USMC Commandant’s Innovation Challenge

In September 2016, the USMC announced the the first Commandants Innovation Challenge, sponsored by Marine Corps Combat Development Command/Deputy Commandant Combat Development and Integration (MCCDC/CDI), and hosted by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab/ Futures Directorate (MCWL/FD).  The purpose of this challenge was to solicit innovative ideas from Marines, Sailors, and government civilians from across the Marine Corps. The most promising ideas will be selected for one of several possible pathways towards a potential fielded capability. Challenge winners will have the opportunity to directly partner with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory to further develop their ideas into reality through, prototyping, experimentation, and possibly Marine Corps-wide fielding.

The Challenge:

  • Identify missions or tasks assigned to your unit that currently requires a Marine(s) to accomplish, and that could/should be replaced by a robotic or autonomous system.  Missions or tasks that are prime candidates for autonomous solutions are typically dull, dirty, or dangerous in nature.
  • Identify systems or technologies that will make you or fellow Marines more effective, efficient, or safer

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ISIS Propganda Analysis Published on Yahoo! Finance

While many experts say the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria is on the decline, you wouldn’t know it from the organization’s public narrative.

ISIS aggressively promotes the attacks it directs, supports or inspires. The extremist group recently took credit for attacks in Orlando and Brussels, reinforcing its image of being an unstoppable and legitimate network. And it has built that image through a troublingly savvy combination of traditional and new media.

ISIS’ propaganda engine yields four key marketing insights that highlight why the group’s messaging is so resilient. Check out my latest take in Yahoo! Finance breaking down ISIS’s propaganda strategy and identifying insights useful for any modern day marketing campaign.

The piece, titled “Here are the disturbing reasons ISIS marketing is so effective,” was published at Yahoo! Finance on August 27th.

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Resources For the Vet to Tech Transition

I found the transition out of the Marines and into the technology sector to be more stressful than I anticipated. To navigate this undertaking, I depended heavily on my network of friends, family, and coworkers. While I relied on my existing network, I was most surprised by the graciousness and selflessness of the many veterans I ended up connecting with during this process who shared their perspective, experiences, and lessons learned.

I organized the notes based on when each resource would be of the most value, but feel free to adjust as needed. This is a fairly comprehensive list and was unique to my background and the opportunities I was seeking. Still, I think a lot of the resources apply broadly to anyone else in a similar transitioning position.


One Year Out

Resources For the Vet to Tech Transition

During this period, my goal was to better understand fundamental business contacts, expand my professional network, get current on industry trends and topics, and refine my resume.



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Review of the “Project Management Foundations” Course at

The “Project Management Foundations” course is one of many Project Management focused courses provided by is an online learning platform which focuses mainly on software, creative, and business skills. LinkedIn offers a free 1 year Premium Subscription to veterans through their LinkedIn For Good program. This course is the first in a series of courses focused on Project Management.

Review of the "Project Management Foundations" Course at

I used this course as I was preparing to transition out of the U.S. Marine Corps and into a job in private industry. The majority of my job as an officer was to plan, execute, and assess operations. While the process was the same, I didn’t fully understand the lexicon of civilian project management nor some of the nuanced differences between running a military operation and a business project. This course helped me identify and understand the process and individuals involved so that I could better articulate my military experiences on my resume and in interviews while applying for project management related opportunities.

I thought this course was efficient in providing a high level overview of the key steps involved in project management. This course can also be used to prepare for the Project Management Professional certification which covers similar material. The process is broken down into the following steps, which I’ve summarized below.


1) Initiating a Project

This step focuses on identifying the key stakeholders (individuals or organizations who have a vested interest in the success or failure of the project), identifying the problem to solve, and specifying the broad level goals and objectives of the project. The goals and objectives are further broken down into requirements, deliverables, and success criteria. Risks and assumptions are identified as well as their potential impact. This step concludes with the development of a project charter and scope statement.


2) Planning a project

Once the team agrees on the purpose and scope of the project, a Work Breakdown Structure is developed. This document details the specific tasks that need to be accomplished as well as their estimated cost in people, time, and resources. They recommend breaking the tasks down into units that can be accomplished between status update meetings to ensure appropriate supervision of progress. The frequency of those status meetings is determined in the communications plan. Along with the communications plan, a budget, risk management, and quality management plan are developed. This is based off of a development plan which provides a timeline, identifies key dependencies between tasks, and outlines milestones. Lastly, since all plans will be modified as they are executed, a change management plan is created. This step ends when the project is approved.

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Review of “High Output Management” by Andy Grove

Andy Grove was the former chairman and CEO of Intel. “High Output Management” is consistently listed on reading lists for business, management, and entrepreneurship. Andy gives his perspective on building and managing a company by focusing on effective management processes. The book is broken down into three core areas:

Review of "High Output Management" by Andy Grove

1) Managing is the Work of a Business Perused by Teams

Andy claims that the output of the manager is the output of the teams under the manager’s control. I found this interesting since I often heard it in the service. As a leader, I was primarily judged by what my team accomplished or failed to do. I was ultimately responsible. This is most evident to the public when an incident occurs on a Navy ship and the leadership is fired.

The author also recommends a manager have no more than 6-8 subordinates. I can empathize with wanting to keep team sizes small and manageable. At some point, there are diminishing returns when growing and scaling a team and more delegation of decision making authority might be necessary. In the Marine Corps, the magic number is 3. The smallest unit, a fireteam, has one leader and 3 subordinates. This scales all the way to the top where the Marine Corps maintains 3 Marine Divisions on active duty.

Andy also talks about achieving managerial leverage. In order to increase your managerial productivity you can speed up your rate of work by applying production principles (like lean principles for individual workflow) or re-prioritize your activities to focus on those with the higher leverage (looking for nonlinear activities where a small input to a team has a large output)

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Review of “Venture Deals” by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson

Review and Notes from "Venture Deals"

Book Overview

The book “Venture Deals” is co-authored by Brad Feld (from the Foundry Group and TechStars) and Jason Mendelson (also of the Foundry Group). Prefaced by the tag line “Be smarter than your lawyer and venture capitalist,” the book aims to provide a general overview to the venture capital fundraising process for startup founders and employees, lawyers, and other venture capitalists.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. I read this book coming from a fairly limited understanding of finance and the basics of venture capital fundraising so I felt this book provided a solid understanding of the key players, vocabulary, and issues while also serving as a good reference document for the future. The book is fairly short, including a fairly extensive Appendix with example documents such as terms sheets and letters of intent. It was a relatively quick read and I’m sure I will re-read specific sections, if not the entire thing, again in the future.

A significant portion of the book focuses on various aspects of the term sheet, while the remaining sections detail topics such as alternative fundraising options, venture capital fund operations, negotiating tactics, and basic legal guidance. The book gets fairly technical in some portions in order to reinforce key concepts with detailed examples, however, these details aren’t overwhelmingly complex. In addition to the author’s perspective on the fundraising process, they also added comments from Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path in separate text boxes called “The Entrepreneur’s Perspective.” These are pretty useful as a summary of the key points and have some valuable additional insight.


Book Notes

For the rest of this post, I’m just going to highlight some of the quotes or concepts I found interesting or relevant as I progressed through the book. Some commentary is added where I felt it was relevant, but a lot of the content can stand alone.

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FPV Quadrotor Operation – DRS120 Flight Controller Configuration

This post follows the DRS120 Kit & Additional Components and DRS120 Hardware & Electronics Assembly posts. This post describes the steps necessary to install Cleanflight Configurator, flash the Betaflight firmware, and configure the flight controller software before operating the quadrotor.

DRS120 Flight Controller Configuration

After assembling the DRS120 FPV quadrotor, the next step is to install the autopilot software and calibrate the Remote Control. We will use the Cleanflight flight software to program the flight controller board.

Cleanflight is an community project that develops flight controller firmware and related tools. Cleanflight can be used on both multirotor and fixed-wing aircraft. The flight controller software is open source and is also a 32 bit version of the original 8 bit MultiWii software. Therefore, this software can fully leverage the 32 bit ST micro processor on the Micro Scisky flight controller board. Cleanflight consists of two primary pieces of software. The firmware is the code that runs on the flight controller board. Cleanflight also has a GUI configuration tool for updating the flight controller settings that runs on Windows, Linux, and OSX.

The first step is to install the the Cleanflight Configurator. It runs as an app within Google Chrome so you will need to install Google Chrome if you don’t already have it. Once Google Chrome is installed, install the Cleanflight Configurator application. Open up Google Chrome and access your application page at the following link and click on the Cleanflight icon.

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FPV Quadrotor Operation – DRS120 Hardware & Electronics Assembly

This post follows the post DRS120 Kit & Additional Components and describes the process for assembling the frame, installing the motors, flight controller, propellers, and FPV camera, as well as connecting the electronics.

DRS120 Construction

Once the complete list of parts is purchased and available, it is now time to assemble the quadrotor. The first step is to install the motors on the frame.

  1. Insert the (4) rubber motor grommets into the motor holes on the frame
  2. Place each motor into one of the ABS motor feet and wire protectors
  3. Referencing the below image, insert each motor/protector pair into the rubber motor grommets. Note that the motors with the red and blue wires spin in the clockwise direction while the motors with the black and white wires spin in the counter-clockwise direction.

Quadrotor Plus and X Motor Configurations

FPV Quadrotor Operation – DRS120 Kit & Additional Components

This post documents the components in a DRS120 quadrotor kit as well as some required additional components sold separately. This micro quadrotor is intended to be used for First Person View (FPV) flight. It’s small size makes it easy to transport, maneuverable indoors, and the quadrotor is not currently required to be registered with the FAA since it weights less than 250 grams. This quadrotor, fully constructed with a camera and 750mah 1S battery is only 62 grams.

The construction and autopilot software are fairly simple on this quadrotor making it ideal for beginning pilots. Learning the fundamentals of quadrotor maintenance, programming, and piloting will enable pilots to transition to larger platforms with advanced features and sensors such as a camera gimbal, GPS navigation, or obstacle avoidance.

DRS120 Kit and Additional Components

This quadrotor comes available as a kit from the Drone Race Shop. The kit contains the basic items needed to build the quadrotor including the kit, motors, propellers, battery, and flight controller. A few additional pieces of hardware are required to turn this quadrotor into an FPV racer. The kit is shown below and each of the major components will be described in more detail.

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WordPress & Heroku – Securing Your WordPress Database Connections

This post follows the post Heroku & WordPress Website Deployment which details how to create and publish a website using WordPress and Heroku. This post details how to secure the connections between the website administrator, the website database, and the website application.

Securing Your Login Domain

Each application also has a free SSL endpoint for the domain.The code below will protect your login credentials by setting the SSL domain in the configuration variables for all logged in sessions.

We can also update the “WordPress Address (URL)” setting which is the address where your WordPress core files reside. We will update it to include the https Herkou domain name. This can be updated in the WordPress settings page as shown below.

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WordPress & Heroku – Custom Website Development & Deployment

This post describes a rapid and flexible way to create, deploy, and maintain a website for free. I used WordPress to create and organize the website content, and Heroku to host and run the website.


WordPress is a free and open-source Content Management System which is arguably the easiest and most popular blogging system on the internet today. WordPress can be hosted off of the WordPress network or off of an alternate internet hosting service. We will be using Heroku to host our WordPress software.

We will also be taking advantage of the extensive theme and plug-in ecosystem to customize the website. WordPress themes allow users to change the look and functionality of a website quickly and without altering the website content. The plug-in architecture allows users to tailor a website with custom functions an features.

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