Any Marine who has deployed downrange knows finding spare parts or tools to fix even a simple problem can be a supply nightmare.
The Marine Corps is trying to bridge that gap by teaching short-duration, intense training sessions to turn Marines into better problem solvers.
“All we are doing is giving Marines exposure to new tools that can help them solve problems in the field,” Albert Vega, president of the tech development company Building Momentum, told Marine Corps Times.
Roughly a year ago the Corps, though the Installations and Logistics Command, partnered with Building Momentum to teach what it calls “innovation boot camps.”
The nearly weeklong course is designed to bring emerging technologies to Marines and help them solve complicated issues when deployed overseas. The training pushes Marines out of their comfort zones and familiarizes them with skills they are not usually accustomed to in the Corps.
“A lot of it is knocking down the intimidation factor,” said Vega.
Courses include training in computer-aided design, 3-D printing, welding and microcontrollers. The program ends with a capstone project.
The innovation boot camp concept was born out of previous work experience from Vega and the company’s co-founder Brad Halsey.
“We’d go downrange, he went to Iraq, I went to Afghanistan, and we literally played MacGyver with soldiers,” Vega explained. “We’d ask them what didn’t go right with your day; if you had a piece of equipment that could help you solve the problems what would it be?”
As the wars and deployment cycles overseas began to wane the duo thought, “What if we started training Marines to start solving these problems on their own?” Vega said.
There has been a general push over the years by the Marine Corps to provide additive manufacturing or 3-D printing in the field to bridge logistics and supply issues, and according to the 2016 interim policy on 3-D printing technology, “technologies have the potential to advance the expeditionary capabilities of the entire Marine Air Ground Task Force.”
But the problem is that most Marines really don’t know how to properly use the technology for it to be useful downrange, Vega said.
Halsey and Vega were approached several years ago by Ret. Brig. Gen. Frank Kelly, the former commander of Marine Corps Systems Command, to find a way to help make Marines better problems solvers.
After a couple years of back and forth discussions, the concept of innovation boot camp came to fruition.
The courses are generally open to any Marine, but most of the students hail from vehicle maintenance, communications and optics, and there have been some infantry students, according to Vega.
“Anyone out there facing problems, we want them with new tools in their tool box,” he said.
In one class, a Marine manufactured his own mortar wrench with a 3-D printer.
In another, a Marine was able to build a wireless GPS tracker that could help Marines track enemy targets.
A user merely had to walk by the device to download the GPS tracker data, which meant the user didn’t have to physically remove a memory card from the device attached to the tracked enemy vehicle and potentially compromise an operation.
An innovation boot camp class is currently ongoing at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Some classes have even taken place overseas in Kuwait.
The idea is to do “learning by doing,” instead of death by PowerPoint, Vega said. If Marines break stuff or burn things out, that’s all a part of the learning experience, he said.