Athena DC 1.0 Roundup

By LT George Yacus


Hi everyone, Kilt here!  Long time listener, but first time contributor here on The Athena Project.

Athena DC 1.0 — what a success on so many frontsincluding the beautiful Potomac waterfront!


Yes, I have to talk about location and timing!  

Riding on the evening coattails of the local 2016 SEA  AIR SPACE expo Monday night gave Athenians several great benefits for this inaugural session, including:

  • An absolutely marvelous conference center snuggled in Maryland’s growing National Harbor on the beautiful Potomac (with access to adult beverages during the session if desired)
  • A great showing of inquisitive participants from the Navy League’s Global Maritime Exposition, and
  • Closer access to the refreshing Navy leadership who live on the fringes of our nation’s capital.

VADM Phil Cullom, Dr. Larry Schuette, Dr. Ralph Semmel, and Sharon Beermann-Curtin each took time out of their busy schedules–and maybe even missed a meeting or two–just so they could support our five Athena idea warriors as panelists.  What a testament to their commitment in making innovation a priority for action and engagement!


The session kicked off with Dave Nobles as our jovial Master of Ceremonies, sharing the history of Athena–which has held about 20 events so far and has become a beacon of success for Naval innovation.  He also shared with us the concept behind  Athena’s snazzy new logo.

Indeed, as Dave said, The Athena Project has become the “Bat Signal” for Naval innovation success.  


Only in this case, there is no “super hero” coming to the Navy’s rescue here in our nation’s capital city, which is normally known for legislative sausage-making, 15 year defense acquisition cycles, and risk-averse policy decisions from whom VADM Cullom likes to call “The Borg”.


Acquisitions? Make it slow.

Instead, our heroes are diverse individuals just like you, who are not satisfied with assimilation into a sub par status quo!  Instead, you are folks who exhibit our Navy’s core values with intellectual honor, courage, and commitment.  You are willing to get an idea, run with it, and make it into a reality.



After Dave got us going, our five presenters and audience gained encouragement from the ideation powerhouse that is FRCMA (Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic).  

“Our command actually fosters innovation…from concept to culture.” said one of the guest speakers, ATC Williams from FRCMA, who was “blown away by communication between juniors and seniors” evident at his command, which has not one but two ideation think tanks that meet every other week, and also has systems in place where anyone can share their creative ideas.   

Chief Williams and the FRCMA team shared nearly a dozen ideas and processes they’ve developed and implemented in the realm of Navy innovation, which he describes as “taking what’s out there, and using it in a new and exciting way.”  

As a result, their work has spread from FRCs at Oceana and Norfolk to PAX River, New Orleans, and Washington.

But don’t let FRCMA’s success make you think that innovation comes easy, as we all know


FOD Prevention? Make it glow.

ideation success takes leadership, hard work, and commitment.  Take for example LT Jason Shaw, who has spent ten years developing and then navigating funding and contract waters for his (literally) bright idea, which helps aviation maintenance personnel avoid FOD hazards (back to that theme in a second).  Or consider AD2 Shepard’s ongoing work to develop a better cranial that fits comfortably, doesn’t save up sweat, and requires fewer parts.

Our Athena idea warriors thus gained inspiration from those who have gone before us, knowing that their–and your–ideas, can literally the save the Navy time, money, and more importantly, save the lives of our fellow warfighters.

So regardless of whether or not our idea presenters’ concepts are implemented now, or even a decade from now as they battle “The Borg” or as some of us like to say, the “Frozen


Innovation? Let it go.


Middle”, who just want to let good ideas go away, we’re thankful for all of our attendees’ presence, patience, and persistence, and we’re especially grateful to the Chains of Command that support ideators like them being able to attend!





Our Athenians and our Panel from Athena DC 1.0!  (U.S. Navy Photo by John F. Williams)


At the end of AT1 Michael Pecota’s presentation, I think our esteemed panelist ONR Research Director Dr. Larry Schuette put it best:

“Does anyone else think it’s crazy that we don’t already have it capped!?”

AT1 Pecota’s winning idea is a $10 3D printed solution to a $2,000,000 problem.  And that problem is one near and dear to every aircrew and aviation maintenanceman’s heart: FOD…Foreign Object Damage.  The MH-60R (our favorite sub-hunting organic maritime helo) carries a very complex $2M sonar transducer to detect and track lurking submarines.  Unfortunately, when debris makes its way into the transducer, it takes our aviation electronics technicians and maintenance personnel a full hour just to take the cover off and clean house inside the transducer.  By reducing FOD through prevention, AT1 Pecota’s sonar transducer cover can save the Navy upwards of 1708 man hours a year, equivalent to $76,000 back in the Pentagon’s budget.  Sounds great!  Unless you are an enemy submariner, am I right?  His simple solution for a sonar transducer cap earned him the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage.  


AT1 Pecota receives the Admiral Sims Award from VADM Cullom. (U.S. Navy Photo by John F. Williams)

[Note, if you are an MH-60R bubba, looking to get one of these caps for your transducer, reach out and we’ll connect you with AT1 Pecota.  Let’s print these FOD-preventing bad-boys!]


Our second briefer carried the Athena torch with the mythology theme (woohoo!) LT James Landreth and his team pitched their innovative training/testing program “Minerva”, named after the Roman goddess of wisdom, art, Nuclear Power, school, etc.  

Their team sees wide possibilities with the Navy Computerized Adaptive Test system, enabling them to predict with 85% accuracy a student’s success, generate customized or individualized training regimes, provide command leadership data-supported feedback on training systems, and help students avoid test failure.  Nice!


Collisions at sea.  They happen.  I wish they didn’t.  LT Walker wants to make them stop happening.  LT Dan wants every ship to keep their sea legs.

As a former CRIC-ster, he is the project lead for OCEAN AUGMENTED REALITY.  The idea is to take all the great sensors and information we have available on a bridge: map data, radar contact information, depth charts, etc., and synthesize it and present it to our watchstanders through augmented reality glasses to reduce collisions.  LT Walker’s project came in second place at Athena DC 1.0.  What an exciting challenge!


This is the idea that made it difficult for me to get to sleep last night!

It doesn’t take an engineer to realize that our electromagnetic spectrum is becoming more and more crowded and contested.  Just ask LT Takeru Tajiri, a Poli-Sci major from the Juggernauts of LCS Crew 104 who wants to breathe new life into an old concept like Morse code by addressing how we communicate when all the radios are jammed, or when EMCON (emissions control) conditions have been established.  The idea is to shift over to the shorter wavelengths on the EM spectrum, using visible light, infrared and/or laser, to send communication data from ship to ship or aircraft, and potentially relay data via unmanned vehicles/balloons to go over the horizon.

I really want to see all the tinkerers out there in the Navy come together and rally around this one, because I just KNOW that some sailors (including midshipmen) out there can design and build this one in a weekend or two!  Who is with me?  Let’s do it!


Our final presenter of the evening had me chuckling as he started with a great pun about sourcing energy and electrical current from water in the form of hydrogen.

HM2 Joshua Cranford is ready for the Navy to lead the way in green energy!  Taking inspiration from the SECNAV’s Great Green Fleet initiative, HM2 wants to transition to H2… using hydrogen gas as a safer, climate friendly, and some day cost effective alternative fuel source to fossil fuels.  Citing many recent trends, including successful projects from the University of West Virginia, HM2 Cranford encouraged us to take the long look for sustainability in how we power our Fleet.  His presentation, while cut a little short due to timing, was still a gas!


Wow, what a night!  In the end VADM Cullom tied it all together by spotlighting the strategic link between deckplate ideation, and Design for Maritime Superiority released by the Chief of Naval Operations. Specifically, he cited the line of effort regarding High Velocity Learning.  He also explained that he wants to see Athena spread to every fleet concentration area.

“I have been in awe of what Athena has done…”

-VADM Phil Cullom (OPNAV N4)

We’re so thankful for our presenters for having the courage to share their ideas.  How exciting it is that we can have sailors from all across the US come and meet together to make positive change in our Navy.  Even though this was the first Athena event in DC, I’d say the “Bat Signal” is shining brightly here.  Again, we must thank the leadership who have helped empower deckplate thinkers.

In conclusion, for some, it has been a 10 year journey to get here!  And for others, it was just a few minutes of traffic around the DC Beltway.  But regardless of whether you are an idea creator or an idea catalyst, newcomer or serial thinker, wherever you are in the realm of Naval innovation, remember, as VADM Cullom said this evening about The Athena Project…

This is your forum!”


LT George Yacus is an MH-60S helo bubba, currently on shore duty to USNA at the Class of 1963 Center for Academic Excellence, where he provides communication and outreach for student academic support services, including training midshipmen in collaborative learning techniques, speed reading, time management, and more.  In his free time he connects with other creative thinkers around the Yard and Fleet, and he is always looking to find ways to introduce innovation communities to midshipmen, faculty, and staff, and especially the aviation community at USNA.

There are Athena events coming soon to fleet concentration areas around the globe, so if you’re in Mayport, San Diego, Yokosuka and Norfolk – get ready! If you’re interested in starting a movement of your own, find us on Facebook or Twitter (@athenanavy) or e-mail us at!

A Simple Question and a Call To Action

By Dave Nobles

MainBanner_2015Last week, I had the pleasure of sharing the story of Athena with the submarine force at the 2015 Submarine Technology Symposium at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Beyond conversations, it was the first time that the history of The Athena Project was presented to this audience and the brief was part of a larger group of presenters in a session titled “Innovation.” My fellow session mates all had tremendous stories of how they’ve harnessed the collaborative spirit of Sailors to find creative solutions to complex problems and I was humbled to be a part of it.

While the possibility existed for the crowd to treat me as though I was a stranger in a strange land, my brief laden with photos of ships (they call them ‘targets’), the vision and mission of The Athena Project resonated with the group and I received a number of questions following the talk.

The prevailing theme of many of questions and comments was as simple as a Beatles song: How can we help?

And as John sang in the song Help, you know we need somebody, not just anybody.


The Beatles: Obviously Athenians.


However, to appropriately answer that question, it’s worthy to first assess the current state of Athena and where we would like to go in the future.

As many of you know that have been following The Athena Project from the beginning, transitioning Sailors’ great ideas to the next levels – Prototyping and implementation – is hands-down the most difficult phase of our expedition. The legend of Athena holds that the Greek goddess was a shrewd companion to heroes on epic endeavors, and most innovators know that transitioning a project from idea to action is an epic endeavor. Through our history, we’ve grown the network of innovators, academics, engineers and makers and had success with providing the heroic Sailors with companions that can make their big idea happen, but we can always do more.

Often, when asked by senior leadership what flavor of help they can provide to our efforts, I usually respond with ‘advocacy and support.’ However, to truly have Athena thrive by bringing forth tremendous ideas from the Navy’s deckplates and inspiring junior Sailors to be creatively confident, we need to take action.

So, what can you do to help? Well, it kind of depends on where you are in your organization. So, in the spirit of the song Help, here’s what you can do and what Beatles track you might best identify with:

If you’re a Sailor, you are “With A Little Help From My Friends” – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).

In the song, Ringo (yes, Ringo… As “Billy Shears”) sings about the importance of friends to get through difficulty or even attempt something that you may consider hard when you do it alone. Sometimes, getting involved in something like Athena and just getting your concept to the point of pitching is much easier said than done. But, with a little help from the Athena Network and local support from groups at the unit level, it becomes a lot easier.

What we’ve found that works best is developing a collaborative network at your command and apply supportive brainstorming tools to encourage each other’s ideas. You can find some great ground rules for creating an innovative group here. If you keep the faith and bring forth your ideas, eventually the whispers on a wall will become a shout too loud to be ignored. If you want to get involved with other like-minded innovators in your area, connect with us! We may be able to help!

A microphone shouldn't be intimidating - there's a team behind you!

A microphone shouldn’t be intimidating – there’s a team behind you!

If you’re an engineer, you are “Get Back” – Let It Be (1970).

In this classic, Paul urges Jojo, who had left his home in Tucson to make a horticulturally-driven voyage to California, to head back to where he should be. In developing new systems and technologies for the warfighter, it’s important to break out of the lab or office and get back to user-centered design. What better way to do that than to hear ideas straight from the Sailor and begin a relationship to keep the user at the center of the design process.

So to the engineers, get back to the deckplates. Take a risk and get involved! Often, the ideas that come out of Athena events need to be developed and iterated to realize their full potential. And often, the Sailors that pitch the ideas need your help. At many organizations, there are channels in which research, development, testing and engineering funding can be pursued through alternate means. If you take a risk by attending an event and partnering with a Sailor, you might find that you can develop a concept that emerged out of frustration on the deckplates, you can have a positive impact on how Sailors can perform their jobs. Beyond that, you’ll more deeply discover warfighters’ needs and build lasting connections that will prevent innovation in a vacuum. Sure, it may be a bit out of your comfort zone, but if you make the effort, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs!

Researchers at the University of Southern California proving the EARS concept that won Athena Two.

Researchers at the University of Southern California proving the EARS concept that won Athena Two.

If you’re a unit-level commander, you are “All Together Now” – Yellow Submarine (1969).

If anything is going to happen with Athena at your command, it’s going to require you to be involved. This song’s message is perhaps the simplest of all Beatles songs, and contained in the title: All Together Now.

As a commander, advocate, motivate and be part of the process, together with your Sailors! It’s one thing to inform your Sailors about Athena, but another thing altogether to encourage and inspire those under your charge to develop their ideas and bring them forth. By getting involved in the process – the coaching, the creation and the listening – A junior Sailor’s motivation to participate and present will follow suit. By putting in the time to make Sailors’ intellectual courage a priority, you’ll be investing in the future of the Fleet by serving its most critical asset: Its people. If it’s important to you, it will be important to your command.

Advocacy goes far beyond a mention at a Captain's Call! U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class N.C. Kaylor (RELEASED)

Advocacy goes far beyond a mention at a Captain’s Call! U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class N.C. Kaylor (RELEASED)

If you’re a senior leader or influencer, you are “Revolution” – The Beatles (The White Album) (1968).

As anyone who’s heard this gem knows, the song presupposes that the listener wants a revolution or beyond that, has a desire to change the world. Many senior leaders are highly ambitious and desire to make an impact, and Athena could create a tremendous avenue for just that. And, as the song goes, if that leader says they have a real solution, then people will be lining up to see the plan.

So, help towards building some real solutions: Challenge your team and your network! The Naval Message is still a powerful tool, and the individual that owns the message-release authority can wield it. Simply by lending your support to Athena, you may inspire commands or even communities that have yet to participate! And beyond that encouragement, you could discover the work that the Sailors have put into their concepts and challenge those under your charge to develop and prototype the ideas that resonate with you. Nothing like throwing down the proverbial gauntlet to inspire concept development!

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert challenged  the status quo by establishing a Rapid Innovation Cell during his tenure.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert challenged the status quo by establishing a Rapid Innovation Cell during his tenure.

Athena is valuable because it drives Sailor engagement. Inspiring junior Sailors and young officers to think about how to make the Navy better tends to inspire those same Sailors to think about all they do, making them more apt to be engaged in problem solving and innovative solutions.

Beyond the quarterly pitch events in Fleet Concentration Areas, The Athena Project is rolling out several initiatives that can help to inspire, get new faces engaged and build on the creative spirit of the deckplates. More to follow on those new initiatives in the weeks that follow.

Dan Pink, whose book Drive has served as a catalyst for the birth of The Athena Project, notes that engagement is powered by three factors: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. While encouragement may lead to the Autonomy and Mastery pillars, the Purpose will always be decided by the network: The influencers, makers, engineers and doers that can transform a Sailor’s idea into reality. If an idea can make it to the next level, it proves that the voice of the deckplates is being heard and fuels the all-important Purpose pillar.

Together, we can fulfill that duty.

Or, to stay true to the Beatles feel of this article, we can be “Fixing a Hole.”


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!