Mobilize Presents 2022 VISION Awards: The Beacon Award

2022 Beacon Award

We present the Beacon Award to Spark Cells who have excelled in guiding users into the collaborative innovation ecosystem.

Awardees include:
TSgt Stephen Jogerst of Phoenix Spark Cell – Travis Air Force Base, California
SSgt Kyndal Lievano of Gryphon Spark Cell – Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina
MSgt Jet Nesle of Shogun Spark Cell – Kadena Air Base, Japan

Awardee: TSgt Stephen Jogerst of Phoenix Spark Cell – Travis Air Force Base, California

A C-17 Loadmaster had a problem. They used a suction cup to mount this hockey-puck sized piece of electronic equipment on the inside wall of the aircraft, but it kept falling off and slowing them down. This isn’t the type of problem with a solution that will change the world, but it would make a difference in the lives and effectiveness of those Airmen. Fortunately, they had TSgt Stephen Jogerst at the Phoenix Spark Cell on their side.

The wing leadership at Travis Air Force Base believes in the power of Airmen to create change, and they aligned their manpower to harness this power. TSgt Jogerst is a full-time ideator, maker, and problem solver in the Phoenix Spark Cell. In his off-duty time, he and his son use their personal 3D printer and skills to build a full-size R2D2 in their garage.

So, when the C-17 crew came in, TSgt Jogerst had some ideas, but he led the crew to think through the problem first. He asked, “Ok…this falls off the wall, but what doesn’t fall off the walls?”

After a bit of thinking, the crew told him the plug used to cover the window in the airplane’s emergency exit door never falls out. So, the team of problem solvers started thinking about how they could design an attachment to the window plug to hold this equipment.

But, TSgt Jogerst also had another idea. He searched in VISION and found an aircrew in Hawaii who were working on the same problem. They’d also thought about using the window plug, but they were re-designing the plug itself to solve the problem. Because of VISION, the two teams shared ideas and collaborated while they worked separately.

The Phoenix Spark window plug mount is awaiting safety approval from Air Mobility Command for its first flight, but so far, things are looking promising. This isn’t the only way the Phoenix Spark Cell uses VISION. It also helps them run their base-level Spark Tank competitions. Anyone pitching an idea first has to make it an initiative in VISION, so it’s visible across the DoD even if it doesn’t win.  

TSgt Jogerst also developed a full curriculum to teach other Spark cells how to use their 3D printers to create real solutions to real problems. His entire curriculum is also shared in VISION, so he can answer questions, improve the lessons, and talk with other Airmen who are learning this skill.

The Phoenix Spark cell gives Airmen the expertise, skills, and tools they need to make positive improvements to the mission and their lives–even small ones. “We’re not creating the end solution to problems that’ll be scaled into the millions and millions of items. We’re creating the small solution that gets the mission going really quickly. So that, to me, it’s really rewarding.”

Awardee: SSgt Kyndal Lievano of Gryphon Spark Cell – Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina

In a big organization like the Air Force, it’s hard to know if someone on the other side of the globe has the solution to your problem. Or, more accurately, it used to be hard. Fortunately, those days are in the past for SSgt Kyndal Lievano.

Commanders at Pope Army Airfield on the Fort Bragg Garrison realized they needed to provide expertise and resources to promote innovation efforts there. They formed a Spark Cell, put SSgt Lievano in charge, and gave her the freedom to develop her own pathway to help Airmen turn ideas into innovation.

SSgt Lievano identified the tools, team, and resources she needed to run this new organization. “My leadership team was amazing. We had so much freedom just to be able to explore resources, go to different events, and go to different Spark cells to learn from how other people made their programs so successful.” After learning from her colleagues, SSgt Lievano eagerly got started. She started a conversation with an Airman who worked at the aerial port. At first, he said everything was working great, but after more probing, he confessed his unit had a continuing problem with disorganized toolboxes.

Air Force regulations have specific requirements for the number and types of tools and equipment that should be on hand during loading and unloading operations. There should be a certain number of tie downs, a certain number of cargo hooks, and so on. But with the existing tool box design, it wasn’t easy to account for all of the equipment. This often caused delays and headaches for the aerial port Airmen.

SSgt Lievano convinced the Airman he had the support of the base leadership to do something about his problem, and she could help. After a few days, he brought SSgt Lievano a sticky note with a sketch and the measurements of the tool box. A simple divider system would go a long way to making supplies more visible and accountable. They used these measurements to 3D print a prototype before starting to build one from metal. SSgt Lievano put this project into VISION, and within a few days she received a message from the other side of the world.

Airmen at Kadena Air Base, Japan had the same problem and were building a similar solution. Even better, they were on their third version of the toolbox divider system, so the Pope team could learn from their experience rather than starting from scratch.

The teams shared information and designs, and came up with a solution costing less than $3,000, and it has already saved dozens of hours and countless headaches for the aerial port team.

In the past, teams at Kadena and Pope would have never known they were both working on the same solution to the same problem. Now, because of VISION both get better outcomes and the Air Force only has to start from scratch once.

Awardee: MSgt Jet Nesle of Shogun Spark Cell – Kadena Air Base, Japan

Without adoption, innovation is just a good idea. MSgt Jet Nesle and the Shogun Spark team at Kadena Air Base, Japan scaled good ideas across the globe in 2022. The Airmen they work with have already saved millions of dollars, increased operational agility, AND eliminated thousands of hours of wasted work. (We nominated TWO of the projects they are shepherding for Blaze Awards.) MSgt Nesle has a few not-so-secret weapons we can all learn from.

Innovating inside a bureaucracy is tough work. Rather than focusing on the big–often overwhelming–picture, MSgt Nesle starts small.

“I really just enjoy helping Airmen. There’s something fulfilling, motivating about seeing something you’ve just thought of maybe 2-3 months ago as an idea…and then you finally get to see it implemented…it’s life-changing for some people’s processes.”

Many of the great ideas from Shogun Spark start with the innovation classes they lead. MSgt Nesle and the team lead front-line Airmen through a process to help them explore their problems.  In a recent class, some Airmen wondered if there was a way to reduce how often minigun barrels need to be changed on their weapon systems.So, the Shogun team helped them to understand the problem and passed it off to Kadena’s impressive team of innovation-minded volunteers who turn ideas into reality. Any startup would be lucky to have this impressive array of capabilities.

The Kadena Wing Innovation Network includes a software team, a prototyping team, a 3D print lab, pitch coaches, and legal support for patent research. All are volunteers intrinsically motivated to make a difference for the people and missions they value.

Shogun’s work will either lead to creating something new or finding an existing commercial application. All along the way, the team will be building collaboration inside the VISION platform. The ticket to get into VISION isn’t a solution, but a problem.

Once the problem is in VISION, people all around the world add their ideas or simply follow the progress Shogun is making. The Air Force has a lot of gun barrels, and Airmen spend thousands of hours changing them, so any solution to this problem would have massive impact.

It’s too early to say whether Shogun will solve this minigun problem. But, the experience of working on this problem, collaborating with others, and learning an innovation mindset will make solving the next problem easier, no matter what it is. MSgt Nesle and the Shogun team are making innovation real with real impact on people and mission. Those of us who are scaling VISION couldn’t be more proud to be a part of their success.