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NEWS | March 12, 2024

Guard Bureau Chief Sees Innovation, Tech Converge in Texas

By Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely, National Guard Bureau

AUSTIN – Innovation and emerging technology underscored the National Guard’s senior-most officer’s visit to Texas on March 9-10.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau, met with Texas Army National Guardsmen and joined the 2024 South by Southwest Conference where he talked with entrepreneurs, small business owners and innovators about new concepts that could benefit the Guard and the Joint Force.

When Hokanson took the helm as CNGB in 2020, he outlined his priorities for the Guard: people, readiness, modernization and reform. The synergy of industry, academia, venture capital and service members brainstorming ways to incorporate new technology and ideas into military applications at SXSW is remarkable, he said.

“The military has always been a force for innovation,” Hokanson said during a fireside chat at Austin’s Capital Factory. “As the pace of technological change accelerates, we must continue to explore unique ideas and foster new partnerships to ensure our ability to protect our nation and help local communities in times of emergency.” 

Hokanson met with Guardsmen who are assigned to the Defense Innovation Unit—a Defense Department organization to help the U.S. military make hasty use of developing commercial technologies. With offices in Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, Chicago and inside the Pentagon, DIU is the department’s gateway to leading technology companies across the country.

“I applaud the critical work DIU is doing to form partnerships that help connect the Department of Defense with civilian companies and entrepreneurs who can provide new ideas and solutions,” the general said.

He also talked to Guardsmen with ARCWERX—the Air Reserve Component’s version of AFWERX, the innovation arm of the Department of the Air Force.

“Venues like SXSW are what we call creativity clusters,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Hans Jagow, the director and cofounder of ARCWERX and an Alaska Guard member. “At events like this, ideas expand to new levels when combined with other innovative and creative thought. What comes out of SXSW are novel solutions and new advancements in DOD capabilities.”

Every National Guard in the 50 states, three territories and Washington, D.C. has innovation initiatives. ARCWERX serves as an innovation heart for the Guard, supporting the innovation ecosystem through education, connection to partner resourcing and internal resources. 

“Supporting and encouraging innovation in peacetime bolsters future wartime operations by solidifying a culture of innovation necessary for future wartime agility,” Jagow said. 

Hokanson visited Camp Mabry in Austin and Camp Swift in nearby Bastrop to talk with Texas Guardsmen during drill. He also saw the Texas Military Department’s revolutionary 3D constructed barracks—a product of the types of innovation born at SXSW.

“We 3D printed the first barracks in the U.S. military,” Hokanson said. “These structures were built in half the time at two-thirds of the cost of previous construction projects using traditional materials.”

The CNGB raved about the aesthetics and practicality of the barracks structure, completed in 2021—then the largest 3D printed structure in North America. The 3,800-plus square foot building can house up to 72 troops while they train for missions in Texas or overseas. 

These structures are designed to be built faster and last longer than traditional buildings. The Texas Military Department is currently building a similar 3D-printed training center at its Camp Mabry headquarters. Texas Army National Guardsmen supported this project with troop labor and engineering units to pour the foundation slabs.

Similar, larger-scale construction projects have sprung up, as the DOD will soon open three 3D-printed barracks at Fort Bliss.

Back at the Capital Factory’s Joint Defense Innovation Workspace, Hokanson saw other innovative concepts including a platform that connects service members’ expertise to defense needs, robotic automation, mental health screening via ocular scanning and transformational power technologies.

“Innovation, to me, is not just technology and developing new things,” Hokanson said. “It’s asking, ‘How could we do what we’re doing better and more efficiently?’ Sometimes there is no materiel solution. It’s a process solution.”

The CNGB encourages Guardsmen across the country to bring forward new ideas that could make the organization better. Last December, the National Guard Bureau held an innovation challenge to showcase the inventive prowess of Guard members. The NGB plans to conduct innovation competitions biannually.

“If you are an individual or company and you think you might have an idea or piece of tech that could help our National Guard be better and more capable, we want to hear from you,” Hokanson said. “Reach out to your state National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters, or ARCWERX directly to start the process.

“The Guard has had to innovate for almost 400 years to stay relevant and provide our nation what it asks for,” he said. “And we can’t stop.”

 

 

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