Total Force team captures Innovation Excellence Award

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Battles
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa Public Affairs

Accelerating change starts with an empowered workforce with foundational competencies, the right skills, and the drive to innovate. A team of six total force Airmen embodied that mindset while participating in an Air University and Innovatrium partnership, Project Mercury, March 16 - June 14, 2021.

Those six, collectively named Team Pacific Prime, were charged with conducting original research on a Department of Defense strategic challenge about contested logistics within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and developing a plan to implement a solution that evolved during the eight-week program.

“This program provided an incredibly unique opportunity,” said Capt. Molly Locke, a Team Pacific Prime member. “I was able to work on a real problem in the U.S. Air Force that I would not have otherwise faced, with people from a variety of backgrounds that I would not have otherwise met, while also learning more about a topic that will be important to both my career in and out of uniform.”

On June 14, the team presented their innovative solution to deliver high priority cargo and logistics support in a contested environment in the Indo-Pacific Region during a virtual innovation showcase.  After all team pitches were completed, Team Pacific Prime was selected for the overall Innovation Excellence Award and earned their Certified Professional Innovator certificates.

According to Locke, the team solidified their selection due to their solution’s real-world applications.

“We do not just believe in our idea as a good idea, but its applicability and feasibility are so evident that it is easy for us to continue to press forward,” she said. “The difference between our idea and the other two finalists was that our basic platform is already in development, not a concept that will need testing and funding for a prototype 5 to 10 years from now. This platform is real, it already exists, and we are proposing adding another use for it.”

Along with Locke, who is currently stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as the U.S. Air Forces in Europe influence operations lead, the team consisted of Lt. Col. David Brewer, Capt. Josh Pyne, Capt. Daniel Alexander, Chief Master Sgt. Adam Stugard and Master Sgt. Conor Gray.

Stugard, a Chief Master Sergeant Leadership Academy instructor at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Alabama, stated programs such as Project Mercury are key for the Air Force to develop and stay ahead of its adversaries.

“I truly believe the speed of innovation and decision-making will be the key to our success in a high-end fight. We need to develop and integrate new tools and processes faster than our adversaries, so we need every Airman, from E-1 to O-10, to be capable and confident in their ability to do that. That's where Project Mercury comes in. It teaches the tools and methods of innovation, and it instills an innovation mindset through their practical application as you and your team work through a very difficult real-world problem.”

Locke continued Stugard’s sentiments about the importance of innovation in the Air Force by stating, “senior leadership recognizes that our military is becoming complacent and even stagnant in some areas. If we want to remain the greatest Air Force in the world, we have a short window of time to make the changes necessary to stay relevant on the world stage. Technology has advanced so quickly and our current processes and way of life are not fully compatible. True innovation and its precursors are a requirement for our future success.”

Project Mercury is a partnership between Air Education and Training Command’s Air University and the Innovatrium foun­­ded by Dr. Jeff DeGraff at the University of Michigan.  The program leverages diversity and constructive conflict through the Competing Values Framework.

“Similar to death and taxes, one thing that is certain is that there will never be a shortage of problems to solve,” Locke said. “Opportunities to advance will always be right around the corner. Using critical thinking skills like the ones we learned in this program will be key to identifying those issues and working towards real solutions.”

Project Mercury has certified nearly 150 Airmen as CPIs since its inception in 2019.