Texas Tech ROTC cadets ‘ignite’ USSOCOM’s challenge to innovate

  • Published
  • By Phil Berube
  • Air University Public Affairs

A team of four Air Force ROTC cadets from north Texas has been traveling east over the past few months to help U.S. Special Operations Command find innovative solutions to problems special operations forces may encounter in the field.

The Texas Tech University cadets from Lubbock took part in the kick-off event of the USSOCOM Ignite innovation challenge in September 2021 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, only to travel east again in January 2022 to Ft. Bragg, N.C., to update U.S. Army Special Operations Command leaders on the progress they’ve been making with their project. 

At Ft. Bragg, the cadets and their other team members updated and received feedback from special operations operators on the work they’ve been doing since September on improving the navigability of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles in contested and degraded environments. The project is one of several others that cadets and researchers from select East Coast universities have been working on for USSOCOM. 

In its third year, USSOCOM Ignite is a yearly innovation challenge that brings together special operations forces operators, ROTC cadets and researchers to find solutions to real-world problems. 

The Texas Tech cadets are the first to represent the Air Force at the challenge, which is usually only open to Army ROTC cadets. Joining the Air Force cadets at the Ft. Bragg briefings were Army cadets from Harvard, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, St. John’s University, MIT, U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Rutgers.  

“Our detachment cadre have always understood that Texas Tech produces tech-savvy leaders of character ready to perform as officers on day-one of active duty,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Palacios, Texas Tech AFROTC Detachment 820 commander. “I’m most inspired and encouraged by our cadets’ ability to synthesize and apply what they are learning in the classroom to help solve real-world operational problem sets. To me, this is a spot-on demonstration of accelerating change. They clearly understand the operational imperative from our Air Force chief of staff, also a Texas Tech engineering graduate. I can’t wait to see what is to come for both this initiative and for our cadets as they apply these skills as officers on active duty in the near future.” 

The team of Texas Tech cadets are Nathan Morrow, Joseph Bresett, Redmon Warmsley and Brennan Quick. They will continue working through the spring semester on their project, with the possibility of going back to MIT to give a final briefing to USSOCOM leadership in late April 2022.

“Being a part of SOCOM Ignite has opened my eyes to the necessity of engineering in our military today,” said Bresett, who is majoring in electrical engineering. “Collaborating with other students of various degrees and experiences has been crucial when finding the most effective solution to a problem. I have also learned that, through consistent exposure, it is possible to gain competence in areas I previously thought were out of my scope.” 

Depending on the future potential of the projects being researched through Ignite, MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory and USSOCOM might provide funding for prototypes and possible fielding.

“My experience being a part of the Ignite project has allowed me to acquire both knowledge and experiences beyond what I thought possible at this stage of my Air Force career,” said Warmsley, a mechanical engineering major. “The professional environment in which I have conversed and learned during this project has motivated me to learn more, perform higher and dream loftier, realizing that very few things are out of the reach of those who are sedulous in the pursuit of their goals. Certainly, watching the seemingly separate branches of our military force come together, along with the private sector, top universities and ROTC from across the nation, speaks volumes to the value of teamwork and unity.” 

Morrow, Bresett and Quick were offered USSOCOM-sponsored summer internships at Ft. Bragg. All are working for a summer internship at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.