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NEWS | June 7, 2018

Innovation competition funds new squadron initiatives

By Staff Sgt. William A. O’Brien Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

The 437th Airlift Wing received $450,000 to be divided amongst each of its squadrons as part of the Air Force Squadron Innovation Fund, an effort to revitalize squadrons. Wing commanders were authorized to use 20 percent of those funds on proposals they felt could positively impact multiple squadrons.

To determine what would be done with their $90,000, 437th Airlift Wing leadership hosted a panel consisting of the wing commander, vice commander and command chief to hear ideas from Airmen across the wing.

“We wanted our Airmen at the lowest levels to feel empowered and for their ideas to be heard,” said Col. Jimmy Canlas, 437th Airlift Wing commander. “I think we succeeded in that endeavor, but still have room for much more improvement. I am very proud of all our presenters and the spirit of innovation displayed during this competition. I hope it lays the groundwork for a culture of innovation, where it becomes second nature in our daily activities.”

The program gave Airmen the opportunity to present an innovative idea that could benefit squadrons in front of the panel. This was done to provide a fair chance to every member of the wing to evaluate how they felt they could improve any aspect of how things currently operate. The call was answered by five Airmen who presented ideas ranging from incorporating new technologies to streamline processes to preserving our heritage at a lower long-term cost.

“We’re the greatest Air Force in the world because we’re on the cutting edge,” said Maj. Ron Johnson, 16th Airlift Squadron assistant director of operations and Squadron Innovation Program presenter. “You have to have innovation to stay ahead. It’s important that it comes from all ranks and nobody feels they are being left out or their opinion doesn’t matter because that’s how we would miss out on some of the best ideas. Innovation is the key to us maintaining our position in the world.”

Each participant was allotted five minutes to make their pitch. Following each presentation, they had a 10-minute question and answer session with the panel to aid them in refining and better understanding the ideas in order to make a more informed decision when determining funding.  

“We opened it up to the wing to come up with any ideas and Col. Canlas’ goal was to empower Airmen of all ranks to have an opportunity to better their offices, improve the mission and enable their units to do business in a more effective way,” said Maj. Daniel Cascio, 437th AW Commander’s Action Group chief.

Nobody knows the problems a squadron faces more than the members of the squadron dealing with those problems every day. The innovation program gives those members a chance to voice their opinions on the best solutions for completing the mission in the most effective and efficient ways possible.

“It’s a good step toward making squadrons know their voices matter,” said Johnson. “Rather than feeling ideas flow from the top down with the squadrons left to implement those ideas. This allows for the ideas to come from the Airmen who work closest to those problems.”

All five presenters sat in the conference room together as each pitched their idea. This allowed them to participate in the creative process as the ideas were fine-tuned in the question and answer session. It also allowed each of them to gain perspective and understanding of the issues other units within their wing face.

“What’s interesting, is in my career field, I have a very operations-centric vision of what’s important,” said Cascio. “What the wing needs and when you sit in on something like that panel, you just think, ‘Wow. Everybody else has problems and ideas that I haven’t even considered because I just don’t know that world enough to even consider it.’”

To ensure these ideas were acted on as quickly as possible, the panel reconvened later that afternoon to discuss how the money would be allotted amongst the proposals. The top choice for funding was tablets for each squadron in order to increase access to training documents and allow for studying during extended flight missions. Each of the other ideas received funding as well after follow-up changes were made.

“It was very inspiring for me to witness our Airmen wanting to improve not only at the squadron level, but also at the wing, AMC and even AF level,” said Canlas. “I was also impressed as each Airman listened to other presenters. I can see the wheels turning as they were learning from one another.”