TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Representatives from each major command in the U.S. Air Force met March 5-7 at Travis Air Force Base, California, for an innovation summit focusing on the implementation of the Spark Innovation program at various bases across the Air Force.
Travis’ Phoenix Spark took center stage at the summit and one of its creators, Maj. Anthony Perez, 60th Operations Support Squadron KC-10 Extender pilot, offered tips to MAJCOM leaders who aspire to create their own Spark Hubs at their respective bases.
“What we’re trying to do with (Phoenix Spark) is take that buzz word, ‘innovation,’ and make it actionable,” said Perez. “What (Phoenix Spark) is is an idea incubator internally, a network builder externally and then facilitates the relationship between those two ideas.”
The summit, billed as a “cross-talk event led, briefed and facilitated by the Airmen fostering grassroots innovation efforts” by Travis’ Facebook, featured guest speakers from Travis AFB, AFWERX and Silicon Valley.
Col. Matthew Leard, 60th Air Mobility Wing vice commander and champion for Phoenix Spark, provided both opening and closing remarks for the three-day event.
“The Spark Summit and the idea of base-level innovation is a reaction to the fact that we need to get smarter,” said Leard. “The reality of it is, whoever we face in the future, they’ll likely be numerically superior to us with technology that is nearing or even surpassing our own. It comes down to individual Airmen rapidly solving the problems we have at the time we need. Our advantage has and always will be our Airmen and the Spark program aims to make the most out of that advantage and give individuals the tools and knowledge they need to build tomorrow’s Air Force today.”
Supporting Travis in its effort to perpetuate the ideas of innovation integral to the fabric of the Spark program and AFWERX network are members of the highest echelons of military leadership, including Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence, along with Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, recently visited Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, to attend an event meant to underscore the importance of innovation to the Air Force moving forward.
“Innovation is deeply ingrained in the heritage of the United States Air Force in the pioneers and the explorers and the trailblazers to break barriers in the skies above us, to achieve the impossible, to bring the future into the present,” Pence said at the event. “We can’t predict the threats we are going to face tomorrow, but one thing is certain: To defeat our enemies and protect this country, we need a stronger and more agile and smarter military than ever before.”
For Leard, Perez and the rest of Travis’ Phoenix Spark team, that stronger and smarter military starts at the grassroots.
“Travis Air Force Base is not unique,” said Perez. “Every base—every Airman has the capacity to come up with incredible solutions to problems facing the Air Force now or could face in the future. It’s up to us as officers, supervisors or even fellow Airmen to empower each other to make those strides and facilitate the processes that allow us to do so.”
Along with briefings aimed at educating and offering insight into innovation foundations, tools and pathways, summit attendees were encouraged to network with each other in an effort to build the Spark program into an Air Force-wide initiative whereby Airmen from every base can contribute their thoughts and ideas to the future of the service.