[originally published on LinkedIn]
Just returned from an eye-opening 10-day trip to the Middle East, where I had the privilege of visiting U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) as a guest of General Kurilla.
It was an incredible privilege to spend time with soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines, coast guardsmen, and guardians across Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, and through video conferences in Syria and Jordan.
During my visit, it became evident that General Kurilla’s vision for innovation is gaining traction. Here are just a few examples that stood out:
- We witnessed rapid operational experimentation with low-cost commercial unmanned assets from new task forces in the Navy and Air Force (TF 52, 59, 99). These initiatives involved smart technical minds, innovative acquisition models such as leasing instead of buying, and most importantly, a rapid feedback loop to facilitate quick testing and learning.
- We met individual soldiers who took the initiative to improve their respective roles in artillery, logistics, maintenance, administration, medical, and more. Many of these soldiers hailed from the National Guard or Reserve, leveraging their civilian expertise and experiences. Our total force is brimming with talent.
- We visited with Coast Guardsmen who shared their ideas on digitizing paper manuals onto tablets and utilizing small UAVs to enhance situational awareness during interdictions.
While there were inspiring developments, we also identified numerous opportunities for improvement. The lack of interoperability between systems and network challenges were unmistakable hurdles. Surprisingly, we observed much less joint domain integration than we expected, particularly with the space and cyber domains, despite the rapid growth seen in those commercial sectors. Additionally, while some servicemembers were enthusiastic about showcasing and advancing their ideas, others felt stuck.
In my book, Hack Your Bureaucracy, and in my Harvard Kennedy School class, I stress the importance of understanding issues by observing the front lines and engaging with end-users. In other words: get out of the office or classroom!
I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to gain a firsthand glimpse of how a combatant command operates in an area of responsibility and to engage in meaningful conversations with servicemembers who candidly shared their insights on what works and what needs improvement.
As a father of twin 10-year-old girls, I deeply appreciate the sacrifices our servicemembers make, being away from their families to uphold our national security. Their dedication, kindness, and professionalism left a lasting impression on me.
A heartfelt thank you to General Kurilla, Lt. Gen Guillot, B. Gen John Cogbill, Daniel Leventry, Schuyler Moore, Major Leonhart, Master Sergeant Davis, and many others who made this experience possible!