CRW teams up with Project Arc to heighten innovation Published May 8, 2023 621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J -- The 621st Contingency Response Wing is driving innovative change through unit level capability development with the help of two Project Arc Airmen from the Headquarters Air Mobility Command and the 99th Logistics Readiness Squadron. Lt. Col. Joshua Neustrom and Airman 1st Class Hannah Garwood, both degreed engineers, were selected for Project Arc in November 2022 through the Office of the Chief Scientist to be placed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst for six months to build and assist the ongoing efforts to develop and deliver capabilities directly into the hands of the warfighter. Project Arc is an Air and Space Force wide program where active-duty Airmen of all ranks across the globe are handpicked based on their skills and technical background. They are then temporarily placed in a unit desiring to accelerate change. “Project Arc Airmen around the world have saved the Air Force increasing amounts of time and money each year with the first two months of 2023 resulting in eight successful initiatives totaling $7.5 million and 30,000 man-hours saved,” said Maj. Jason Goins, Project Arc lead. Project Arc fuses the user in need with the tech savvy Airmen. “Most solutions we need already exist in some Airmen’s head,” said Neustrom. “Instead of expensive contracts, many Airmen’s ideas just need a little technical expertise to make them a reality.” “One of the problems our Air Force faces today is loss of technical talent due to under-utilization. Project Arc bridges this gap by allowing all ranks to apply, as well as placing us in units they believe are the best fit to utilize our skills. In our current cohort we have about half enlisted, half officers” stated A1C Garwood. Project Arc has been supported strongly by the 621st CRW in the last year in its efforts to heighten innovation. “The 621 CRW provides an ideal testing environment for capability development due to the robust contingency exercise schedule, diverse missions sets and highly trained Multi-Capable Airmen who are freed from traditional career field day-to-day duties,” Col. Aaron Walenga, 621st CRW Vice Commander. “We also benefit from extremely diverse squadrons consisting of over 35 different career field specialties in a single squadron.” Airmen today are faced with the pressure of expediency which creates a need for practical solutions. A1C Garwood notes, “Some of the best projects and ideas have been low to no cost solutions, airmen built, and airmen maintained. This ensures future continuity and success of the effort.” The following Airmen-built innovations can be implemented by almost any squadron in the Air Force with minimal cost and time: fast and reliable cargo deployment process, compact and light airfield testing equipment, austere environment protection for radios, hands-on Tactical Awareness Kit app and Envision training and an armory check-in/out system. Among these efforts, the Project Arc team has brought not only expertise, but existing outside resources and connections the 621st CRW has leveraged. This has helped further the efforts to bridge the gap between the warfighter and higher headquarters. For example, the 621st CRW is working towards implementing and deploying a contingency common operating picture that integrates with upgraded communications equipment. TAK was created by the Air Force Research laboratory and is currently being experimented with during exercises. TAK is an app that provides real-time situational awareness and geospatial mapping for a variety of operational duties. Examples include, airfield surveys, capturing sensor feeds, weather tracking, aircraft parking plans, and cargo deployment tracking. “With implementation of a new platform, comes the need for hands-on, in person training as well as practical guidance for field use,” said Garwood. “By stress testing the system ourselves and giving airmen hands-on time in a low-threat setting, they become more comfortable using TAK under pressure. In addition to training, ground rules need to be set on how this system will be used effectively across the different CR missions.” “We have found numerous bases across the Air Force using TAK for a variety of missions,” Neustrom said. “Connecting with other units allows us to expand our knowledge on the system and train airmen more effectively. By sharing our training across the 621st CRW and at AMC headquarters, we lay the groundwork for seamless communication and situation awareness from the bottom to the top of the command during the next contingency.” With these efforts in place, the 621st CRW can rapidly test a multitude of innovations spanning several missions that are widely applicable to many other Air Force units across the globe. “In the Air Force there is a large gap between those who see the big picture, and those directly near the problems,” Neustrom said. “Instead of innovating from the top of the chain down, we have seen more success innovating from the bottom up, integrating Airmen of all ranks and positions into these efforts. A contractor with a high price tag is not always going to fix the problem.” “Both Project Arc and the 621st CRW have provided this open test bed for us to explore our ideas as well as help airmen with theirs,” said Garwood. “A big part of our success is from local leadership recognizing the bottom-up approach and supporting us along the way through the good, and bad.” “Networking with other airmen and bases is key in all of this,” Neustrom said. “Some of our Air Force challenges have been solved or thought about at another base. Bringing together technical experts passionate about these problems can bring about amazing change and progress.” “What we have seen is that you cannot simply finish a project and leave it, you must capture the outstanding effect, and then document what is needed to build and maintain the solution,” said Garwood. “Then it can be shared to other bases and pitched to leaders across the Air Force.” Another way to share ideas is by using online forums like afmaker.com and vision.il4.afwerx.dso.mil/. A1C Garwood said a recipe of key innovation ingredients includes “a mix of technical and soft skills to include charisma, compassion for the Airmen enduring the problems we face, critical thinking, and the acceptance of failure along the way.” “Similar to a fire requiring heat, fuel and oxygen; innovation requires resources, motivated expertise and time,” said Walenga. “Unfortunately, we often forget about time as a critical element of innovation in the same way we forget about oxygen needed to build a fire. The challenge for today’s leaders is, pending an existential threat upending our weekly battle rhythms, how do we prioritize our airmen’s time to ignite innovation. And it’s not just any airman...how do we target the motivated airmen, who can take ideas and leverage their experience, education, and resources to move fast and develop capability that previously did not exist.” To help the innovation effort, a good starting place is the local Spark Cell. “Having an idea or a drive to make something better is the first step, you then must put in the work to find those opportunities,” said Garwood. “Airmen do not always have the resources on hand, but most bases have Spark Cells with like-minded individuals working innovation efforts.” Spark Cells were designed to give every Airman the opportunity to participate in growing ideas and approaches that foster a culture of innovation. They offer tools such as high-speed computers, 3D printers and various platform licenses to execute locally generated ideas and projects. “With the help of the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Spark Cell and the Travis Air Force Base Phoenix Spark Cell, many of our projects for the 621st CRW have been executed rapidly and turned over to the units ready to implement,” Neustrom said. The 621st CRW plans to bring in two more Project Arc airmen coming this Spring 2023 and is hopeful for continued growth and innovative mindsets to enhance contingency operations.