This Marine's Invention May Radically Reduce Pack Weight

Marines carry a lot of weight into the field.

Did we say a lot? We meant massive -- up to 100 pounds.

But now, one Marine's invention of an innovative ecosystem of smart products aims to resupply troops in the field and significantly reduce the weight they carry.  

Staff Sgt. Alexander Long V was one of 18 winners out of hundreds of applicants for the 2016 Marine Corps Innovation Challenge, which solicits innovative ideas from Marines, sailors and government civilians.

Staff Sgt. Alex Long was one of 18 winners in the 2016 Marine Corps Innovation Challenge. Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Alex Long/Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Alex Long was one of 18 winners in the 2016 Marine Corps Innovation Challenge. Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Alex Long/Marine Corps

Long created a logistics platform and a family of smart products that could increase resupply efficiency while reducing pack weight.

Say Hello to the PCARD

His project, the Personal Combat Assistant and Reporting Device (PCARD), is a suite of smart products, including a device that's about the size of a smartwatch.

The smart products allow fire team leaders and everyone in the chain of command to determine mission-critical needs in "real time."

A fire team leader can order food, water and other basic supplies as easily as ordering a pizza back home in the States.

Staff Sgt. Alex Long's project, the Personal Combat Assistant and Reporting Device (PCARD), is a suite of smart products, including a device that's about the size of a smartwatch. Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Alex Long/Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Alex Long's project, the Personal Combat Assistant and Reporting Device (PCARD), is a suite of smart products, including a device that's about the size of a smartwatch. Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Alex Long/Marine Corps

Squad leaders would be equipped with a tablet connected to all team wearables. Platoon commanders can then access that information and assess what is mission-critical and make immediate decisions for resupply.

"I saw an opportunity to help Marines in the field to get what they need, as quickly as possible, and reduce the overall carried weight," Long said.

The Weight of War

Marines in the field usually carry at least three days' worth of supplies, which can total a whopping 65 to 100 pounds, depending on situation and mission.

Long said much of that weight is consumables and hopes his project can reduce the overall carried weight by 33 percent.

"We spend so much effort and money in trying to make gear weigh less," he said, "when we really should be leveraging technology to improve resupply."

Military.com recently interviewed the Corps' deputy commandant for Installations and Logistics, Lt. Gen. Michael Dana.

He's particularly interested in swarming technology -- a concept demonstrated by DARPA, among others, in which large numbers of tiny, inexpensive UAVs group together to launch an attack or distract and confuse the enemy, or are tasked to resupply.

Staff Sgt. Alex Long's project, the Personal Combat Assistant and Reporting Device (PCARD), is a suite of smart products, including a device that's about the size of a smartwatch. Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Alex Long/Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Alex Long's project, the Personal Combat Assistant and Reporting Device (PCARD), is a suite of smart products, including a device that's about the size of a smartwatch. Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Alex Long/Marine Corps

Long says PCARD would be the perfect companion to a drone resupply program and would help deliver essential supplies in the most efficient manner possible.

As with any project that involves connected technology, security is a major concern and hurdle for a project such as PCARD.

"Cybersecurity is top-of-mind," Long said. "We are still in the testing phase for the prototype, but security is a high-priority."

Innovation, Devil Dog-Style

Dana appeared in a humorous video in which he announced the Innovation Challenge in 2016, designed to motivate participation from the younger generation of Marines.

In one scene, he's carrying an overloaded pack and says, "Man, this pack's heavy. We need to find a way to reduce the load on Marines."

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Long rose to that challenge and, as a result, was also selected to participate in the highly regarded entrepreneur Ignite program at Stanford University in July 2017.

While at Stanford, he learned core business and application skills that are helping him bring PCARD to life -- idea iteration, funding and product prototyping.

Long is currently the action officer for the Ammunition Logistics Focus team at Program Manager Ammunition at Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Virginia.

His project lead, Jennifer Walsh, serves as the Innovation Challenge lead for Marine Corps Headquarters' NexLog Innovation Cell, which hosted the challenge effort.

A prototype of the device was developed by Long and a collaborative team from defense contractor MD5, as well as a team from University of Southern Mississippi.

The PCARD prototype was then tested by undisclosed Marine units and is scheduled for further field testing at Camp Pendleton in October, Walsh said.

The Marine Corps Innovation Challenge

This year's challenge focuses on logistics. The most promising ideas will be selected for one of several possible pathways toward a potential fielded capability.

Challenge winners will have the opportunity to directly partner with Defense Department labs, university applied research labs and MD5 to further develop their ideas into reality through prototyping, experimentation, and possibly Marine Corps-wide fielding.

The 2017 Logistics Innovation Challenge will launch a website with the application process and requirements Aug. 15.

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