We present the Blaze Award for projects in VISION showing the greatest potential to create the broadest positive impact to the mission.
MSgt Jason Yunker with Project VIPER – Kadena Air Base, Japan
MSgt Brandon Allensworth with Project Kinetic Cargo – Kadena Air Base, Japan
TSgt Brady Flynn with Project Hermes – Luke Air Force Base, Arizona
Awardee: MSgt Jason Yunker with Project VIPER – Kadena Air Base, Japan
When a military deployment story starts with a drawing on a bar napkin and someone saying “@#$% it, buy it!”, the story usually ends with a garage-full of regret and a money hole in someone’s pocket. But, this wasn’t the case when MSgt Jason Yunker showed his boss a wild idea he’d scribbled on a bar napkin.
He didn’t know it then, but with a unique combination of grit and collaboration, MSgt Yunker’s idea napkin would save the USAF more than $100M (and counting) and is increasing operational agility in the USAF.
“What if…?” That was the question MSgt Yunker had when he was thinking about why the Air Force shipped entire fuel trucks rather than using existing infrastructure to refuel at foreign airfields.
What if…we created something that could refuel an aircraft while keeping all of the foreign, uncertified equipment outside of the safety bubble? This concept would increase our operational agility by transforming austere or foreign aircraft refueling locations into USAF-approved operating bases.
What if…rather than shipping a 6-pallet-position, 13-ton fuel truck, we could ship the equipment through a commercial carrier like DHL if we needed to?
MSgt Yunker had an idea, and he drew up a sketch on a bar napkin for his boss. “Is this a good idea?”
MSgt Yunker’s boss thought so, and despite a tepid reception from a much-higher headquarters, his commander gave him the green light with a colorful, “@#$% it, buy it!”
MSgt Yunker and a buddy, MSgt Timothy Peters, got to work building a prototype, named it Project VIPER, and shared the idea in VISION. Project VIPER scaled quickly, and within a year there were 76 in use across the Air Force. VIPER has already been used in locations from the Pacific to the Eastern flank of Europe in support of ongoing operations with Ukraine.
Because of MSgt Yunker, MSgt Timothy Peters, a smart risk-taking commander, and the Shogun Spark Cell, the USAF has already saved over $100 million dollars and countless Airman hours. VISION-enabled collaboration helped turn a good idea into massive impact around the world. The next step is convincing the Air Force to turn this winning idea into a centralized, sustained program.
“The final piece of the pie is centralization. That comes with sustainment, Tech Order support, backing from the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center…that way it is fully stock-listed and everything.”
Nominee: MSgt Brandon Allensworth with Project Kinetic Cargo – Kadena Air Base, Japan
When MSgt Brandon Allensworth saw people doing something the way it’s always been done, he had the idea to do something that’s never been done. As a transportation expert, MSgt Allensworth has seen the way USAF teams weigh and measure cargo hundreds of times, but on one mission, he decided he couldn’t just keep doing what’s always been done.
The cargo people and missions depended on was lined up on the ramp for processing. For each pallet, a team of Airmen lowered the cargo on an elephant-sized bathroom scale, while another team stretched a tape measure across and along the sides of the pallet. Then they scrawled the measurements on paper pressing hard to make an impression through the sheets of old school carbon paper. Then, they delivered these stacks of paper to other Airmen and taped them onto the side of the pallet.
MSgt Allensworth had seen enough. The process he witnessed could have been the same one used during the Berlin Airlift. The Air Force of the 2020s has faster planes, but not a faster way to process cargo? It didn’t make sense. MSgt Allensworth decided to make it his mission to expedite this antiquated process–and maybe save some trees along the way. Project Kinetic Cargo was born.
Kinetic means in motion. MSgt Allensworth wants to keep USAF cargo moving as fast as possible to its end-user. Other units made improvements in some parts of the processes, but he wants Kinetic Cargo to be the first time all of the best solutions were put together into one.
First, he worked to digitize the mobility forms. Rather than having paper copies vulnerable to rain, wind, and loss, everyone could have a complete digital package. Second, he needed to get the right permissions to connect existing mobile, ruggedized laptops to the network to share information. With paper forms, you have to wait for the paper to arrive, but digital products could be at the destination before the aircraft lands, saving time and money.
The US Army and US Marine Corps were already using the final piece of the solution, an in-motion cargo laser profiling technology known as the Deployable Automated Cargo Measuring System or DACMS. This is the technology modern commercial companies like DHL and FedEx use to weigh and measure their own cargo. DACMS can accomplish in a few minutes what it takes a few Airmen with scales and measuring tape hours to do.
During a recent exercise, Airmen tested the Kinetic Cargo system on 100 pieces of cargo. The “way it’s always been done” took 120 minutes. MSgt Allensworth’s way took only 10.
MSgt Allensworth, his innovation partners, and the Shogun Spark Cell use VISION to connect with other stakeholders around the Air Force. Because of the visibility VISION creates, transportation Airmen everywhere who believe there must be a better way can connect with the Kinetic Cargo team to leverage this team’s success. Together we’re making the “better ways” possible.
Nominee: TSgt Brady Flynn with Project Hermes – Luke Air Force Base, Arizona
If you had to get important, time-sensitive information out to a large number of people fast, how would you do it? The way it’s always been done in the Air Force is with a tattered, dingy gray piece of paper buried in your wallet, the recall roster. One person calls a few people, who call a few more, who call a few more. But, is there a better way to do it in the 2020s?
The Maintenance Group Commander at Luke Air Force Base asked himself this question when he was having trouble getting public health information and policies out to his 3,000 Airmen at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Fortunately, the leadership at Luke had invested in training and committing Airmen to the innovation office there. As soon as TSgt Brady Flynn understood the problem, he and the rest of the team got to work to find a solution to this ineffective “time suck”.
The first idea was how they might be able to take advantage of the messaging capability on the smartphones every Airman has in their pocket. Large corporations and municipalities use software to send text messages at massive volumes. But, these systems were expensive and had their own limitations on message size.
So, the team learned how to use an Outlook feature as a workaround and implemented a system to load up an Excel spreadsheet with names, numbers, and cell phone provider info. But, the results were spotty-many Airmen never received the message. They didn’t give up.
In 2021, they connected with the National Security Innovation Network’s X-Force Program, a summer internship for students and recent graduates who want to serve their country with their tech skills. Within a few months, the NSIN team built a Minimum Viable Product called Project Hermes.
Now with a working prototype of their idea, the Project Hermes team earned a spot as a Spark Tank semi-finalist and support from Headquarters Air Force. Within a few months, the project was selected, but unfunded as a SBIR grant. Today, they continue to work to find a way to turn their proven results into a fully-funded system.
But, while TSgt Flynn and his team are the ones jousting against the bureaucracy everyday, they aren’t the only ones who will benefit from their success. Project Hermes was one of the most-followed projects in VISION in 2022. Why? Because every unit in the Air Force since 1947 has produced a paper recall roster. There has to be a better way.
Because Project Hermes is in VISION, no other innovation shops are spending time on this problem. Instead, they follow the progress TSgt Flynn is making, and use their time, manpower, and energy on other problems. About once a month, the Luke team gets an email from someone in the Air Force or the broader DOD asking how the project is going, and if they need any help.
With this level of interest across the Air Force and the tireless efforts of Airmen, the days of the tattered, gray recall roster may, thankfully, be numbered.