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Innovation Drives Change--Impacts the Air Force and Airmen.

During his confirmation hearing, then Secretary of Defense James Mattis addressed the governmental decision-making process stating "... you need different ideas to be strongly argued. You don't wont the tyranny of consensus of group-think." Our troops, whether they be young or old, a Soldier or a Sailor, an Airman or a Marine, each have creative and innovative ideas on how to do their jobs better.

If we are to field the larger, more capable, more lethal joint force envisioned by Secretary Mattis, these ideas must be heard rather than ignored. Senior leaders from all echelons have recognized that, as a force, we desperately need a mechanism to actively pursue and develop these ideas instead of missing yet another opportunity to save money, labor hours, or simply improve our quality of life.

The Air Force has risen to this challenge through the Airmen Powered by Innovation (API) program. The 37th Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General (retired) Larry O. Spencer, introduced API with a vision to unleash the innovation alive in all Airmen (officers, enlisted, and civilians). Previous Air Force innovation programs suffered due to a limited scope that did not extend beyond an Airman's direct supervisory chain. The previous approach missed countless opportunities for actionable items and led our Airmen to collectively think "Why bother?" instead of "Why not?" In response, the current API program solicits submissions from across the entire Service and provides a straight line between Airmen and the Senior Leaders who possess the resources and authority to direct change. Furthermore, API emboldens Airmen to join the charge and share their own ideas; each submitter is immediately granted a $2,500 reward upon approval by the API cell rather than waiting through a possibly lengthy implementation process. The results speak for themselves: Since February 2014, API has received over 8,500 submissions, more than 300 of which have been approved by senior leadership at either a Major Command or the Headquarters Air Force. Individual Airmen have been rewarded nearly $200K for their efforts and, in return, the Air Force has been provided with over $130M in benefits.

Take MSgt Zeshan Meer, an Air Combat Command maintainer who created the Munitions Integrated Tablet because he was fed up with the time wasted on shuffling information between his clipboard, computer, and colleagues. The tablet consolidates the Information Technology resources of the Munitions and Weapons community and provided a single gateway to all traditional desktop PC programs, Global Combat Support System content, and Maintenance Information Systems in real time. MSgt Meer's submission has taken over two years to implement, but the Service-level reach of API has allowed the innovation to already save thousands of labor hours and enable other units to cut their IT costs by 45%. MSgt Meer is an example of how a single Airman's innovation can efficiently cut costs across the entire Air Force and enable us to better execute our mission.

Some ideas can be as simple as a tool and a checklist Technicians responsible for maintenance on the F110-GE100/129 engines regularly remove and replace cables condemned for broken Electro Magnetic Interference bands. Typically, the replacement requires two personnel to perform and takes between 2 to 3 hours to complete. The technicians designed a tool set that could be locally manufactured and developed a checklist with procedures that was added to their technical manual. Annual savings to the Total Force is approximately $2M.

These examples, among many others, demonstrate how unleashing innovation can impact Airmen and their jobs, and also how their ideas can benefit not only the Air Force of today, but our future Air Force as well. The API program recognizes that as technologies advance and priorities change, some submissions that may seem impossible or low-priority today may become achievable and high-priority tomorrow. With this in mind, every submission that passes an initial screening is maintained on a Senior Leaders list for continual review. Airmen interested in submitting innovative suggestions or checking out some of the great ideas that are already changing the way our Air Force does business can visit the API website via the Air Force web portal.

Leaving things better than we found them is a privilege and a responsibility shared by all members of our military Services. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford stated unequivocally this year that, "The joint force is full of the most talented men and women in the world, and it is our responsibility as leaders to unleash their initiative to adapt and innovate to meet tomorrow's challenges." Look for ways you can innovate within your own Service, seek out avenues to propagate good ideas, and identify what offices exist that can help approve, implement, and reward those ideas. The world we live in will never stop changing, and neither should we.

David L. Manchester

David L Manchester is the Chief, Initiatives and Innovation Division, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, Management and Deputy Chief Management Office at Headquarters, United States Air Force. He served as an Acquisition Program Manager until July 2012, when he attended the Air War College before starting his current Pentagon assignment.

MSgt Samuel Gaare

MSgt Samuel Gaare is the Manager of SAF Initiatives and Programs, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, Management and Deputy Chief Management Office at Headquarters Air Force. He served as the Chief of Manpower and Organization for the 67th Cyberspace Wing and a Manpower Analyst for the Air Education and Training Command prior to his current assignment.
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Author:Gaare, Samuel; Manchester, David
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Date:Jan 1, 2019
Words:918
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