'We Don't Want History to Get Lost:' Fort Bragg Soldier Proposes Way to Preserve Veteran Photos

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"Dragon's Lair" innovation contest
Panelists evaluate the innovative concept presented by Maj. Evan Adams during the first "Dragon's Lair" innovation contest. (U.S. Army)

"The Dragon's Lair" has received online shout-outs from actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, comedian Jeff Foxworthy, and mixed martial arts fighters Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell.

It's part of the 18th Airborne Corps' Dragon Innovation program for soldiers and family members to pitch ideas and solutions to improve quality of life or readiness across the corps.

Each month, the top ideas are picked for soldiers to make 10-minute pitches to judges, similar to the television show "Shark Tank."

And on Tuesday, Fort Bragg soldier Sgt. 1st Class Ashely Savage entered the Dragon's Lair to propose that the corps implement a central website or mobile application to store photos from soldiers, veterans and family members for historical documentation.

Savage is a public affairs officer with the 3rd Special Forces Group but has worked for the 16th Military Police Brigade and other units at Fort Bragg.

Her idea, she said, started with veterans and organizations sending photos to the military police brigade.

She placed the photos on a computer hard drive for the brigade's next public affairs officer when she received a new assignment with the 18th Airborne Corps.

"I realized the corps could use a lot of those photos for historical purposes, but there was a problem with archiving unofficial photos," Savage said.

She said when being assigned to a new unit, if she didn't leave notes for the next public affairs officer describing the photos, there was a possibility they could get lost.

"We don't want history to get lost," she said.

The idea Savage pitched Tuesday was to have a central corps online server or cloud to store the photos to allow anyone -- not just public affairs officers or combat photographers -- to upload content.

Sliding a beat-up shoebox toward the judges when she made her pitch, Savage said photos are often abandoned.

Yet she held up a 1942 photo of an all-Black Fort Bragg regiment that someone found in an old house and emailed to her. She said the photo isn't found anywhere on the internet.

It was one of many examples she had of personal photos taken by soldiers themselves and not a public affairs officer or combat photographer.

"As time passes, people lose photos and, unfortunately, people pass away, and maybe someone inherits the shoebox full of memories. But this ensures they don't get lost," Savage said.

Savage said though the website or mobile application she proposed would be open to anyone, she is proposing the content be approved by a public affairs officer or leader to ensure it doesn't violate operational security standards.

"The unofficial photos, in my opinion, is where the best stories are," Savage said. "I think it's a part of history people miss out on."

Savage pitched her idea in front of panelists who included: Lt. Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps; Command Sgt. Maj. TJ Holland, the senior enlisted adviser for the corps; Command Sgt. Maj. Phelicia Redd with the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command; author and New America political scientist Peter Singer; and retired Sgt. Maj. Ken Ramos, a senior administrator for social media page U.S. Army WTF!Moments.

Savage said for senior leaders to be at the table listening to the soldiers' ideas shows "they're a people-first organization."

"Smart ideas are sometimes trapped in the formations with specialists and privates," she said. "This is a way to release those ideas. ... It's definitely a way to empower the people in the command to solve problems. The Army is full of adaptive thinkers."

The winner of Tuesday's challenge will be announced Thursday.

Other contestants included:

  • Sgt. Maj. Colon-Hernandez, a Fort Knox, Kentucky, soldier, proposed a digital wearable device on the arms of combat medics that would allow vitals and medical histories of deployed soldiers to be synched if a soldier is wounded in combat.
  • Capt. Lisa Bailey, a 10th Mountain Division soldier in New York, proposed establishing a program that allows more soldiers to become licensed clinical social workers, thereby filling a critical gap in behavioral health support.
  • Chief Warrant Officer Erin Silden, a 101st Airborne Division soldier at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, proposed using a protector plate for mobile refrigeration systems to prevent damage.
  • Spc. Trevor Cross, a 101st Airborne Division soldier at Fort Campbell, proposed using a forklift generator when moving generators that are currently moved with Humvees, a process Cross described as time-consuming.

Officials said the next round of Dragon's Lair is scheduled for January and open to the 92,000 soldiers across all seven major installations that fall under the corps' command.

Winners are given a four-day pass, Meritorious Service Medal, a slot for the school of their choice and the opportunity to work with senior leaders to implement their ideas.

Ideas for improvement could address training, morale, fitness, family or "every aspect of life and service within the corps," officials said.

Users can submit text, slides, video or other formats to include with their solution online at https://innovatedefense.net/xviii-airborne.

This article is written by Rachael Riley from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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