Wing progress fueled by innovation

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kayla White
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing, Public Affairs

157th Air Refueling Wing leadership has tapped into the minds of its airmen, a think tank for new ideas, as part of a local push of an Air Force innovation program.

Airmen Powered by Innovation, or API, is a “good idea” initiative with an aim of collecting innovative, cost-effective improvements to the equipment and methods which make missions possible.

The Air Force announced API in April 2014, as a consolidation of three similar, existing programs.

“API will consolidate the benefits of each program and simplify the process for submitting ideas, making it easier for airmen at the lowest levels to effect change across the entire Air Force,” said David Tillotson III, the Air Force deputy chief management officer, at the time of API’s initial release.

The Wing’s local push for innovation has produced ideas ranging from the use of solar panels to drones for casualty recovery.

2nd Lt. Jonathon P. Febonio, the 157th ARW budget officer, weighed in on how the Wing will work to foster these types of ideas.

“We expect the program to continue into next year and are in the beginning stages of setting up an innovation lab,” said Febonio. “This will be a place where members can get together and start brainstorming new ideas as well as get guidance from senior members about how to see them through execution.”

Innovation can often come through the research and adoption of existing success stories. For example, the Wing has authorized funding for two web applications which have already proven their worth across much of the Air National Guard.

Staff Sgt. Brittany G. Bigelow, a personnelist assigned to the 157th Maintenance Group, began advocating for the first application, called Lodging Force, after receiving feedback from a member who was out-processing the base.

“He said that the system we had in place to take requests and make reservations for hotel accommodations was confusing and that communication often fell off,” said Bigelow.

Bigelow and her other administrative counterparts throughout the Wing have historically acted as the middlemen between their airmen and the force support squadron, keeping track of who would require accommodations while serving in a military status and then reporting it to the FSS.

“For the two weeks before a drill weekend, we spend a significant amount of time tracking people down, trying to figure out who needs a reservation,” said Bigelow, shaking her head. “Then, if someone decides not to use their room, that is money wasted. It all adds up.”

Lodging Force requires each member to create an individual profile, which they can access on a regular computer or on their mobile devices. They will be able to request a reservation and pick their roommate. Once the request is complete, it will be forwarded to the FSS and the member will receive a notification.

“It is my hope that it makes things easier and saves the Wing some money,” said Bigelow, “It will only be as good as the user though, so hopefully members embrace the change.”

Lodging Force will first be tested in a control group and evaluated so the FSS can rewrite existing procedures. It will then be implemented across the Wing over the next couple of months, said Bigelow.

The second application, created by a company called Straxis technology, will afford members of the 157th ARW a dynamic multi-purpose platform, said Chief Master Sgt. Matthew S. Heiman, the 157th ARW wing command chief.

“Our force is made up largely of millennials who use smart phones and other types of mobile technology,” said Heiman. “On a wider scale, it will give us the ability to better connect with our airmen.”

The mobile application will act as a central information point for airmen, their families and the public. Through it, users will be able to access the Wing’s existing social media platforms, such as Facebook, share media, learn about upcoming base events and access the base phone directory, for easier communication with base resources. The app can also be customized so that there are squadron, group and wing-level communication forums.

Heiman explained the impact the Straxis app might have on traditional Guardsmen and deployed airmen.

“If people aren’t aware of what’s going on, they can feel left out and marginalized, like they are behind the power curve” said Heiman. “Having this in their hand, giving them the ability to instantaneously connect with their organization, will make them feel more a part of what’s going on.”

Better communication and access to resources will likely pay dividends in retaining airmen, said Heiman.

The Lodging Force and Straxis applications will have a direct effect on mission and morale.

Heiman shared why he believes it is important that the Wing is taking part in the API program.

“When it really comes down to where we get our best ideas and creativity from, it’s from our people, our number one weapon system,” said Heiman. “If we can capture and harness all the enthusiasm and information they bring to the table, we’re only going to be a stronger organization for it.”