- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

An international defense consulting firm is ensuring that combat ideas from front-line troops are heard.

William Loftus, chief executive officer and president of Gestalt LLC, last month started up a Web site — www.TroopIdeas.com — dedicated to gathering tactical ideas from the battle front.

Since its inception, the Web site has received dozens of ideas from troops and veterans, who have used the site to brainstorm their ideas with the firm.

“A lot of innovations come from ivory towers,” Mr. Loftus told The Washington Times, “but a whole lot more comes from street smarts. Soldiers now have the capability to share with us their ideas and relay what they need.”

TroopIdeas.com was inspired by retired Marine Corps Capt. John Lewis, who wanted to find a way to spare other soldiers from circumstances that almost led to his death on his third tour of duty in Iraq.

Mr. Lewis, who was head of security at Camp Fallujah in the heart of the Sunni triangle, survived a massive roadside bomb attack in August 2004. A fellow Marine was killed, and another lost his arm.

Mr. Lewis understood that ambush bombings were a common problem in Iraq. He also knew troops didn’t have the necessary technology to share information while on patrol.

Many times, patrols would avoid hitting an improvised explosive device, or IED, or spot an unusual occurrence in a village but couldn’t get the information to other patrols fast enough, he said.

“Information-sharing between patrols was impossible at times,” Mr. Lewis said. “We really didn’t have a way to store or get information gathered out in the field to each other. We had no idea that day what we were in for or if another patrol had come across any IEDs earlier in the day. So we were all taking chances.”

According to GlobalSecurity.org, a defense think tank, nearly 40 percent to 60 percent of attacks against troops since 2003 began with either stationary or remote-controlled IEDs.

After months of rehabilitation, Mr. Lewis shared his story and his idea with Mr. Loftus at a Christmas party in 2005. Mr. Loftus said he was so impressed with the idea that a prototype called PatrolNet was created within months.

PatrolNet enables soldiers on patrol to track the “existence and specific geographic location of IEDs and other items” by cell phone with one another, Mr. Loftus said.

“John’s idea was simple, but it was something American troops didn’t have access to in Iraq,” Mr. Loftus said. “Within months, we took what John told us and developed it into something real. This is an idea that can save lives.”

The ideas submitted to the Web site are shared directly with the firm and kept private from other users of the site, Mr. Loftus said. The information then is vetted by the firm for possible future development, he said.

The ideas range from simple to complex combat-related technology.

One soldier suggested using a jamming device on Humvees that could counter cell phones used to detonate roadside bombs. Another suggested installing back-facing mirrors on helmets so soldiers could see behind them, a technology used by cyclists.

For Mr. Lewis, TroopIdeas.com offers servicemen and -women a place to share ideas they think will make a difference for others deployed after them. It also gives defense contractors a more realistic view of what’s needed on the front lines.

“I always thought, somebody needs to listen to the troops,” Mr. Lewis said. “I think the most important thing is that it gives the guys another conduit to express what they need. And it gives them a place where they know they’ll be listened to.”

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