HARLINGEN — Rio Grande Valley entrepreneurs and institutions put their best ideas forward this week for a tour conducted by what may be the most innovative arm of the U.S. military.
Army Gen. John Murray, who commands the new U.S. Army Futures Command based in Austin, accompanied by U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, and Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, held a news conference Wednesday at Valley International Airport to answer questions about a tour of space facilities United Launch Alliance in Harlingen and SpaceX in Boca Chica Beach, as well as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Murray called the visit to the Valley, which included a pinning ceremony for Vietnam War veterans, “phenomenal.”
“One of my tasks from the Army’s senior leadership is to find innovation and to find new ideas for the Army wherever it may be,” he said.
The Army Futures Command, with 26,000 troops, was formed about 18 months ago to try to help provide the Army and other military services with innovations over a broad range of subjects, including six core areas consisting of long-range precision fire, the next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities and soldier lethality.
Implicit in this new command is finding ways within these areas to simplify often cumbersome military procurement processes and reduce costs.
“I really, truly appreciate the exposure I got today at a variety of different places — SpaceX, ULA, and other places at the university where some of, in my opinion, some of the brightest minds in the country are working on the country’s toughest problems,” he said. “We very much look forward to partner and looking for opportunities throughout this region.”
Murray said one of his modernization priorities for which he witnessed some potential applicability during his tour was “soldier lethality.”
“One of the modernization priorities is what we call soldier lethality, which is much bigger than the ‘lethality’ word that goes along with it,” he said. “Its protection, its health and its human performance, which is again part of what I saw at the university. From the ULA and the SpaceX standpoint, communications primarily, which is our network priority.
“And then there were also some applications for our next generation combat vehicle which is also a modernization priority,” he added.
For Vela’s part, he said tours such as the one with the general are important to let the rest of the nation know the Rio Grande Valley is more than just a geographical focus for debates over immigration and border issues.
He noted the Valley’s population is now around 1.6 million, and mentioned the establishment of UTRGV and the upcoming May graduation ceremonies for the UTRGV medical school’s first class.
“One of the things that as members of Congress I think is important for us, is to let the rest of the nation know that this region, albeit on the border, has a lot of other things going on and that was one of the primary reasons for inviting General Murray down here to the Rio Grande Valley,” he said.
Boswell also was energized by the general’s visit to the Valley and Harlingen, praising the opportunity to talk up some of the innovative new manufacturing which is occurring here, like ULA, as well as UTRGV’s new Institute for Neuroscience which just had its ground-breaking in the city.
“This has been a really fantastic couple of days with what the Congressman has done here, and spoke to our Vietnam veterans, but also to bring General Murray and his team down to the Rio Grande Valley to show them all of the potential opportunities there are, and perhaps to work with or to use some of the resources that we have,” Boswell said.
Murray stressed that the Army Futures Command, although Texas-based, is a force with a national scope. In just 18 months, he said, he has toured extensively looking for potential innovation within the scope of his command directives.
“I have been across the country and seen many of the same things and many of the same ideas I felt today,” he said. “There is no place that I have seen that is more impressive than what I was able to see today. Some phenomenal thinking, some phenomenal ideas.
“I’ve been tasked to incorporate that in some of the Army’s future,” he added.
Vela said one of the highlights was their visit to SpaceX.
“I might also say we had the pleasure of meeting with Elon Musk at SpaceX this afternoon, and there’s something he said that I thought was really important,” Vela said. “He said, ‘If you want to predict the future, you have to make it.’
“All of these folks we met with today are obviously focused on doing just that,” he added.