Gunfighter Spark Cell explores new ideas, promotes innovation

  • Published
  • By Capt. Margaret Kealy-Machella
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Several innovative ideas that support Gunfighter mission execution are closer to becoming a reality thanks to the first Gunfighter Spark Cell problem curation workshop.

The Mountain Home AFB Gunfighter Spark Innovation Cell hosted a day-long workshop April 2, 2019, in partnership with AFWERX and a specialized Silicon Valley firm, BMNT.

Airmen from across the 366th Fighter Wing submitted ideas during a ten-day submission period. Between their ideas and ideas shared during the inaugural “Taking Flight” idea submission challenge in winter of 2018, eight ideas were handpicked by the team and BMNT.

“This is an opportunity to bring great ideas and problems our Gunfighters experience and really delve into the root of the problem and how we can get after solutions both over the short and long terms,” said Captain Mark Calendine, Gunfighter Spark Cell lead.

The ideas explored within the workshop covered a wide range of topics:

• Electronic workflow management and organizational tools for the legal team
• Point of sale system for fuels
• Engine inspection process
• Digitization and organization of building and structure blueprints

The road to this unique event began during a trip to AFWERX Austin by members of the Gunfighter Spark Cell team, where they learned more about the Air Force innovation ecosystem and opportunities available. After speaking with AFWERX staff, the Mountain Home AFB team was offered the chance to participate in an innovative idea in and of itself: a partnership with an industry firm. This firm would be contracted by the Air Force, at no cost to the wing, to facilitate problem definition workshops, conduct follow-on market research, and advise on ways to execute the various ideas raised from the wing. This includes using funds through the Small Business Innovation Research program and squadron innovation funds.

During the workshop that relied heavily on the visual organization of sticky notes, BMNT walked Airmen through the steps to define their problem and develop steps and longer term solutions.

“Innovation is not a flashy workshop; it’s hard work and the solutions you guys are building are awesome,” said Chris O’Connor, a BMNT member.

As each member prepared and organized their thoughts to present to the group and base leadership, there was a clear-cut way ahead.

With the problems defined and next steps identified, the Airmen left with a better understanding of the process of problem definition and what they could do to address the problem.

“I learned more about working problems rather than just jumping to a solution. There is more to the problem solving process and accepting that your first idea might not be it,” said Staff Sgt. Kyle Staples, 366th Logistic Readiness Squadron fuels distribution supervisor.

This was not a one-time event, but rather the beginning of a larger innovation effort at the 366th FW.

BMNT chose three of the ideas presented at the workshop and followed up with a visit to the wing in May, facilitating pitches by hand-picked companies. During their visit, each problem owner had multiple companies, many of which fit the requirements of the Small Business Innovation Research program, pitching solutions to the problems curated at the previous event. The focus was connecting problem owners with potential solutions, as well as facilitating communication within the unit facing the problem.

While this opportunity to develop ideas may be over, the idea exploration never stops.

“It is a culture that we are trying to build and you are a key part in that,” said Col. Kurt Helphinstine, 366th FW deputy commander of operations.