The Education of Innovation: How a simple task turned into an entire education.
By Major Tyner Apt-Hill
It was a simple assignment. Heck, it was an Army assignment. “Write a paper about something you want to change in your respective service and provide a material solution.” As I sat at Command General and Staff College and began to think about all the things, I have encountered that needed to be changed or updated, I started to think…but how. Here I was, at an Army School, writing about something to change in the Air Force—why would anyone care what I had to say?
As I began researching the myriad of logistics issues I had encountered at the squadron or depot level, I couldn’t help but be frustrated. Even if I could author the most beautiful and impactful paper in the world, what would I do after grading? With this frustration continuing to stir, I started to reach out to personnel across the logistics community, asking about problems they have seen, what they would change, and even better, how they would implement the change. During this research, I found an unexpected mentor and colleague in Mr. Chad Jones, The Global Government Lead, at KPMG US. Mr. Jones had previously worked as a contractor at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex and on a variety of DoD projects, including the 5G Warehousing Initiative in Albany, Georgia.
Our initial conversation was extremely intimidating; here was someone with over 30 years in the business of sustainment, and all I was trying to accomplish was authoring a paper worth a passing grade. When the conversation ended, I thanked him for his time and began to exit stage left. Very unexpectedly, Mr. Jones offered to continue our discussions about the US Marine Corps 5G Warehouse Project in Albany, as well as milestone updates and conversations about innovation in industry.
Through our subsequent Zoom calls and conversations, I quickly realized this was far beyond the scope of my writing assignment. But it was also a unique opportunity to gain insight into innovation from a different perspective, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at an incredible project at the Albany Marine Corps Depot. While finalizing my notes from a conversation, I began to reflect on the proper education here…the Education of Innovation. On the foundational pillars of transparent relationships and community problem solving, a simple school project turned into a significant learning experience.
In today’s day and age, contractors or commercial partners can approach anyone from a Senior Airman to a General Officer about a product. With the advent of social connections like LinkedIn, commercial to military relationships are happening at lightning speed.
As a young CGO, I remember being scared to talk to anyone from the commercial sector who didn’t hold the financial capability or authority to utilize their product. I was also naïve to what I could or could not say to them to not give away “Trade secrets.” But our commercial and industry partners are a crucial part of the team—so how do we have those conversations? Commercial leaders are just as valid mentors as senior military leaders. They face personnel challenges, operational stress and attempt to find the secret to work-life balance. Many contractors also have extensive backgrounds in their specialties and extensive in-depth technical experience.
Utilizing this knowledge comes down to having a transparent relationship between commercial and military personnel. The commercial side must understand your inability to commit to contracts or provide specific insight into military operations. The exact boundaries must be understood by the military member as well. With clear boundaries, the conversations you and a commercial mentor can have are endless. These transparent relationships are foundational to community problem-solving.
Community Problem Solving
In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s central phrase was “Arsenal of Democracy” when discussing our organic industrial base. On the backs of the commercial industry, we could retool factories and increase production to support the war effort in World War II. Since then, the joint force has continued to rely on the commercial sector to succeed.
Solving a problem or capability gap within the logistics realm takes both military and commercial efforts. Community problem solving comes into play here. Being on the same page with our commercial partners through mentorship and professional symposiums allows us to strengthen that community’s foundation. Further, as projects continue to develop, such as the 5G Warehouse opportunity at the Marine Corps Depot, military members need to understand the community background involved. For example, the 5G Warehouse is not solely reliant on contractors, but university technology and development teams and government agencies are involved. As the community continues to grow, our need to understand and integrate into the community also requires growth.
While these two pillars might seem simplistic, integrating them into all echelons of Air Force logistics will be a challenge. Transparent relationships and community problem solving are two things we can rapidly integrate into our forces. There is already a forum for these interactions through opportunities such as the LOA Symposium, LOA Chapter Meetings, and LOA Community events. Our responsibility as logistics professionals is to take advantage of these opportunities to become Educated on Innovation.
Read the full paper in the Exceptional Release – Spring 2022 edition (Coming Soon)
As noted by Chad Jones, KPMG: “The Defense strategic logistics atmosphere is shifting with both a heightened national security environment regionally and simultaneous expectations of greater support to domestic crises – floods, fires, and pandemics. Defense supply chain and logistics leaders must be able to respond to: citizen centric challenges, the possibility of high-intensity conflict and domestic crisis while maintaining high readiness levels and capability rates. The cost effectiveness of smart warehouses has significantly improved, such that retrofitting existing facilities or building new are now a real consideration for Defense leaders. This capability [5G Smart Warehouses] is transforming the approach and thinking to Gear accountability, Asset management and Logistics support to the Military”.