"Onward with Valor"
LT Dave Nobles, USS BENFOLD Weapons Officer, addresses the gathered innovators to start off the fourth Athena Project. (Official U.S. Navy Photo)
USS Benfold: The Athena Project Diversifies
SAN DIEGO - Meeting at the Ballast Point Brewery in the heart of San Diego’s Little Italy district Feb. 13, Sailors from USS Benfold (DDG 65) and The Athena Project gathered to discuss methods for improving the Navy and incorporating developments from modern technology into warfighting systems.

This was the fourth such event, however, this time more industry partners, non-Benfold shipmates, entrepreneurs, and innovators participated than in past events.

The project included representatives from the NASA Ames Research Center, USC Institute of Creative Technologies, Ecospan, Space and Naval Warfare Command, Harris Corp, Lockheed Martin, iEncon, Cubic, junior officers from the Basic Division Officers course, and various enlisted Sailors and officers from other ships and shore commands in the San Diego area.

They all came to share ideas, make connections, and develop partnerships for innovation to benefit the Navy. Like previous Athena Projects, the participants mingled in an organic pleasant setting that encouraged relationships to form and ideas to take root prior to the event even officially starting.

It was clear that there was immediate chemistry between all of the innovators as the amiable greetings and introductions quickly turned into the dull roar of ideas being exchanged and critiqued.

Lt Dave Nobles, Benfold’s weapons officer, opened the fourth Athena Project with a brief introduction of the program and a layout of the presentation rules and the voting process. Nobles emphasized the “off the fly” nature of Athena, which was underscored by the noise of jet planes occasionally buzzing overhead, but also encouraged informality.
Following Nobles’ introduction, Cmdr. Rich Lebron, Benfold’s commanding officer, offered his insight on the importance of Athena and his inspiration for encouraging innovation in his command.
“As junior officers and enlisted Sailors, you have a responsibility to think. It’s not enough to just be knowledgeable anymore, you have to be creative,” said Lebron. “Unfortunately, we as an organization do not tend to move as fast as the world around us and we need to start relying on the digital natives to get us there.”
The presentations that followed unmistakably supported Lebron’s point as two of the top three ideas of the day came from the junior officer ranks and a junior enlisted Sailor captured the attention of several members of industry with her idea to develop commonality between shipboard databases and programs.
Ensign Tom Baker came in third with his presentation on the use of tankless water heaters on board ships to preserve energy and save space. Chief Electronics Technician Michael Lewisson (SW) pitched the second place idea; using the “laser tag” system, already a program of record in the Army, to train Visit Board Search and Seizure teams and anti-terrorism teams on board ships.

Finally, Nobles and Benfold’s Training Officer Lt. j.g. Kaitlin O’Donnell, won the coveted Admiral Sims award for intellectual courage with their model for a website that would pair Sailors with innovators and scientists based on their abilities and ideas to further the Athena concept throughout the fleet.

“What is now just pieces of paper functioning essentially as signup sheets will hopefully become a networking website that will allow sailors across the fleet to connect and work with scientists on making their innovations and solutions reality,” said O’Donnell. “The tangible results from four Athena Projects alone are a testament to the power of this kind of thinking.”

Benfold is currently gearing up for a CNO availability that will see the latest upgrades to the ship’s Ballistic Missile Defense system.
If you are interested in how you can participate in the next Athena project, please contact PAO@DDG65.NAVY.MIL .
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