Innovation takes courage, creativity

Major Jason Todd, 14th Flying Training Wing Commander's Action Group

Major Jason Todd, 14th Flying Training Wing Commander's Action Group

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --  It was another routine airlift mission. We were flying between Iraq and Germany for the fifth time in two weeks. Tired of lugging my mobility and personal bags on every trip, I decided not to take any personal items. The flight down-range was uneventful. We had landed in the middle of the night. As the sun was coming up, the whole crew was busy pre-flighting the aircraft for our return leg. I was already looking forward to the shower and nice, soft bed that awaited me back in Germany. That's when the engineer came up to the flight deck and stared at me solemnly.
"Sir, you need to come look at this." I could tell by the tone of his voice that it wasn't good. We walked out to the left side of our C-141B aircraft, and he pointed to the left landing gear pod. A panel, about the size of a screen door, was missing. It had probably ripped off in flight.
I informed the Theater Air Lift Control Element about our problem. They couldn't offer much help, but they told me that our large aircraft was taking up valuable ramp space, and we needed to leave within two days to make room for other aircraft. I called the maintenance support back home. First, I asked how long it would take to fly out and fix us. They said it would take about one week, because the panel would have to be taken off another aircraft at our home base and flown to us. Next, I asked if we could fly somewhere else to get fixed. The maintenance experts advised against this because the turbulent air could severely damage the landing gear.
By this time, the sun had fully risen and we were at the end of our duty day. The TALCE gave us an aircrew tent and showed us to the showers and chow hall. The shower was nice, but afterwards, since I didn't bring any personal items, I had to put on the same dusty, sweaty, stinky clothes that I had worn all night. I remember sitting in the chow hall with my oatmeal and bottled water wishing there was something more I could do.
By this time, we had exhausted our usual resources and came up empty. It was time to be creative. We asked what else was at our location. One of the other pilots found out that there was an Army helicopter unit on the other side of the airfield. They had a young corporal who spent his day fixing bullet holes on battle-damaged helicopters. This corporal told our pilot that he could make a new panel for us in about four hours. We offered this solution to the maintenance support back home. Although a little wary at first, they approved the new panel on the condition that we double the thickness. That corporal bolted the panel onto the aircraft, and we took off that night. Although we would have given anything to that corporal for helping us, he only asked us to bring Kool-Aid powder on our next trip so he could flavor his water.
There are two things that I learned from that mission. First, I brought my personal items on every trip and never complained again about having to take so many bags. Second, when solving a problem, I learned to have the courage to be creative.
The New American Heritage Dictionary says to innovate is to "begin or introduce something new; be creative." When thinking of an innovation in your daily mission, be creative.