San Diego, CA - Freethinking begets innovation. That was USS BENFOLD’s mantra as she hosted the most recent iteration of “Project Athena” – a grassroots innovation incubator – on a sublime Friday afternoon in downtown San Diego. A rooftop terrace served as a casual forum where inventive ideas were pitched by their authors to an audience ranging from junior enlisted sailors to the SNA San Diego chapter president to representatives of ONR and professors from the University of Southern California. Each featured idea was conceived with very few limitations: come up with something that betters USS BENFOLD, the Navy, or the San Diego community. That’s it.
“Onboard BENFOLD we’re believers in empowering a good idea, regardless of what rank it comes from,” says LT Dave Nobles, USS BENFOLD Weapons Officer. “So the gist behind Athena is to give a forum to these ideas and an audience who will listen and provide candid feedback.” Athena is not merely a stage for theoretical musings. Each presenter’s project is poked and prodded with a Q&A session from the peer based audience who then score each proposal based on 3 simple criteria: idea quality, presentation, and actionability. To the victor goes the RADM William Sims Award for intellectual courage. But more importantly and most relevant to the Athena project, the winner is awarded command backing in the form of a small functional team to help bring the idea to life.
Though enjoying its genesis on BENFOLD, Athena is not meant to satisfy the itch of a few onboard one ship. “We want Athena to bloom into a regularly scheduled event across the waterfront,” says CDR Rich LeBron, USS BENFOLD’s Commanding Officer. “The greater the stage for Athena, the greater chance this forward thinking will be heard and acted upon, and the more benefit is potentially enjoyed by the Navy and the Nation.”
So what were some of the ideas revealed, you ask? Ideas ranged from the philosophical like applying game theory to build a stronger SWO community, to the practical such as improving ship readiness for inspections, and to the technological like applying smart phone technology to computer work stations. But this quarter’s RADM Sims Award winner was ENS Rob McClenning’s application of Army sound amplification technology to help improve a bridge team’s situational awareness in low visibility. “I think the reason why ENS McClenning’s project was so well received is because it really had that ‘oh duh’ factor, meaning the idea made so much sense yet had been completely overlooked,” commented STG2 (SW) Gina Stevens.
Athena will be back bigger and better with another round of innovators and freethinkers as Team BENFOLD gets the word out to ships in the San Diego area. “The beauty of Athena is its simplicity,” Said LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell, one of the presenters. “You don’t need fancy computer models or capital backing to put an idea on the table; just an innovative mindset and a motivated audience. And that is precisely the sort of human capital that the Navy is enriched with and the most powerful tool for enhancing our readiness in fiscally austere times.”
USS BENFOLD is currently gearing up for a CNO availability that will see the latest upgrades to her Ballistic Missile Defense system. If you are interested in how you can participate in the next Athena project, please contact PAO@DDG65.NAVY.MIL.