The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is looking for a few good, tech-savvy noncommissioned officers to help find innovative ways to fight.

What started as an informal program that brought a handful of junior Marines to the nerve center of future war planning in Quantico, Virginia, has now grown to become a regular and growing fixture of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, officials said.

The next call will come through an official Marine Corps MARADMIN message, possibly by late April, and will ask for submissions to fill as many as 20 slots for six-month tours at that lab this coming year, said Lt. Col. Dan Schmitt, head of the field testing branch at the lab.

In 2016, staff at the lab for the first time brought a sergeant, and then two more NCOs, who worked on drones, cyber and 3-D printing.

This past year 16 Marines were selected to spend six months at the lab focusing on future urban fight initiatives. Their work will be showcased at the Urban Technology Demonstration scheduled for early next year at Camp Pendleton, California.

“We’re finding the young Marines are the digital natives,” Schmitt said.

Capt. Eric McCrery, a lab project officer, said that the development of Sea Dragon 2025, the Marines’ new initiatives to modernize the Corps and restructure the infantry battalion, was top heavy with officer involvement but lacked NCO input.

But that’s changed with some minor shifts and very capable junior Marines bringing new ideas over the past two years.

“At the lab, we believe that good ideas have no rank,” McCrery said. “We look at each other as colleagues and peers with the same objective ― winning.”

Sgt. Ryan Reeder was one of the initial NCOs selected for the fellowship. An infantryman by trade, he also has a degree in computer science that he put to work on the Tactical Decision Kit, a wargaming system built with drones, laptops and a virtual reality headset that lets squad leaders test battle plans and playback how Marines performed in the field.

Work at the lab isn’t just detailing future battleplans, Schmitt said. Decisions that come out of the lab can influence policy and long-term procurement of weapons systems and gear.

He pointed to work that Reeder and others have done with live force free play experimentation, force-on-force situations that “create chaos and uncertainty.”

“We see innovations right in front of our face,” Schmitt said.

The hope is to expand the program to 30-60 NCOs each year. The next wave will likely focus on decentralized logistics, communications, information technology and offensive and defensive cyber operations, Schmitt said.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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