SSgt Travis Alton, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron Parachute Rigger, secures an M-1 Parachute Release Timing Block Fail-Safe, to an M-1 Parachute Release Device at Little Rock AFB, AR, Nov. 15, 2018. Alton won Air Mobility Command’s first Phoenix Spark Tank competition at the 2018 Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium for developing the fail-safe to prevent parachutes from being detached from cargo too early. The block is projected to save the Air Force $1.6 million on training load damages if approved for use. USAF photo by SSgt Mercedes Taylor
Maj Keith Nordquist, 458th Airlift Squadron C-21 Formal Training Unit Chief, presents his idea for a flight training device to a group of judges at the Spark Tank competition March 4, 2019, at Scott AFB, IL. Nordquist proposed a flight simulator that will help keep C-21 aircrews combat-ready and capable on the aircraft’s new avionics upgrades while still learning legacy systems during the transition period. USAF photo by A1C Kristin Savage
By MS. BRITTANY OLSON, Staff Writer
The mission and vision of Air Mobility Command’s (AMC) Enterprise Learning Office (ELO) is to “transform the way we approach learning in the command.”
A crucial element to providing agile support and readiness to address any tactical situation for the Air Force in a technology-driven modern world is the continuous development, education, and training of Airmen. AMC’s ELO at Scott Air Force Base (AFB), IL, was established to implement a progressive approach to learning that inspires innovative thinking and positions ongoing Airman education and training as less of a task and more of an empowering, lifelong process. The goal is to transform learning to optimize an Airman’s contributions to the mission, readiness, resiliency, and innovation of his or her unit and the Air Force.
In early 2018, the ELO’s Chief Learning/Innovation Officer, Mr. Shane Hershman, was tasked with implementing transformative hands-on learning methods and technologies that directly elevate innovation and out-of-the-box thinking within AMC and prepare Airmen for approaching future challenges by fostering effective lifelong learning throughout every stage of their careers.
In 2016, the ELO initiated a revamp of AMC’s learning curriculum and dissemination of information to comply with point-of-need learning, which makes information available to Airmen on a need-to-know basis and not before. Learning at the point of need is proven to limit duplication and redundancy and to reduce the amount of time that Airmen are required to spend in formal training.
When Hershman first joined the ELO, he was responsible for implementing a second phase of AMC’s learning transformation initiative. His team analyzed recommendations and problems facing the Expeditionary Operations School and the Air Force. The office looked to academia and industry for data on best practices and pioneering solutions to those problems. The information was then given to the client within AMC to facilitate the implementation of new technologies and blended or distributive learning approaches. The ELO recently met with Delta Airlines to learn how AMC can improve the ongoing training of aircraft maintainers. Based on the information provided, Hershman’s team suggested creating a YouTube library with videos on predictive maintenance that refresh Airmen on how to perform specific skills.
In October of 2018, the Directorate of Strategic Plans, Requirements, and Programs raised the Air Force’s commitment to innovation to the next level by holding AMC’s very first Phoenix Spark Tank competition at the 2018 Airlift/Tanker Association (A/TA) Symposium in Grapevine, Texas. The competition was created to expedite innovation initiatives within AMC and inspire Airmen of all ranks to pursue innovative ideas that will maintain Air Force readiness or improve operational efficiency by exponentially reducing the time and money that is allocated to a task. Hershman and his team vetted and selected four finalists from 73 ideas submitted on the competition’s IdeaScale Portal. Finalists pitched their ideas in Shark Tank fashion to a panel of judges, which included Gen Maryanne Miller, Commander of Air Mobility Command, and VOX Space President Mandy Vaughn. The panel selected one finalist to represent AMC at the Air Force-wide Spark Tank cup in Orlando, FL. All four projects are in the process of being implemented at the operational level within the command.
The next step for the ELO is to restructure the Spark Tank program and streamline the ideation process and development of ideas between wings, the Air Force, and other Department of Defense (DoD) components to reduce the duplication of project submissions and product testing. “Squadron, headquarters, the Air Force, and DoD are siloed when it comes to brainstorming ideas, testing innovative approaches, and allocating resources to research and prototype development. There currently is little collaboration between wings or departments. In fact, most wings hold their own Spark Tank competitions, so our first challenge is to get all of the wings and headquarters to work together and implement force-wide procedures to ensure each wing and all departments are aware of what the others are doing and how far along they are in a project’s development,” stated Hershman. As part of the program’s restructure, Spark Tank competitions at the wing level will be streamlined and lead up to the annual AMC-sanctioned Spark Tank competition that will be held at the A/TA Symposium.
Hershman’s vision for innovation is to centralize the decision-making process for the approval, funding, and implementation of innovation submission and to position AMC Headquarters as the facilitator from the idea phase, to concept submission, and finally to implementation, beginning at the wing level. The ELO is in the process of integrating an automatic reply application that notifies Airmen in real time when an idea submission form has been received for the same idea. The software will track the stages of development of similar ideas to prevent Airmen from dedicating hundreds of hours on developing proof of concept for an idea, just to find out months later that a working prototype was already created by Airmen from another wing.
AMC’s first Innovation Summit will be held this spring at Scott AFB to bring all the wings together to facilitate discussion concerning internal policy development and procedures for ideation and innovation development at the wing level and beyond. For idea submissions, the ELO is going to conduct a 24/7 Innovation Campaign on IdeaScale for AMC.
Hershman’s advice to Airmen contemplating whether or not they should pursue an idea is to “keep submitting your ideas! We look at every submission, so don’t give up. I think our younger crop of squadron commanders are pushing for us, which is motivating. I’ve talked to quite a few innovators at the wing level who are coming up with ideas, and they are so passionate and excited. We have a great momentum going right now.”