A panel of soldiers with the XVIII Airborne Corps has selected its first “Dragon Innovation Challenge” winner.
Maj. Evan Adams with the 101st Airborne Division, was selected Tuesday from five finalists for his work designing a user-friendly application for “scheduling, managing and forecasting ranges and land across the Army.”
The competition began in August, reaching 87 submissions by early September, when the Corps staff whittled that down to the five finalists. Those five finalists participated in a question-and-answer demonstration, similar to the “Shark Tank” TV show, in which panelists challenged them with questions about their submissions.
The finalists had three minutes to pitch their ideas, all down virtually, and then each pitch was followed by a 35-minute Q&A session.
“For all of us and for the command, there was great value in the process, in getting critical feedback from across the corps and in our innovators generating feedback from our panel,” said Col. Joseph Buccino, XVIII Airborne spokesman.
The focus for these finalists involved “land management.” Other finalists included the following soldiers:
• First Sgt. Daniel Murphy, 82nd Airborne Division — Introduction Range Facility Management Support System categorization system for range type.
• Capt. Michael Stevick, 82nd Airborne Division — Addition of RFMM feature windows for range utilization.
• First Lt. Nathan Wagner, 10th Mountain Division — A third-party website for real time coordination, range overlays and training specificity.
• First Sgt. Richard Greve, 82nd Airborne Division — Creation of a Corps marksmanship instructor course modeled on the 75th Ranger Regiment.
The XVIII Airborne Corps includes 3rd ID, 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division, 101st Airborne Division, 20th Engineer Brigade, 16th Military Police Brigade and 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command.
Adams told Army Times that when he heard about the competition he put his background as both a graphic and web designer to use in a practical way for soldiers.
“Soldiers are always looking to improve their foxhole,” Adams said.
So, he batted the idea for a web-based “RangeFinder app” that would untie leaders from their laptops when designing range training time and also allow for a backup contact should an emergency arise on the range.
The major credits some of that back and forth with other soldiers for helping put the idea into a demonstrable form.
Once put into place, soldiers can use the application to collaborate with units and coordinate range time, run through their safety checklists and provide more access to the ranges, avoiding the hinderances that arise with the clunky systems currently in use.
The app will also allow for tracking of certifications and training at the squad level; check in/check out functions for range status reporting; scheduling, reminders and notifications tied to cancelations; a messaging section to better coordinate between units; and emergency notifications, locating and procedures for medical evacuations.
Users will also be able to take and send photos of the range; draw operational graphics; pin GPS locations; use overlay tools and build and save graphic control measures tied to existing satellite imagery to better understand the layout of the range in real-time.
Master Sgt. Roy Smith, division gunner for 3rd Infantry Division, was one of the five panelists drawn from across the Corps to judge participants.
Smith said that he saw a lot of really good ideas from soldiers who’d experienced “friction points” and looked to see what they could do better.
The master sergeant said that Adams' idea stood out because it improved an existing system in a way that could be applied across the entire Army.
And that, both Adams and Smith said separately, was one of the differences about this particular competition.
Battalion or even brigade-level call outs for ideas and improvements have been around for decades. But a website showing what’s being submitted and the variety of ideas out there, along with the knowledge that a three-star general might take up that suggestion and apply it across the force, raises the stakes.
Adams and future winners will receive a Meritorious Service Medal, a training school of their choice and a four-day liberty pass.
The Corps plans to hold a challenge every 90 days moving forward. Adams' idea is on a fast track for development, following the competition.
“Within the coming weeks, the XVIII Airborne Corps will develop a pathway to aggressive implementation of the RangeFinder app,” Buccino said.
The next competition is open to ideas of any kind on any relevant Army topic or improvement. That opens on Nov. 17, Buccino said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.