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Let your innovation be known

  • Published
  • By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center

LOUISVILLE, Tenn. – The news drew excitement and pride from many in the Air Force last month, an announcement of finalists in the Spark Tank competition that collects innovative ideas from the Air Force major commands and selects the best at the headquarters level.


There were promotional videos on each idea, there was improving old processes with new technology, and there was improving new technology with old know-how, and amid the plans, there was a prevailing sentiment to strengthen our total Air Force.


“It is up to every individual in the Air Force for their idea to be heard,” said Tech. Sgt. Bartek Bachleda, 22nd Air Refueling Wing, in his unit’s submission video for a better KC-135 boom instructor platform.


Representing Air Mobility Command, Bachleda and his active duty Wing's idea to rethink ergonomically the cushions and platform they used to train boom operators, came after encouragement from the commander.


“It should be up to every commander and supervisor to nurture that environment,” Bachleda said. “Because every single person in the Air Force has an idea that could save thousands of millions of dollars or perhaps change the quality of life for the next generation.”


Well represented among the finalists was the U.S. Air Forces in Europe- the 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's mobile pod stand that cuts time and personnel, and the Tennessee Air National Guard - the 164th Airlift Wing’s use of augmented reality for aircraft maintenance. Other MAJCOMs were Global Strike Command – the 90th Munitions Squadron’s approach to recycling brass ammo casings, Air Force Reserve Command – the mobile device app that connects Airmen’s common access cards to websites, and Air Mobility Command – the Scott Air Force Base’s concept for augmenting airfield information and graphic displays.


The finalists’ videos can be watched here:


If you did not submit your idea, those who know it still appreciate your innovative effort that fills an essential need for the Air Force. You may require teams of Airmen who believe in your idea’s importance, but it began with a notion, or someone saying, “What if.”


At my unit last year, a new Airmen Leadership School blended learning course cut the time and cost of enlisted professional military education. A public affairs writing course mentored journalists through emailed spotlights, social media, and distance article editing. A live-stream television project networked desktop computers to broadcasts. Someone along the line thought up these efforts, and others supported them.


Not to be outdone, my guidon stand was also the talk of the campus (not indeed). So I’m submitting it here unofficially as an Air Force innovation entry.


There’s no doubt that headquarters will take no notice of my four pieces of wood screwed together on a Saturday to improve student flight photos. I don’t have a video to pitch the idea.


Class photos for Airmen Leadership School and NCO Academy include a student flight’s guidon. The guidon – a blue angular flag on a wood pole – is carried by students throughout class to identify their group. It also sets a prominent tone for their photographs, with pride among the student flights.


“We should make a stand to hold the guidon sideways, so the students don’t have to hold it during photos,” I thought last year.


It was downhill from there. After some sketching and measuring, I sawed and screwed some pieces of wood together and painted it all flat black. I asked Master Sgt. Jerry Harlan: “Can you design a sticker of the EPME Center's emblem to place on it?"


By the time the next group of students walked into the studio, we were prepared to test the stand. I was ready for it not to work, but we were impressed.


“It looks and works great,” said Sergeant Harlan. “You took it from concept to reality. Nice job.”


“We did it together,” I told him.


There’s also no denying that it saves us some hassle trying to get students to hold the guidon sideways and level for a photograph. But there is also the effort to make these photos look better, like Sergeant Bachleda said, to "change the quality of life," which reassures me that we can all be innovative.