Spark Cell provides tools to innovate, opens up great possibilities through teamwork
By Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb, 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 30, 2018
COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- The Columbus Air Force Base Spark Cell was created to be a creative hub for finding solutions to problems, building innovative tools or processes, and learning anything from 3D printing to flying patterns in a T-6 Texan II.
The use of the Spark Cell is consistent and the impact is already being seen with 15 Airmen visiting weekly to work on projects, from standardizing manning reports across units to using editing software for Enlisted/Officer Performance Reports.
“We have our regulars that are working on projects with five or six people leading these projects,” said Maj. Brewer, 14th Flying Training Wing director of innovation. “We get a trickle of curious individuals occasionally and we are trying to build out and reach everyone in each group.”
Several projects are being worked on, but the ‘Check Six’ podcast is the first completed project, Brewer mentioned. He said they are always looking at other opportunities for the podcast to expand from the main T-6 Texan II topics.
Another project showing the potential of the Spark Cell is the collaboration effort with communications specialist lieutenants from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, to create a program that helps edit and create enlisted and officer performance report bullets.
“We are doing a lot of neat collaboration with other training bases on a weekly basis,” Brewer said. “If we are working on similar projects, we can work together to make the two projects into one project with two collaborating teams, making it more efficient and creating a better finished product.”
The relationships Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Culverhouse, 14th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of manpower, built in the Spark Cell was her first mission when she arrived at Columbus AFB recently.
“Chief Master Sgt. Raul Villarreal, 14th Flying Training Wing command chief and Chief Master Sgt. Tracy Tolliver, 14th Medical Group superintendent, got me involved with the universal manning program when I first arrived at Columbus AFB,” Culverhouse said. “They said Chief Villarreal was looking for help to change the wing’s manning system, he basically gave me free reign to choose my team and begin working to create a better manning document.”
The universal manning document Culverhouse is aiming to become the ‘one-stop-shop’ for leadership to be able to see their manning in a comprehensive way. They also want the program to show more about each individual, such as their current training levels, line numbers, if they have one, or their goals to be in special duties in the future. These items will allow leadership to make informed decisions as their Airmen progress.
“I can see the Spark Cell being extremely effective in the future,” Culverhouse said. “There are lots of projects going on throughout the wing and with the Spark Cell allowing everyone to work together it brings a lot solutions from new perspectives and brings all these experiences together.”
Culverhouse said she admires the Spark Cell’s ability to strip rank away and look at everyone’s ideas equally. Each idea matters and has a valuable contribution to every project.
Brewer mentioned people may think the Spark Cell is just a lot of cool technology and tools, but he says he really thinks what the Spark Cell is – an environment to feel like you’re able to share ideas, connect with other Airmen and create things to make the 14th FTW and Air Force better at what they do.
He encourages people to go into work and stop at each step to ask is there a way to do this better. He also said if there’s one thing making people grit their teeth every day, start changing that specific thing. He said, simply put, “find a better way to do what you hate doing.”
Brewer and his team acknowledged the immense help they have had from leadership and they expressed how without the backing of their leaders, the Spark Cell wouldn’t have been possible.
The Spark Cell will continue to be the hub for innovation on Columbus AFB. Coming up, there will be another, more in-depth 3D printing class Dec. 5, focusing on the software of the printer and how to work the machine with the software here.
Opportunities will continue to open up as the New Year begins and Brewer encourages people to start bringing their ideas to the Spark Cell meetings every Friday at noon so they can be a part of the innovation team.