FYSA Podcast: Change Agents

  • Published
  • By J.M. Eddins Jr., Airman Magazine
  • Podcast By Senior Airman Mikayla Daly & Angel Orozco
For your situational awareness, today’s Airmen are collaborative, connected and they want to serve, making them the most valued asset in the U.S. Air Force. But what  good is having super-intelligent Airmen if nobody’s listening to them? Join us to learn how a culture shift in leadership is encouraging positive change and repeatable innovation throughout the enterprise.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. , has been a champion of encouraging the Total Force to adopt and support a culture of innovation, collaboration and accountability in order to keep pace with, and surpass, the capabilities of near peer adversaries.

“We are seeing two significant challenges converge,” Brown said. “First, the return to strategic competition with near peer adversaries able to threaten not only the American homeland, but its ideals and values. The second, the need to holistically transform our Air Force to compete, deter and win in a highly contested environment but blocked by bureaucracy, prioritization and the application of resources.”

Brown’s assessment that threats posed by Russia and China are now of primary strategic concern necessitates the Air Force to reset the way it operates and thinks to respond successfully.

“To overcome these challenges, we must transform our culture to one that values innovation, collaboration and accountability,” Brown said. “… We must move with a sense of urgency today in order to rise to the challenges of tomorrow. Because the return to strategic competition is our nation’s greatest challenge.”

Brown’s white paper for achieving cultural change, “Accelerate Change or Lose” is supported by four Action Orders to add speed to actions and decisions, and infuse a sense of innovation across the force.

“Over the last year, I have seen the embers of a culture shift,” he said. “Our shift in culture has empowered Airmen to reduce bureaucracy and to decide what to prioritize by what is truly value added.”

He added, “Based on our deliberate efforts to change and define culture, I believe we have started to set conditions to ensure U.S. airpower can continue to be decisive in 2030 and beyond… When Airmen are empowered, nothing should stand in their way of making positive change,” Brown said.
For example, a small team of innovation experts at the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center is empowering speed, innovation and change across the service.

Innovative Ventures

Since its inception in November 2018, the center’s Ventures Innovation Office has helped Airmen land $70 million in funding to pursue ideas for delivering better, faster installation and mission support.

The team has fully developed a dozen of these ideas, ranging from software and mobile applications to equipment modifications and quality-of-life projects. They have several more innovations in various stages of design.

“Our innovation team knows how to cut through bureaucracy, forging partnerships between industry and our Airmen and Guardians to deliver innovative solutions, including sourcing the funding to turn concepts into capabilities,” said Col. Lance Clark, director of AFIMSC’s Expeditionary Support and Innovation Directorate. “Their work is helping families get better support and giving commanders tools to deliver faster, leaner and more lethal operations."

The team combines strong government and industry partnerships with a knack for navigating contract, acquisition and funding programs to take ideas from conception and development to testing and implementation.

The office, composed of three project managers, stood up with a budget of $1 million. Nearly 90% of project funding, however, comes from other government and industry sources.

Serving as the innovation center for the entire installation and mission support community, ideas come to the team through a variety of ways, including the annual AFIMSC Innovation Rodeo. During the 2021 event, all eight finalists received funding and support for their ideas.

“We are always happy to talk through ideas and help drive them to full implementation,” said Dustin Dickens, another project manager. “We often connect with innovators, Spark Cells and other innovation teams at AFWERX innovation collaboration events and project efforts. We also had great success at the San Antonio Innovation Summit, connecting with city, industry, and Airmen and Guardians.”

When a good idea comes in, the project managers get to work determining viability, building a team with the right stakeholders and partners, and charting a path forward.

The overall goal is an innovation that is repeatable and available across the enterprise.

The team has projects that are already developed and beginning implementation. Intelligent Lockers providing Airmen and Guardians living in the dorms a secure mail locker. The systems give residents convenient access to their mail and packages while freeing up space and reducing mail-processing times at installation post offices. The first lockers were installed at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and is a capability that can be easily replicated at other installations.

Airman 1st Class Ricardo “Noah” Morales, an E8-C Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System journeyman with the 461st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Robins AFB, received a share of $1 million in funding from AFIMSC to develop his idea for potential implementation across the Air Force and Department of Defense.

Morales came up with the idea after joining the Air Force and realizing the service lacked package pickup and delivery options for Airmen living in base dorms. Because of work schedules, mail processing time and limited post office hours, Airmen sometimes wait several days to get their mail and packages, he said.

Senior Airman Tyler Strauser earned 2nd place in the 2020 Innovation Rodeo with his idea for replacing the current manual mapping of underground cabling and wiring with digital mapping coupled with the use of augmented reality glasses by civil engineers to save time and simplify processes. Augmented Reality for Utility and Communications Infrastructure was purchased and is being tested for feasibility and sustainability at Eglin AFB, and Hurlburt Field, Florida.

First Lt. Tyler Moore, defense support flight officer in charge with the 366th Security Forces Squadron at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, put forth an electronic system to replace handwritten traffic citations, eCitation, which allows patrolling installation police and security forces to rapidly scan driver’s licenses and auto-populate information onto a citation. A contract for the system has been awarded; delivery and implementation is underway at Mountain Home.

Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Suddarth, of the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron, launched an initiative to switch from gas-powered to electric tools for firefighters, which was purchased and is being tested for feasibility and sustainability at Eglin AFB, Florida. Switching to electric reduces equipment weight, lowers fuel costs and, most importantly, makes it easier and faster to reach and treat victims.

Virtual Innovation Support Integration Operations Network, or VISION, is a web-based software application establishing an Air Force innovation ecosystem tool allowing project entry, management, education, team establishment, collaboration, chat, analytics, task management and tracking of innovation ideas.
Developed and tested under the name Digital Innovation Dashboard, the concept was revised using input from AFWERX, Spark Cells and multiple major commands. It resulted in full release with collaboration from Platform One in record time. VISION is now available for use Air Force-wide.

The Kinderspot App is a mobile app that centralizes and streamlines the subletting of short-term slots at military child development centers. The app launched at nine installations in 2021; further refinement is in progress and future rollout is expected soon.

A crowdsourced tool, the Wing Feedback App, helps service providers and installation leadership improve all services across the base. The mobile app gives users an easy-to-use avenue to share feedback about their experiences with services and facilities they use regularly on an Air Force installation. The app is in testing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and Laughlin AFB, Texas, and at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. The development team and stakeholders are continually refining features and focus to better serve customers.

The What’s Up App is an installation community events mobile app aimed at building connectedness and camaraderie among Airmen and Guardians. The app serves as a centralized bulletin board for an installation or organization. It has been released at Yokota Air Base, Japan, and Clear Space Force Station, Alaska, and is in testing at AFIMSC. The team is preparing for additional base rollouts, including Eglin AFB.


Addressing Bias

Brown’s orders to change the culture of the Air Force encouraged Senior Airman Gabrielle DeQuire, 17th Operational Weather Squadron weather journeyman, to raise concerns about a biased portion of a computer-based training to her leaders, which transformed education and training for Airmen everywhere.

As part of annual Total Force Awareness Training, DeQuire took the Force Protection computer-based training, and immediately felt something was not quite right. Of the 25 historical incidents in the course, the preponderance depicted examples of “Muslim extremists” and “Islamic terrorists.” The training alienated DeQuire—it reinforced biases about Muslims prompted after 9/11 and inhibited inclusivity.

She engaged with flight leadership, and her chain of command validated the concerns. DeQuire spoke with her squadron commander, Lt. Col. Sarah Zimmerman, and asked the hard question of “Why?” Why did the majority of historical incidents focus around one religious group? Why did the course seem to perpetuate dangerous biases?

The threat posed by terrorism has evolved significantly since 9/11. Per the March 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, “terrorism and violent extremism, both domestic and international, remain significant threats.” In addition, more deaths were caused by domestic violent extremists than international terrorists in recent years.

DeQuire believed the training did not accurately reflect present-day threats.

As a squadron commander, Zimmerman sought to permeate diversity, inclusion, and belonging within her unit. She was proud of DeQuire and thought, “Why not empower my Airman so that she can accelerate positive change?”

Seeking a large group with diverse backgrounds and experiences, Zimmerman cast a net in the Department of the Air Force Women Officers Forum; she wanted to develop a solution. A team of Airmen, led by members of the Pacific Islander and Asian American Community Team, or PACT, one of the seven Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Groups, or DAFBAWG, took the training issues for action.

They reached out to the course point of contact at the Air Force Security Forces Center. Since March, PACT members have collaborated and provided robust feedback to enhance the training.

To further accelerate communication within Headquarters Air Force staff, the PACT continued to lead the charge. Capt. Hanna Sparks, PACT co-lead, understood the significance of updating the course.

“The intent of the DAFBAWGs is to empower Airmen at any level to come forward and make impactful policy change,” Sparks said. “Understanding the implications of unconscious bias, we knew it was imperative to support Senior Airman DeQuire’s concerns and take action swiftly. We spoke to the other DAFBAWG leads, who also provided their support and encouragement. It was amazing to work together to accomplish a common goal—accelerating change to take care of our Airmen.”

The PACT then informed the Office of Diversity and Inclusion about concerns with the computer-based training and provided recommendations for improvement.

Consequently, course writers have since removed the biased portions of the training. Seemingly a simple fix—this update is also symbolic. What began as a concern for one Airman ended up transforming education and training across the Air Force.


Fueling Agility

 Another innovative technology is enabling partner nations to fight together more seamlessly. A team from the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, developed a hot-refueling system that is easily transportable and has the potential to work with most allied aircraft.

In October of 2021, two B-1B Lancers from Dyess Air Force Base’s 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, operating from Royal Air Force Fairford, England, conducted hot-pit refueling using the innovative Versatile Integrated Partner Equipment Refueling (VIPER) kit at Spangdahlem as part of Bomber Task Force - Europe 22-1.

The refueling system, initially developed to service F-16 Fighting Falcons of allied nations in the U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa theater[MNLMUDM(5] , has become an example of technology supporting Agile Combat Employment by expanding use to other airframes and being utilized at any operating base.

“The Agile Combat Employment concept ensures our multi-capable Airmen can sustain and execute missions from austere locations throughout Europe,” said Col. Leslie Hauck, 52nd Fighter Wing commander.

In June 2020, Polish Air Force members assisted in fueling a U.S. Air Force F-16 during one of the 480th Fighter Squadron’s Aviation Detachment Rotations, using the VIPER. This marked the first time a non-U.S. Air Force fuel truck was used, and was a large step towards partner nation integration.

In February 2021, the VIPER kit was a top-five finalist in the AFWERX Spark Tank and received $1.2 million in funding to complete the project.