Airman Schools Mark Cuban On How Military Procurement Is A Mess In Four Simple Words

Innovation competition finalist was awesomely blunt to Mark Cuban and the USAF’s leadership when it came to how broken Pentagon procurement is.

byTyler Rogoway|
U.S. Air Force photo


The Air Force's Air Warfare Symposium is underway in Orlando and part of the program is the final judging for this year's Spark Tank innovation award. A special guest was on the panel who is no stranger to the pressure of picking winners—billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner and the star of ABC's Shark Tank, Mark Cuban. Also among the judges were Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright—so yeah, no pressure right!? 

During the judging, one competitor's presentation, in particular, resulted in an absolutely classic exchange that was so glaringly truthful and so well timed, while also being a bit brave, that it stole the entire show.

Staff Sergeant Travis Alton of the 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base came up with a novel piece of equipment that could really help with the reliability of air drops from cargo aircraft. An official USAF description of his invention reads:

"M-1 Cargo Parachute: Staff Sgt. Alton developed a fail-safe device that physically prevents the timing mechanism from releasing in the event of a timer malfunction while not interfering, impeding or hindering current rigging methods and/or procedures. It’s designed to eliminate malfunctions created by the cargo parachutes releasing prematurely in the event of a timer malfunction."

When pitching his invention to the judges, Mark Cuban tossed Airman Alton a curveball question that he, in turn, smashed out of the park. The snappy reply might have been somewhat troubling for the Air Force power players on the stage if it weren't so blatantly and notoriously true. 

Check out the exchange below:

In fact, those four brilliant, but raw words were so damn relevant that Heather Wilson got up and gave him a hug as the crowd thundered with applause. And even after Mark Cuban jumped back in to grill him on his salesmanship abilities, or lack thereof, Staff Sergeant Alton pulled it together to deploy yet another hard-hitting comeback that resulted in another round of applause from a crowd that was clearly familiar with his sentiment.

It turns out that Travis Alton's invention didn't take the title as this year's Spark Tank winner, but I think it's safe to say his genius rebuttal to Cuban's question made him the true champion of the day. And in the end, Alton created maybe the most impressive Air Force invention of all—a way to tell the very top of the service's leadership just how miserable the force's procurement process is right to their faces while also being universally appreciated for doing so. 

Well done Travis Alton, well done. 

You can watch the entire Spark Tank final judging event here.

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