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NGB team facilitates innovation, launches competition

Sheet metal technicians with the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Air Control Wing and the 461st Air Control Wing secure an engine aircraft cover on a cowling fixture table at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, April 3, 2019.

Sheet metal technicians with the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Air Control Wing and the 461st Air Control Wing secure an engine aircraft cover on a cowling fixture table at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, April 3, 2019. Maintainers with the wings designed the table, an innovative tool Air Force officials said will save the service about $500,000 a year.

ARLINGTON, Va. – Airmen in the California Air National Guard designed maintenance trailers to operate more efficiently in austere environments, reducing the time it takes to deploy fighter aircraft. Meanwhile, a battalion with the Maryland Army National Guard incorporated a civilian-based fitness program to help part-time Soldiers prepare for the Army Combat Fitness Test. And in the Mississippi Air National Guard, an Airman used 3D printer technology and recycled plastics to build mock-ups of munitions to aid in training while increasing safety.

The inventive thought processes behind those past endeavors are something Keith E. Buchholz, the National Guard Bureau's programs and resources comptroller and the director of the NGB's Strategic Plans and Programs Directorate want to harness and develop Guard-wide.

"We need to make sure we have the best equipped [and] the most efficient Guard to get to the missions as quickly as possible and support the warfighter and the nation," said Buchholz. "To do this, we need to be innovative."

To support that, Buchholz and his staff help coordinate Guard innovation efforts through the directorate's National Guard Innovation Council.

"There is nothing that says that [Guard] folks in Montana can't work with [Guard] folks in Florida about similar ideas and take it forward, and we facilitate those discussions and connections," he said.

The innovation council also manages outreach efforts to government organizations, academia and small businesses – all coming together with Guard units by matching ideas with opportunities.

"These connections are the ones we [have] got to make so that everyone understands what's possible right now," said Buchholz, adding the council also engages Guard leaders and encourages them to develop Soldiers and Airmen efforts tied to innovation.

Conversely, he added, this also helps Guard senior leaders understand what "we are trying to do at the National Guard Bureau to support innovation and bring it up to the national level."

Buchholz said that while military innovation is often associated with increasing lethality, innovation – in general – comes in a variety of flavors.

"Though we are in a technological age, it's not just technology," he said, adding that it could be improving processes, maximizing time or revisiting possibly outdated policies.

As a way to boost an innovative spirit among Guard members, the council is heading up the first-ever National Guard Innovation Competition, which allows Soldiers and Airmen to submit their ideas on innovation. The final, winning submission will be implemented Guard-wide.

"Innovation is going on every day [in the Guard], and the amount of recognition may not be as great as we want it to be," Buchholz said. "We want to give [Guard members] not only the opportunity to be recognized at their [unit] or wing but now give them the opportunity for national attention as well."

Those interested in taking part in the competition – which kicked off in January and runs through June – must submit their proposals through their command. Next, those selected will go through regional and semi-final rounds before advancing to the final round. Finalists will present their concepts in-person to a national panel that includes Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

Submissions do not have to be fully formed and Buchholz encouraged interested Guard members with developing ideas to participate in the competition.

"It could be as little as 'I have an idea and this is what I am thinking,'" he said, adding that competitors who advance in the rounds can work with the innovation council to fully develop their concepts for judging.

Entries can be from an individual or a team, and while only one finalist can win, Buchholz said all submissions with potential would be explored further.

"We would love to see all ideas get implemented," he said, adding that if what is presented is either cost-effective, improves efficiency, helps build readiness, or could save lives, the innovation council "will fight for it, and [help] get it implemented."

In the end, Buchholz said the competition is one way to expand a culture of innovation in the Guard.

"[Guard members] must have the willingness to knock down the wall of 'we-have-done-it-this-way-forever,'" he said. "And there are reasons why we have done things forever, but times are changing, and we need to look at new and innovative ways to do things."

For more information on the National Guard Innovation Competition, interested Guard members can visit the National Guard Innovation Portal website (May not be accessible by specific browsers. If this occurs, Guard members should use alternative browsers): National Guard Innovation Portal

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