DVIDS – News – Military Innovation Spotlight: Meet the Dragon’s Lair Champions

DVIDS - News - Military Innovation Spotlight: Meet the Dragon’s Lair Champions

Photo By Sgt. Maxine Baen |
1st Lt. Aliperti and Pvt. Ezz, assigned to the Marne Innovation Lab, 3rd Infantry…
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Three years ago, in an effort to tackle and conquer challenges within its units, the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps initiated a search for fresh and innovative ideas from Soldiers across the force. As a result, Dragon’s Lair, a “Shark Tank”-style competition, was born at Fort Liberty, N.C. Since its inception, eight winners have emerged, and the Army has already begun to implement their fresh and innovative ideas across the force to tackle modern problems.

Capt. Mahdi Al Husseini, a MEDEVAC pilot with the 25th Infantry Division, won the fifth episode of Dragon’s Lair after an impressive presentation at Fort Liberty in August 2021. An inventor by nature and pilot by trade, he produced an artificial intelligence-based system that scans pilots’ movements and controls throughout flights, gathering data that can later be studied by the individual. The system, which is composed of both hardware and software, allows aviators to evaluate their flying skills post-flight, leading to improved job performance and increased flight safety for both pilots and patients.

Dragon’s Lair provided an outlet for Al Husseini to exhibit years of hard work and an aspiration to help others. “Winning Dragon’s Lair V affirmed my belief that the Army is willing to put time and resources towards innovations that positively affect the everyday lives of Soldiers,” said Al Husseini. “Those submitting ideas should place emphasis on the ‘why’ and the bottom-line benefit for the Soldiers, unit, and the Department of Defense.”

For Al Husseini, innovation and creativity are a family affair. “My father and older brother were civil and computer engineers respectively, and they inspired me to pursue a similar path,” said Al Husseini. “It was also my childhood dream to be an inventor – a dream in active fulfillment, as I reached 30+ patents and patent applications earlier this year. There is something incredible about bringing to life that which did not exist before.”

Al Husseini currently serves in two roles at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Working as an operations officer in the 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, he is responsible for coordinating aeromedical evacuation and training throughout Hawaii and the Indo-Pacific region. As a registered patent agent and the director of innovation for Lightning Labs, 25th Infantry Division’s premier innovation center, he helps develop and field Soldiers’ innovations in accordance with military, academic, and industry partners. Al Husseini is also a researcher for Stanford University and studies human-autonomy collaboration in military operations. He also attended and graduated from the Military Freefall School earlier this year, an opportunity afforded to him as a prize for winning Dragon’s Lair.

A few months after Al Husseini’s win, in December 2021, Dragon’s Lair VI was hosted once again at Fort Liberty and resulted in the competition’s first non-Army champions. Capt. Justin O’Brien, an Air Force officer then serving at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, helped lead a small group of Airmen to victory at the competition. Their creation, a water-cooled and battery-operated vestlike system called the AccliMate, was initially devised by O’Brien while he was deployed and brainstorming ways to relieve heat-related stress using his plate carrier system. Years later, while leading a large group of Security Forces members, he realized that the heat issue was still negatively affecting the force. From this, his motivation to create the AccliMate sparked.

AccliMate, which can be worn under body armor, under a backpack, or by itself, uses a hydration bladder and a series of tubes to direct water to a battery-operated pump. The pump moves water through heat conductive pads, which then cool various parts of the body. Once the body heats the water and cooling effects are lost, the user then drinks the water, pulling fresh water through the pump and continuing the cycle. After its successful launch at Dragon’s Lair VI, AccliMate’s development has thrived, securing funding and creating partnerships between the Air Force and small businesses.

Dragon’s Lair VI marked a significant milestone in the competition’s history, as it welcomed participation from all branches of the U.S. military, solidifying the importance of joint partnerships. “It has been a great experience to see the Army and Air Force services work so closely together to develop a device that will directly impact the lives of our warfighters across both services,” said O’Brien. “I fully believe that events such as the Air Force’s Spark Tank and the XVIII Airborne Corps’ Dragon’s Lair drive service members to think critically and seek ways to accomplish our various missions with greater speed, maneuverability, and lethality.”

Today, O’Brien works at the Air Force Research Laboratory on Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. While he was the lead on the AccliMate project, O’Brien credits much of the work to his Air Force teammates, Master Sgt. Philip Barry and Master Sgt. Ryan Powers, and believes that creating the system would not have been possible without them. Like O’Brien, Barry and Powers are both still actively working on the AccliMate’s development. Barry is currently serving as a key leader within Tesseract, a subcomponent of the Air Force’s Office of Innovation, and has worked tirelessly to make AccliMate a reality. Over the past few months, Powers has been leading the charge on increasing product awareness and distribution, touring various military installations within the U.S. Central Command footprint to introduce AccliMate and collect user feedback on the system. Within the next year, O’Brien and his team expect the AccliMate to receive a National Stock Number (NSN) and be available for purchase.

The most recent competition iteration, Dragon’s Lair VIII, took place in Tampa, Fla., in March 2023. During the competition, Spc. Salem Ezz of the 3rd Infantry Division achieved a remarkable victory with his state-of-the-art invention, the Mold Conditions Assessment Tool (MCAT). The device, which has since been installed in countless barracks rooms across Fort Stewart, Georgia, was created in response to ongoing mold issues at the installation. Low cost and simple to use, the system allows service members to use their smartphones to track moisture and humidity levels within their living spaces, increasing awareness of mold-inducing conditions and mold presence. Ezz, who currently works at the Marne Innovation Center (MIC) as the lead software engineer, was inspired to concoct the device upon discussing the idea with fellow innovators at the MIC.
Ezz’s passion for technology and innovation is abundant, and he hopes that fellow service members will feel empowered to follow in his footsteps. “The best advice I can give innovators is to build out an idea as much as possible, even if the resources and capabilities to execute it full-scale are not yet available,” stated Ezz. “Having prototypes proves both commitment and viability.”

Upon exiting the Army later this year, Ezz will begin employment at the Civil-Military Innovation Institute (CMI2), a West Virginia based pro-military nonprofit organization that aims to create unique solutions to modern military issues. Upon joining the CMI2, Ezz’s development of the MCAT will continue, solidifying his commitment to improving Soldiers’ quality of life even as he transitions to the civilian world. In addition to entering his new career path, Ezz also intends to earn a master’s degree in computer science.

O’Brien, Al-Husseini, and Ezz are among a unique legacy of service members who have championed Dragon’s Lair since the competition’s initiation in 2020.

This week, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and XVIII Airborne Corps will co-host the competition and seek a ninth winner to join this exclusive group of innovators.

Eight innovator team finalists were selected to present their innovation out of a pool of service members representing all ranks and branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The Dragon’s Lair IX innovation finalists who will present in the competition on Nov. 2nd are:

-Expeditious Container Solution
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Cummins, 82nd Airborne Division
Spc. Akan Atkins, 82nd Airborne Division
Spc. Dominic Pereida, 82nd Airborne Division

-Digital Force Protection Training and Kit Identity Withheld – Green Beret actively serving in Army Special Operations, U.S. Army Special Operations Command

-Automatic Translation of Radio Communications
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Aaron Foster, 11th Cyber Battalion
Capt. Samuel Miller, 11th Cyber Battalion

-Electromagnetic Warfare Decoy Emitter
Capt. Christopher Flournoy, 3rd Infantry Division
Staff Sgt. Michael Holloway, 3rd Infantry Division

-A Practical Replacement for the SKEDCO
Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Ensinger, 7th Transportation Brigade
Staff Sgt. Jonathon Ensinger, 101st Airborne Division

-Standardization for Transporting a Patient on a Ship
Chief Hospital Corpsman Patrick McTavish, Afloat Training Group Middle

-Reception Company In-Processing Questionnaire App
Capt. Jack Rector, 25th Infantry Division
Sgt. Soomin Song, 25th Infantry Division

-Cost Effective Non-standard EW/CYBER Capability
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Eric McClure, 3rd Multi-Domain Task Force


Date Taken: 10.31.2023
Date Posted: 10.31.2023 18:36
Story ID: 456910
Location: CAMP H.M. SMITH, HI, US 
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