FORT STEWART — Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Lopez enlisted in the U.S. Army as a wide-eyed 17-year-old straight out of high school. An infantryman for nearly half his life now, he's comfortable with a top-down command structure where officers tell him what to do and how to do it.
Even so, Lopez acknowledges the flaws in the “Army way.” Soldiers are issued equipment and told to go use it, “and that's what you do, even if said equipment doesn't always work,” Lopez said.
The Marne Innovation Center, a problem-solving hub located on this sprawling U.S. Army installation near Savannah, is empowering 3rd Infantry Division soldiers to address faulty equipment and other issues they encounter from the barracks to the battlefield.
Lopez is assigned to this military makerspace outfitted with powerful design computers, 3-D printers and fabrication equipment. The center has produced dozens of innovations in its short history: a mold-detection device useful in the base's sleeping quarters; a plastic clip that makes an ammo pouch for belt-loaded machine guns more easily accessible; and a plastic-and-silicone reproduction of a human arm used to train soldiers to apply tourniquets and treat major wounds.
The early returns reflect the success in building what the center's ranking officer, Capt. Christopher Flournoy, calls “a culture of innovation” at Fort Stewart. And why Army brass from the garrison to the…