BATTLE LAB

TURNING IDEAS INTO REALITY
By Staff Sgt. Chawntain Sloan, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, ID (AFPN) February 7, 2006 — They aren’t mad scientists who wear lab coats and pocket protectors, and their expertise extends far beyond the confines of their think tanks. They were chosen because they’re the Air Force’s most innovative thinkers and they’re turning ideas into operational force enhancers all over the world.

The Air Warfare Battle Lab is one of seven that has been paving the road for a leaner and more lethal Air Force since 1997. “Each is specialized, but they all have the same goal in mind — to develop an idea into something the war fighter can use to do their job better,” said Lt. Col. Mark Koopman, deputy commander of the battle lab.

“Our battle lab looks for innovative ways to improve expeditionary operations, from initial deployment through employment and sustainment at the area of responsibility to redeployment back home. That is essentially our mission,” the colonel said.

While some of their unique concepts originate from within the network of officers and enlisted Airmen from more than 25 different career fields, the majority come from their biggest source of inspiration — you.

“People need to realize we are here for them,” said Tech Sgt. Brian Humphrey, aircraft maintenance systems project officer. “If they have a need or know of some sort of solution out there, we want to know about it.”

Whether it’s coming from the boardroom or the flight line, the battle lab relies on input from both the military and civilian sectors.

“At least every 10 months to two years, we visit all (major command) headquarters, and take a contingent of people from all the battle labs to meet with the functional managers who know best about what is going on and what is needed the most,” Colonel Koopman said. “We also go to maintenance symposiums all over the world to get the most cutting edge and up-to-date information from contractors and the blue suiters that may attend those.”

Their best feedback comes straight from the horse’s mouth.

“The warfighters can have the smallest ideas or the simplest needs, and there are so many ways we can meet those needs,” said Sergeant Humphrey, who spent 16 years as an F-16 crew chief. “I couldn’t do my job without getting input from the flight line and maintenance units.”

Once they have gathered their ideas, these professionals approach the most difficult part of their job - sorting through and deciding which ones have merit.

“We take the ideas that were submitted and the reasons why. We definitely take a personal view of everything and look at it, but it has to make a big impact and meet expeditionary needs,” Colonel Koopman said. “Every idea that comes to us, we consider, but there’s a finite number of people and money that we have to work ideas.”

When an idea shows promise, it is upgraded to an initiative for approval and funding. Of the more than 470 initiatives the battle lab has reviewed so far, about 40 have either fully or partially changed the lives of warfighters. Business is not due to slow down any time soon.

The battle lab is currently working 20 initiatives that have been approved for funding and three draft initiatives that are in the approval process, Colonel Koopman said. The Airmen work as a team to get an idea from concept to development in 18 months.

“I am the lead on three projects and a team member on four others,” Sergeant Humphrey said. “Even though I am not a team lead on all those projects, it helps to have a good working relationship with the rest of the people on your team because the initiative doesn’t stop if I go on leave. It doesn’t stop if I go on a temporary duty assignment for another initiative. I have to constantly be working on those initiatives and relying on the other team members to help me.”

Despite the hectic schedule, the impact one idea can have on their clients is enough to keep them going.

“My biggest reward has been knowing that I can take an idea from the concept stage to development and find a need for it out there in the war fighters — the guys whose boots are on the flight line, the guys who are deploying to the desert — and I can give them this widget that is going to improve their war fighting capabilities in about 18 months,” Sergeant Humphrey said. “I know I am making a difference for them.”

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