Innovation does not always need to be a big change. It can be a simple idea that makes a difference. At Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, empowering innovation is important.
As part of Whiteman’s innovation initiative, leadership hosted Innovation Pitch Day on Jan. 28, 2020. The focus for the day was for Airmen to present ideas on how the base can improve its sponsorship program.
“An Airman may have a great idea and be unsure on how to move that information forward,” said Chief Master Sgt. Katie McCool, the 509th Bomb Wing command chief. “This type of forum puts the Airmen directly in front of leadership. In this case, the leadership identified an area we wanted to improve and allowed Airmen to create the solutions in innovative ways.”
Some Airmen arrive at their first duty station or transfer in from another location, a process known as making a permanent change of station (PCS), not knowing anyone or what to expect. The sponsorship program is designed to alleviate some of that stress.
“PCSing is stressful,” McCool said. “I have done it many times in my career and I still find it stressful. When you combine this with additional stressors such as being a first-term Airman, having family concerns or not having any knowledge of the area, the stress is compounded.”
McCool said leaders owe it to their Airmen to navigate this stressful transition period.
“We must work to identify sponsors who are motivated, educated and have the ability to connect with the Airmen we assign to them,” she said.
For this pitch day, U.S. Air Force Col. Seth Graham, the 509th Bomb Wing vice and McCool were judges for the event. They were able to provide feedback to the Airmen directly who presented their innovative ideas.
Air Force Global Strike Command, Barksdake AFB, Louisiana, has provided Whiteman with a strategic plan for execution, said McCool.
“Elements of that plan include building resilient Airmen, organizations and families and emphasizing teams and innovation,” she said. “This event captured both aspects of our plan. We are building resilient Airmen and families through team innovation. It’s a ‘win-win’.”
Five Airmen from across the base developed ideas from their own experiences and submitted them to leadership.
Senior Airman Cailyn Ganter, a 509th Operation Support Squadron air traffic controller, suggested that in-coming Airmen have a choice of having a male or female sponsor. She said that this would make them feel more at ease and better able to ask their questions.
Tech. Sgt. Scott Holt, the 13th Bomb Squadron aviation resource management NCO in charge, has been a sponsor throughout his career and some of his ideas included quarterly training for sponsors, matching sponsors based on similar background and creating an in-depth virtual checklist.
According to the pitch day participants, first impressions are everything and a sponsor can make or break an Airmen’s opinion of that base. That is why it is important to look for innovative ways to improve the base.
While some sponsors do provide welcome baskets, U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Robert Lieder III, the 509th Contracting Squadron infrastructure officer in charge, suggested that it become standard practice across the base.
“When a new member arrives, the last thing they want to think about is where to get food or having to go out and buy groceries,” Lieder said. “This gives them an opportunity to relax and have a home cooked meal.”
During pitch day, some Airmen focused on the mentorship side of sponsoring while others discussed ways in-process could be more efficient.
Airman 1st Class Annabella Riggle, the 509th CS contracting administrator, proposed a more detailed in-processing checklist, which would include any appointments they need to make, electronic accounts they need to establish, as well as any computer based training and electronic forms they need to complete.
Another presenter, U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Justin Calvaruzo, the 509th Operations Group executive officer, suggested adding a place on the Whiteman webpage where Airmen can go to receive information about different child care and housing options as well as work centers on base.
“Each person or family has unique needs, questions and requests,” said Calvaruzo. “It is always a challenge to make sure that they have all of the information and guidance that they need to successfully transition to Whiteman Air Force Base.”
McCool said Whiteman AFB leadership has emphasized the importance of innovation within its enterprise and that innovation can come from any part of the organization.
To continue with innovation here on base, Whiteman is hosting several innovation workshops for Airmen. The next workshop will take place on Feb. 21 to discuss the innovation process and the following workshops will be in March.
After the workshops, Whiteman will host a Spark Tank Event on April 17 that will give individual Airman and squadrons the opportunity to win funding for their innovation. Members of Team Whiteman who would like to submit their innovative ideas for consideration can visit www.whiteman.af.mil/Edge/