TAMPA, Fla. –
U.S. Central Command named U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Steven Matsunaga as the winner of its second CENTCOM Innovation Oasis competition on May 25, 2023, at CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa. Matsunaga was also awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for his development of a total force deployment dashboard (TFDD) that will help to fill a capability gap to expedite the analysis and quality control of large quantities of records instantaneously. Matsunaga, a Marine Air Ground Task Force planning specialist, and the force deployment noncommissioned officer in charge at U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, crafted the TFDD program with hopes of it being deployed throughout the military planning and execution community and across the CENTCOM area of responsibility.
“The fact that I was able to take a program, bring it here to CENTCOM, bring it to General Kurilla's attention, and speak to a wide audience and have them really grasp that problem and a solution for it... That's HUGE!,” Matsunaga said. “At the end of the day, I'm really just trying to give back, not just to Marine Corps or my MOS, but to anyone that might benefit with the application. I'd rather get this to a wider audience so that everyone can see and experience the benefit of it.”
The ‘Shark Tank’-like innovation competition was open to all U.S. service members and DoD civilians from seven USCENTCOM subordinate and component commands, including ARCENT; AFCENT; NAVCENT; MARCENT; SOCCENT; SPACECENT; and CENTCOM.
Each component command conducted their own individual innovation competitions and chose their top innovators to compete in the main event in Tampa.
These innovators had the privilege to present their ideas in front of a distinguished panel of tech industry leaders and senior military officials, including:
• Dr. Andrew Moore, Founder of Lovelace AI and former VP of Google AI Cloud
• Kevin Harrington, Entrepreneur, and original ‘Shark’ on Shark Tank
• Honorable Sue Gordon, former Deputy Director of National Intelligence
• Honorable Mac Thornberry, former Chair House Armed Services Committee
• General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM
• Fleet Master Chief Derrick Walters, senior enlisted leader CENTCOM
• Colonel Khaled Alrubaian, Kuwait senior national representative at CENTCOM
• Schuyler Moore, chief technology officer CENTCOM
Each finalist had ten minutes to present their innovation, followed by 15 minutes of questions and answers from the panel. Each presenter was evaluated along a set of criteria that included originality, scalability of concept and the overall presentation.
The presentations ranged from an electronic warfare virtual training environment to an AI prototype passenger tracker for noncombatant evacuation operations. The finalists chosen to present their innovation were selected from every U.S military service branch.
“Innovation Oasis 2023 has enabled us to spread the spirit of innovation across the command, encouraging all our team members to think of creative solutions to real-world problems,” said Schuyler Moore, CENTCOM chief technology officer. “The next great idea can come from a civilian or service member, a sergeant or a general. Innovation is agnostic of position or rank, and here at CENTCOM we will always encourage and elevate that kind of thinking and problem-solving."
Through just two iterations of the Innovation Oasis, CENTCOM has received hundreds of submissions from across the Department of Defense. The competition has provided a platform for service members to present ideas and to higher echelons of leadership.
“A lot of the times if you present something to your leadership, it can come across as presenting a problem but if you take the time to fully understand the problem, come up with a solution, and you're willing to advocate for that idea, whether it's a product or it's a policy change...I've never met a leader that isn't willing to embrace change for the sake of improvement,” Matsunaga said. “So, if you are willing to take the time to develop that situation and advocate, I guarantee a good leader is going to be willing to grab on to it. They're going to listen. There're going to elevate it. And it doesn't matter what rank you are, it doesn't matter your experience level in your career field, if you’re willing to put forth the effort, you can take that solution anywhere you need to.”