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Kelly Johnson Center Encourages Airmen to ‘AIM-HI’

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Heaton
  • Michigan National Guard

ALPENA, MI,  --  A Michigan Air National Guard-sponsored program is helping Citizen-Airmen to focus the power of innovation to find solutions to the wicked problems that can cause problems at all levels of the Air Force enterprise. Perhaps the biggest difference, however, between the AIM-HI program and other innovation programs is that AIM-HI then teaches the students – not only Airmen in the Michigan Air National Guard – how to pitch those ideas to senior leaders and to find the funding required to put the programs into practice.

The acronym AIM-HI stands for Academia, Industry, Military Hybrid Innovations. It is a partnership led by the Michigan National Guard’s Kelly Johnson Joint All Domain Innovation Center with support from the University of Michigan, Duke University, and several partner organizations from inside the Air Force, such as ARCWERX and Air University.

“The program teaches students how to look at a problem, build a solution and then teaches them how to implement that solution in the real world,” said Michigan ANG Col. Michael Whitefoot, director of the KJJADIC. “We are educating, informing and empowering Airmen to innovate at their level, take that innovation forward and make a difference in their shop, in their Wing or for the entire Air Force or Dept. of Defense.”

The AIM-HI program, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a semester-long and the students are a mix of ANG personnel along with a smattering of others from across the U.S. military working in a cohort group, meet on-site periodically throughout the semester as well as virtually during the length of the program. Over 130 Airmen and Soldiers have graduated from the program in its first two-plus years of operation.

“We were given a list of problems that senior leaders had developed that they needed a solution,” said Master Sgt. Shaun West, the senior enlisted leader for the KJJADIC program and a student in the program’s first cohort in the spring of 2021.

West’s cohort, which began meeting about a year after the start of the COVID pandemic, focused on creating a remote work policy for the Air National Guard. No comprehensive policy existed before the pandemic and the cohort had to review the myriad of federal and state laws and policies, as well as military regulations that guiding work attendance in the National Guard. The cohort also had to develop a means where remote work could be utilized while still ensuring military readiness could be maintained.

“A couple of months after we pitched our proposal to our senior leaders, the Michigan National Guard implemented a new remote work policy,” West said.

Since that first cohort completed its work, another cohort looked for ways to increase the reliability of communications networks during times of major national disasters – events when the National Guard is often mobilized to provide support to local authorities. Another developed processes to better drive customer service principles into the Air National Guard at all levels to improve the experience of individual Airman – an effort that can have a direct impact on retention of military personnel.

“This is a graduate level program that is not only providing direct results as the students work on the problem that their particular cohort tackles, but now these Airmen have these skills and the mindset to know they can look at problems, identify solutions and they have the tools needed to implement positive change,” Whitefoot said.

KJJADIC was launched on Sept. 11, 2020, to focus and synchronize innovation efforts in the Michigan National Guard and beyond. In addition to the AIM-HI program, another major KJJADIC focus is the SPPIN (State Partnership Program Innovation), which brings together innovation efforts from multiple states.

During Exercise Northern Strike 2023, KJJADIC invited several industry partners to demonstrate new technologies for potential use by the Michigan National Guard, including the use of an unmanned aerial system that was utilized to deliver medical supplies to medics operating at a remote location from the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, one of two northern Michigan facilities where the exercise was based.

Whitefoot said with the KJJADIC approaching its third anniversary, the program is increasingly bringing in more input and partnership with the Michigan Army National Guard, which was the intention of the program from the start.

“We built a foundation with KJJADIC, training a cadre of people to help us expand ideas outward. As that foundation has grown, we can bring in more people and harness their energy as well,” Whitefoot said.

The innovation center is named in tribute to Michigan native Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, Lockheed’s master aeronautical engineer. He contributed to the successful design of dozens of U.S. military aircraft including the F-80 Shooting Star, the U-2 Dragon Lady, and the SR-71 Blackbird.

Exercise Northern Strike is a premier reserve component training event that integrates both U.S. and partner nation readiness training to building interoperability and strengthen partnerships in an all-domain environment.

Military personnel interested in learning more about AIM-HI, or to apply for the program, can visit