance.

LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell aimed to improve this process with her Athena pitch for a program called Illumination.

LTJG O’Donnell, the Training Officer onboard USS BENFOLD, proposed the formation of a small functional team whose charge would be to consolidate the requirements found in each checksheet into a single, usable document for each warfare area.

Time to knock out those ASA Checksheets!

Time to knock out those ASA Checksheets!

The Illumination Team, while incorporating all requisite guidance into a “one-stop shop,” would also provide program managers with an in-depth local assessment of each area of cognizance prior to any off-ship inspection.

The schedule for the local assessments would be overlaid atop the ship’s schedule through the training cycle. Each area that the ship was responsible for would be scrutinized in depth prior to an assessment, while leaving adequate time to correct deficiencies prior to “game day.”

“It’s a tall order to stay ahead of all these inspections. There are just so many of them!” LTJG O’Donnell said. “Basically, we’re just trying to work smarter and not harder.”

LTJG O’Donnell drafted a command instruction governing the Illumination program, and hopes to implement it onboard BENFOLD prior to commencement of the ship’s training cycle. BENFOLD is presently moored at BAE Systems Shipyard in San Diego undergoing a complex combat systems upgrade to Advanced Capability Build 12.

LTJG O’Donnell said that her goal in the long-term is to create consolidated checksheets for every warfare area over the next year and to share those functional documents with other Guided Missile Destroyers that would eventually have to traverse the guantlet of inspections in preparation for a deployment.

“If we can make it easier to ensure that we’re at our top readiness by consolidating requirements, then we would have more time to focus on training and operating,” LTJG O’Donnell said.


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ATHENA Project Showcase: E2E


E2E, or Ensigns To Ensigns, was presented at the very first Athena event (then called WikiWardroom) at Basic Pizza in San Diego.

LTJG Isaac Chase developed the concept of E2E because he felt that something was missing between the training that young officers get at the Basic Division Officer Course and the knowledge they are expected to have when they are filling a Division Officer job onboard their first ship.

LTJG Chase presented the concept as a way for more senior Division Officers to increase their level of knowledge by training brand new Ensigns in seminar-based sessions, rotating amongst participating ships. The junior Ensigns receiving the training would be free to ask whatever they wanted, without having to worry about asking a “dumb question” and losing credibility onboard their own ships.

“As an Ensign trying to learn the ropes, sometimes you miss out on learning something,” LTJG Chase said. “After enough time has passed, you look silly if you ask how to get to a space or how to draft a naval message. E2E solves that.”

The program would cover a different topic at each seminar session, ranging from drafting casualty reports to sharing shiphandling tips to touring engineering spaces.

BENFOLD Surface Warfare Officers training in a ship simulator.

BENFOLD Surface Warfare Officers training in a ship simulator.

USS BENFOLD hosted the first E2E session in August, bringing on officers from Amphibious Ships to teach them about the Aegis Weapons System as they prepared for their Surface Warfare Officer qualification boards.

“They were really grateful, and they all sent me e-mails thanking us after the tour,” LTJG Chase said. “I was like, ‘Hey, this actually works!'”

The next step for E2E was drafting up a topics list and soliciting for other ships that wanted to participate. LTJG Chase put a schedule together and shipped it out to BENFOLD’s Destroyer Squadron to get the ball rolling.

LTJG Chase intends to host another E2E session onboard BENFOLD next month on the topic of shipyard coordination and the completion of work in a complex Selected Restricted Availability (SRA) environment. BENFOLD is a prime host for this topic as the ship is currently berthed in BAE Systems Shipyard receiving an upgrade to her combat systems suite.

“I know I was a bit lost when we started the SRA, and I know I wasn’t alone,” LTJG Chase said. “It’s a normal part of every ship’s life cycle, and it would benefit officers to understand it before their own ships commenced the maintenance phase.”

The more ships that are involved in the E2E process the better, and LTJG Chase is always on the lookout for networking between Surface platforms. As E2E grows, so does the overall level of knowledge of the Fleet’s young leaders.

You can like Athena on Facebook: or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.