Launching Athena Afloat!

By ENS Daniel Stefanus


USS ANCHORAGE (LPD 23) is proud to announce that on July 25th it will be holding the first-ever Athena event while on deployment!

We hope that this will lead to both more Athena events on ANCHORAGE and on other deployed ships. All of these will fall under the umbrella of “AthenaAfloat,” a slight change in the typical Athena script given the rather dramatic difference between a haze gray warship and a brewery.

While we know it will be more difficult at sea, we think that now is the perfect time for the crew to participate in Athena. On deployment the ship goes through the ringer, and the crew has to adapt and improve our systems to keep us mission-capable and battle-ready. It is this innovative and utilitarian spirit that we want to harness. Rather than let all of our sailors’ incredible ideas and solutions go to waste, we’re going to get them written down, disseminated, and implemented for the betterment of the entire fleet! This will not only pay dividends for other operational units, but also empower our sailors and show them that they do matter in the eyes of the Navy, that they can make a difference.

DCC Jake Wright and I are spearheading Athena on ANCHORAGE. Jake served on BENFOLD and saw Athena firsthand as it developed and evolved into the incredible forum it is today. He won Waterfront Athena 6 in San Diego with his ingenious adaptation to existing desmoking methods on US Navy warships (by creating an adapter to use box fans instead of RAM fans to desmoke a space in half the time!). His experience and perspective have been invaluable in currying support with the Chief’s Mess and by giving our CO, XO, and CMC a tangible connection to Athena to better explain how it works and why it matters.

DCC Wright and LTJG Jason Benning pitching the "Effing Awesome 7000" during Athena Six at San Diego's Coronado Brewing Company Tasting Room.

DCC Wright and LTJG Jason Benning pitching the “Effing Awesome 7000” during Athena Six at San Diego’s Coronado Brewing Company Tasting Room.

I’ve been on ANCHORAGE for a little over a year as the Fire Control Officer. A few months after I reported to San Diego, a Duke classmate recommended I check out the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum in San Diego (DEFxSD). There I met Dave Nobles and the Athena team. As they explained Athena I sat back and thought, “Wow, this is huge, our Sailors would love something like this.” In the presentation at DEFxSD I saw a picture of DCC Wright, who had recently arrived on ANCHORAGE, and knew it was a sign. Monday morning I sought out DCC Wright and talked to him about his experience with Athena. We agreed that Athena should be brought to ANCHORAGE.

However, DCC Wright and I knew we’d have to make some significant adjustments for the model to fit our crew and our situation on deployment. The primary challenges we saw with the Waterfront Athena model on a deployed ship were:

-Incentivizing the event properly to get a wide-range of Sailors interested and involved

-Finding a relaxed and open venue for the flow of ideas

-Getting sailors enough time and free space to think and develop their ideas

-Overcoming the lack of knowledge about Athena onboard

-Making the event fun but polished, so that the audience can understand the ideas and enjoy the presentations

-Connecting Sailors with off-ship developers and enablers

A ship's deployment is a great time to capture Sailors' great ideas for making the Navy better!

A ship’s deployment is a great time to capture Sailors’ great ideas for making the Navy better!

DCC and I met with our triad, who have been incredibly supportive, and worked out solutions that we believe will maximize Athena’s impact on ANCHORAGE:

-The winning Sailor(s) will get a reward package filled with free, but enticing prizes, especially for a deployed Sailor: a duty-free liberty port during deployment and 96- and 48-hour liberty chits for back in San Diego. We hope these will help pique the ship’s interest and overcome the initial skepticism that accompanies any product launch. The fully-loaded prize pack shows them how committed the CO, ANCHORAGE, and the Navy are to Athena’s success. I cannot stress enough how we would be nowhere without our command’s support. It is the most important key to success here, the foundation upon which all else rests.

-For a venue and idea space we’re going to try our ship’s chapel as it is the largest and most open space for people to congregate. We will also hold idea sessions in our electronic classroom, so Sailors can come up during the workday to use the internet and free time to enhance their pitch.

-DCC and I will personally go to all 20 divisions on the ship to explain Athena and show DCC’s winning idea from Athena 6. This will dramatically increase understanding of the event and get Sailors’ questions answered immediately from the source.

-DCC, “Idea Mentors” (volunteers), and I will then meet a couple times with each Sailor interested in pitching an idea. The first session will be a brainstorming/troubleshooting session in which we help the Sailor analyze and his/her idea so that he or she is able to present a more polished and well-thought out idea at the actual event. The second session will focus on presentation skills and how best to convey his/her idea. These will give the Sailor more confidence and make the pitches more enjoyable and understandable for the audience.

-Finally, to connect Sailors with off-ship developers, inventors, and enablers, we have this blog and the invaluable help of the Athena team. This post is meant to raise awareness of the event as it builds, so that as soon as we finish on July 25th we can get the word out and get our Sailors plugged into the incredible Athena network!

Of course, since this is the first time anyone has ever tried to do an Athena underway, we certainly won’t pretend to have all the answers… If you guys out there in the blogosphere have any ideas that you’d like to see us try, or want to kick start a similar event at your command, please connect with us!


ENS Stefanus is the Fire Control Officer onboard USS ANCHORAGE. To connect with him or DCC Wright, e-mail or

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!


More Than Just Nametags

By: LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell


It has been a rough week.

Last weekend, I flew back to the East Coast to attend my grandfather’s funeral.  It was a very tough time for my family, but I was so thankful to be able to make it back and spend the weekend celebrating his life with everyone.  My grandfather had such a tremendous impact on my entire family, especially my twelve cousins and I.  He always encouraged us to follow our dreams, study hard, spend time with family, have fun, and have a strong faith.  After years spent together at Sunday dinners, vacations on Cape Cod and the annual O’Donnell Family Christmas, I only knew him as Grampy.

While celebrating his life this past weekend I had the honor of meeting the tremendous people that he had worked with for the past fifty years as a physicist and program manager for the United States Navy.  For the first time, I saw a different side of Grampy.  I always knew that he didn’t want to retire, and but I never truly understood why until this weekend.  After talking with dozens of his colleagues from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, I understood why.

It was because of the people.

My grandfather truly got to know the people he worked with everyday and made every effort to mentor them and get to know them on a personal level.  He loved his job because of the people, and they loved him because he cared.

Just before my flight back to San Diego on Monday night I got news that I had lost a shipmate in an accident over the weekend.  Of course, I was very impacted by the news. News that you never want to get.  While I was on the plane I had time to reflect on the events of the weekend, and something really resonated with me: We are more than just nametags.  We are more than just our ratings, more than our ranks, more than our work.

We are people.

Each person that I work with everyday is someone special.  They all have a background, a family, and a past.  We all joined the Navy for different reasons and we all have a family at home, but now we are together serving as a “family” on BENFOLD. The weekend, while sad, made me appreciate that I need take the time to get to know the people I serve with as part of my ‘work family.’

We all have families outside of our work families.

We all have families outside of our work families that are waiting for us to come home.

In the Navy, our job revolves around the mission.  There is no doubt that as Sailors we come to work to get the job done everyday and we do whatever it takes to get there.  With the long hours we spend on the ship every day, not to mention the months spent away from family on deployment, we lean on each other for support and friendship.

I spent the majority of my last deployment standing watch in our Combat Information Center.  With six hours of watch everyday with the same team, I got to know them on a personal level.  Although we came from all over the country with different backgrounds and our ages ranged over twenty years, I couldn’t imagine getting through deployment without my watch team.

I would have never guessed that I would have bonded so strongly with the group, but when we took time to get to know each other we truly became a family.  My watchteam knew what team I routed for (obviously, the Patriots), how I took my coffee, why I can’t eat before I go on a run, and when I just needed my space.  Building the relationship we did on deployment made us that much more excited to go to watch together and allowed us to work together as a team when the mission called.

At sea, our teammates are our family.

At sea, our teammates are our family.

But sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the ship.  We get stressed out with upcoming inspections, certifications and maintenance.  To be honest, I am the first person to get completely stressed and focused on the next training opportunity or be caught up preparing programs for an upcoming inspection.  And although this is all extremely important for the mission, I realize I need to take time to get to know the people around me.

Life isn’t just about the next promotion you get or the next major evolution you reach, but the people you meet along the way.  So, when you’re sitting in the next meeting or waiting to get a chit routed, take some time and get to know someone.  Ask the sailor next to you how their weekend was or where they are from or what their kids are up to.  Get to know them from a different perspective.  Because at the end of the day, they are someone’s son, they are someone’s wife, they are someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, grandfather, grandmother, friend.

At work people see me as the Training Officer.  They actually might turn the other way when they see me coming because I am usually trying to get them to attend some mandatory training event or asking why they haven’t turned in their program reviews for the week.

But they would probably be surprised to see me when I go home to Maryland.  At home, I am the oldest of three children.  My brother and I are always competing and my sister and I are always sharing clothes.  My mom and I go for runs together and I ask my dad for advice.  My grandmother still makes the best crabcakes in the world and I am usually found on the floor coloring or playing dolls with my little cousins.  I am a daughter, granddaughter, sister, cousin, friend, and Navy officer.

This week I realized that everyone I work with has a story.  Everyone has a family and everyone deserves you to get to know them.

I challenge you to recognize the people you work with.  Get to know them and see them in a personal way.  You don’t have to be friends; you just have to have empathy.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, empathy is “ the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

Further, using empathy to understand people and how they act on the job can help us trigger insights that we might not have otherwise seen.  And that alone can be a breeding ground for innovation. Companies far and wide apply empathetic research to design new products for the end user, but who’s to say we can’t use this in the Navy to perform our mission better?

By learning about each other, we might just have more than the Navy in common.  And I’ll bet, that by getting to know the people around you it will make you that much more excited to come to work everyday.

So, the next time you get frustrated with a shipmate, take a step back and see them from a different perspective.  Remember they are someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter, father, mother.  Just because they do something differently doesn’t mean it’s not right.  When we get to know the people we work with we can better understand what motivates them, what frustrates them, and where they get their perspective.  The best part about the Navy is that we are a mixing bowl of people from all different backgrounds and experiences and each one of us brings a different perspective to the table.

The Navy may be about powerful warships, fighter planes, fast attack submarines and missile launches but in the end we are just defending our country.  We, the people, are protecting the people.  We all, from our own families, protecting families, and now part of another family – USS BENFOLD.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Life is short.  Take advantage of the time.  Appreciate your surroundings.  Get to know the people you work with.  Give everyone a chance.  Consider the other perspective.


LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell is the Training Officer onboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). She’s a Marine Engineering graduate of Massachusetts Maritime Academy class of 2010.

Interested in pitching at our upcoming Waterfront Athena Event on February 13th at San Diego’s Ballast Point Little Italy Tasting Room? Message us!