Best ideas invited in first AFLCMC Innovation Challenge

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Lt. Gen. John Thompson, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center commander, is behind a competition that may yield ideas large and small, resulting in changes to the ways the multi-site center works -- for the better.

Between now and July 16, all active-duty military members and civilians throughout the center are invited to submit their "brain child/children" for the inaugural AFLCMC Innovation Challenge, with the best idea winning a $5,000 operation and maintenance reward to legally spend within the winner's unit.

"Big or small, we're listening for actionable changes with a positive return on investment to increase efficiency, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and improve effectiveness," Thompson wrote recently.

Many people have been instrumental in organizing the challenge, none more so than the implementation "Tiger Team" of Kelli Locker, contract specialist, Business Enterprise Systems, Wright-Patterson AFB; Capt. Eric Meyer, program manager, F-16 Radar Modernization Program; 1st Lt. Austin Troya, Training Systems engineer, KC-46 Aircrew Training System; and Erica Meyer, program manager, B-52 Conect, Fighter/Bomber Directorate. The team members, several of whom have been involved in  AFLCMC Junior Force Council, have taken the lead provided by Thompson to develop the  fun effort to bolster innovation and implement new ideas within the AFLCMC workforce.

The rules are simple:

Submissions may be from individuals or teams;

All military and civilian employees within AFLCMC are eligible, regardless of operating location;

Benefits must outweigh the cost;

Ideas must be legally feasible;

Most importantly, the best idea wins!

Top ideas will be determined by a panel of experts. Once selected, their submitters will be asked to develop a short, lively presentation and pitch their idea to a team of distinguished experts in a format similar to the hit TV show "Shark Tank."

"I think it will be a surprise to everyone when they see who they are making their dynamic, energetic presentation to," said Locker, who is president of AFLCMC Junior Force Council at Wright-Patterson AFB. "It's going to be a very exciting end to the challenge."

The Tiger Team members began working in earnest on the challenge in May, with the assistance of many other people. Locker said the team is particularly enthusiastic Thompson has emphasized the winner, not unit leadership, will choose how O&M prize money is spent within their unit.

"If a GS07 in Mountain Home, Idaho, submits something, that person - not his or her supervisor - gets to decide how to spend those winnings, because he or she had the best idea," she said.

Only a week into the competition yielded more than 40 submissions from seven different bases. The competition also is location-agnostic, Capt. Meyer said, meaning anyone within any AFLCMC location is welcome to submit as many ideas as they like. There is no advantage to being based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, for example.

"We're all one team within AFLCMC," Erica Meyer said. "This is a really great way to have your voice heard if you have a great idea - how to make your job easier, how to make your day more efficient, more effective. We're the ones who do the daily grind. This is a low-key, relaxed way to present them.

"It could be the simplest idea, yet yield the greatest manpower or most dollar-savings, and then it might win," she said.

"The main intent of any of the ideas that are coming out and part of the screening process that is our task is to ensure that the benefits of the idea outweigh the costs of implementing it," Capt. Meyer said. "The return on investment is important, but no idea is too small or too big."

Some people already have an idea and a prototype, and the competition is a way for them to see if it could be implemented on a bigger scale, Troya said. Offices may innovate within themselves; the competition is a low-key, low-threat way to take that innovation outside that branch.

"I love that there is no limit on submissions," Locker said. "You could submit 16 ideas, for example."

For the submissions that are not picked, they still will be analyzed and considered for implementation by AFLCMC leadership, Erica Meyer added.

"There may be some ideas that are no-cost for implementation," Troya said.

Locker is enthusiastic that so many people are eligible to participate.

"There is going to be feedback from people who have been here for years, and those who have differing backgrounds and started working here more recently," Locker added. "They'll bring the wealth of their background and differing processes to this competition."

Thompson kicked off the competition with these words in his May 6 Skywrighter commentary: "It is your innovative and collaborative thinking that make the United States Air Force the greatest in the world, and what will ensure our Air Force's future success.

"All it takes is a few minutes and a good idea to make your voice heard and help us innovate!" he wrote.

To submit an idea, go online by July 16 to https://cs4.eis.afmc.af.mil/sites/1534/innovators/Shared%20Documents/message.aspx