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NEWS | Oct. 18, 2012

Every Airman has the potential to be an innovator

By Master Sgt. Brian Potvin Air Force Command and Control Integration Center

I was one of the lucky few who attended the Air Force Association's 2012 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington, DC last recently. Something that U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said during his speech resonated with me.

"Innovation is what we're all about," he said. "We always have been."

I agree with this statement totally, and want to pass on my perspective on why innovation is so important to us. It is the spirit of innovation in Orville and Wilbur Wright which led to the invention of the airplane. It's Thaddeus Lowe's spirit of innovation which led him to first use a balloon for reconnaissance for the Union Army during the Civil War.

"Our Airmen need to be thinking about [innovation] at every level of our Air Force," Welsh continued.

What this means to me is that all of us, whether we have one stripe on our sleeve, or we have silver eagles on our collar, have the opportunity to improve the way we carry out our mission every day.

A good example of this spirit of innovation which recently proved itself here on Joint Base Langley-Eustis is the Hydrant Mobile Refueler. Without getting into too much detail here, it's a refueling system which will save the Air Force, and ultimately the American taxpayer, millions of dollars. At the same time it saves millions, it also allows for more aircraft to be refueled without having to drive refuelers back to fill their tanks to fuel more aircraft. This equates to more money saved, and more planes in the air dropping bombs or carrying cargo.

We hear examples of Airmen submitting possible money-saving methods to the Air Force's IDEA Program all the time. In addition to appealing to our sense of good Airmanship, the IDEA program offers monetary compensation for those good ideas which, if implemented, save the Air Force money. For example, a computer programmer at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ga., was recently awarded $10,000 for his development of a process which will ultimately save the Air Force more than $110,000 per year.

My point is that all of us, whether we work in the dining facility, stand a post, troubleshoot a faulty router or work in the hospital, have a capacity to inflict positive change on our surroundings. Please take a look at what you do every day, and ask yourself, "Is this the smartest way to do business?", or "Is there a way this can be done faster, better, or cheaper?"

This is the kind of innovation I believe General Welsh was speaking of, and we all need to be doing it. Thinking of ways to do our jobs better can - and will - translate into cost savings for your unit, the Air Force and the taxpayers. Additionally, your idea could have a cascading effect ,which might end up saving lives of our fellow Service members.

By keeping innovation at the forefront of our minds, and embracing the idea that every Airman is an innovator, we can make our already great Air Force even better tomorrow than it is today!