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Notes from the Shift5 team that supported the U.S. Army’s Scarlet Dragon Oasis 

FT BRAGG, NC – “My military background was a huge part of what allowed me to drive through this.” Zack Chappell credits his 22 years in the Air Force with preparing him to lead the Shift5 team that supported the U.S. Army’s Scarlet Dragon Oasis last month, although he admits, “I’m used to jumping out of planes, not really loading them.” Chappell, a Program Manager with Shift5, along with Chris Hughes and Jeremy Slatton, both Field Engineers with Shift5, made up the technical team responsible for implementing Shift5’s technology during exercise Scarlet Dragon.    

Scarlet Dragon is a quarterly live-fire, cross-domain, AI-driven targeting exercise led by the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps as part of the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) modernization initiative. This quarter’s exercise focused on data-centric warfare, with Shift5 and other commercial entities providing technical solutions on military vehicles that enable better insights to commanders.  

Chris Hughes (second from left), Zack Chappell (third from left), and Winnie (Zack’s yellow lab) supporting U.S. Army soldiers during Scarlet Dragon.  

Exercises like Scarlet Dragon, Chappell says, provide an unparalleled opportunity to test new technologies that support the warfighter. “When we first showed up, folks looked at the data problem we were trying to solve through a soda straw, but at the end of the exercise, the aperture was really opened wide. People were coming to us asking, ‘Are you the Shift5 guys? Let me talk to the Shift5 guys.’” It happened so often that participants from other units and services asked him about the technology. “They were telling us they could have really solved some issues by having this capability on their vehicles,” Chappell recounts.  

Hughes, a fellow Air Force veteran, personally witnessed this phenomenon while working alongside dozens of warfighters during the exercise. “I had a great appreciation for the opportunity to really listen to them and hear what they needed. Once the warfighters participating in the exercise saw the art of the possible, it got their gears turning on how cool it could be if they could see this or do that.” 

Hughes, who describes his Scarlet Dragon experience as “a fully immersive baptism by fire,” joined Shift5 just a few months ago. “What Shift5 brings is the difference between the ‘service engine soon’ light coming on in your car and having R2D2 in the back of the X-Wing telling you exactly what’s wrong. That’s what these guys were missing. They knew they were having issues with some things, but that was it. They’d have to take it back, dissect it, and hope to get to a root cause. We’re able to dig into the data deep enough that we can be much more specific and prescriptive as to what issues we’re seeing.”  

“We’re a non-biased data company,” said Chappell. “We’re not going to give you some good stuff or some bad stuff. The data is the data to us. We’re going to open your eyes and show you everything.”   

Chris Hughes and Jeremy Slatton during Scarlet Dragon.  

Jeremy Slatton, a Navy veteran and another member of Shift5’s Scarlet Dragon team, echoed Hughes’ sentiments. “The excitement from the customer was honestly nothing that I had experienced thus far in my career. The Army coming in as an end user and consumer of these platforms, really wanting to lean forward on industry to advance the state of these platforms, was really impressive to me. There were no rose-colored glasses.” 

Slatton, who’s held several different positions across the IT and OT space since leaving the service, described his Scarlet Dragon experience as something quite special. “Working at the tactical edge is a different ballgame. You actually get to solve problems rather than be forced to think theoretically. In my career in the past, it’s been a lot of program office work, a lot of lab work. This was nice to experience the user and the technology in a real-world application.”  

He added. “In my role at Shift5, I’ve really enjoyed being able to take technology into a problem space where people are excited to have us.” 

“It was good to know that we’d formed that rapport and were actually showing them value,” added Hughes. “It’s gonna be hard to beat this experience.”