By Ilka Cole, Team Eglin Public Affairs
/ Published July 24, 2018
A 96th Security Forces Squadron uses the android tactical assault kit to send a message from his patrol vehicle July 5 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The ATAK is a new communication system implemented at Eglin that so far has provided significant improvements in the base’s defense mission. The tablet-based system provides written communication, pictures, mapping, GPS and data access to defenders more quickly than previous methods which relied heavily on radio transmissions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
Though innovation is not new here, at a primarily testing base, there is a new Air Force emphasis on squadron innovation.
“We need our squadrons to be aggressively persistent and take risks in the pursuit of new ideas and solutions,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in Orlando at the innovation announcement earlier this year. “No one knows the problems we face day-to-day more than the Airmen in our squadrons.”
Since that announcement, Brig. Gen. Evan C. Dertien, 96th Test Wing commander, earmarked more than $1 million across the wing’s squadrons.
“These funds were exactly what we needed to show our Airmen we’re serious about innovation,” said Kathy Reid, chief of the recently formed innovation office.
When the announcement came in February, Reid was prepared.
“I thought we needed to give our wing a single mechanism for submitting improvement and innovation ideas,” said Reid. “This approach resulted in a SharePoint site to centralize access to the wing’s ideas and it was launched just one month after the announcement.”
The idea submission form identifies the process requiring improvement or redesign. Airmen upload their innovation ideas to the site and wait for a chance to be heard.
Within a week of their submission, Airmen were contacted to discuss their ideas with the wing leadership panel to determine if their idea would be funded.
The 96th Security Forces Squadron presented one of the first ideas. They requested to purchase tablets for their vehicles that would provide real-time access to background information for drivers being detained.
The panel approved the 96th SFS idea and through discussion, it morphed into a much larger innovation. Within three months, the defenders had GPS-enabled tablets in land and water vehicles and a newer, faster, more effective communication chain was created.
“Those 15 minutes led to a drastic leap forward,” said Capt. Chandler Harms, 96th SFS. “Without this process, the squadron would not be at the tip of the spear for a modern capability that will significantly increase our situational awareness and readiness.”
Innovation funds also provided better security for 96th Range Group equipment.
The funds allowed for permanent infrastructure at a test site with enhanced security that allowed the test equipment to be left on the range overnight. This measure reduced significant manpower, travel and equipment costs.
The innovation office received numerous ideas ranging from manufacturing parts using 3D printed parts to automating customer service kiosk systems integrated with mobile ‘apps’.
There are 15 new innovations under review. Four have even been highlighted to the CSAF.
“When you empower individuals to make a change and leave a legacy, it makes their job important.” said Reid.
As Eglin’s larger innovations come to fruition, they’ll be featured on the base website.