Thawing the frozen middle: Creech sparks innovation fire

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Haley Stevens
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Airmen with the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing and the 799th Air Base Group visited AFWERX-Las Vegas Nov. 5, 2018, to establish a Spark Cell that encourages innovation and the exploration of creative solutions to tactical-level problems.

The off-site program serves as an opportunity to get ideas flowing, accelerate results of innovative thinking and learn more about the resources available to problem solvers of Creech Air Force Base. In total, 45 Airmen were able to participate.

“We have so many bright Airmen in our ranks (who) are just waiting to provide us ideas and innovative concepts,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, during the 2018 Air Warfare Symposium. “Some of it is steeped in tradition; some of it is steeped in our culture; but we have to figure out a way to get past this frozen middle. You have to be comfortable taking risks. You have to be comfortable failing forward.”

The frozen middle describes conservative, idea-adverse, mid-level management that sometimes stifles ingenuity for falling outside of established norms.

“This was a great experience,” said Senior Master Sgt. Reed, 432nd Wing Staff Agency superintendent, and Spark Cell attendee. “The workshop was a chance for a group of Airmen that want to make change to get together and learn to look at problems from a different perspective. The AFWERX staff helps take those ideas, cut through red tape, and get business experts and other resources together to bring them to life.”

The trip included a guided tour of the 30,000 square foot office space and prototyping lab, as well as an overview of the AFWERX mission.

AFWERX was envisioned by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, to solve some of the toughest challenges that the Air Force faces through innovation and collaboration alongside the nation’s top subject matter experts.

Spark Tank, an AFWERX competition, was first announced in September 2017 and calls on Airmen to pitch their innovative ideas to Air Force senior leaders.

These new programs tap into the power of creativity and empower intentional innovation by unleashing out-of-the-box approaches for the warfighter; building a community of intrapreneurs, industry, academia and non-traditional contributors.

A workshop providing tools to help spark unique solutions and team collaboration was also held.

The discussion included brainstorming possible improvements for the base and its members, how Creech Airmen can make changes today, and what their resources are for more extensive projects tomorrow.

“We have a lot of Airmen ready to make change,” Reed said. “I feel the culture of Creech and the RPA community as a whole lives innovation, and combined with the proximity to AFWERX, our Airmen have the potential to write the manual on how to innovate in the Air Force.”

The 432nd WG is working to recognize members who bring about innovative change by embracing technology or the implementation of novel concepts that can positively affect the future of the unit and its mission.

One such solution belongs to Staff Sgt. John Sherwood, 432nd Operations Support Squadron intelligence analyst. His Spark Tank submission aims to improve intelligence analyst’s training using augmented reality.

By creating an augmented reality, with four dimensions, intelligence students can be more engaged and better understand their role in combat. 

“Years of working in intelligence collection, analysis and reporting has highlighted the issue of portraying four-dimensional concepts on a two dimensional medium,” said Sherwood. “Project Spectre will enhance the way dynamic concepts are portrayed to personnel. This will result in thousands of instruction hours per year saved and increase individual comprehension of various material.”

The visit brought together Airmen to collaborate, innovate, fabricate and present accelerated results to improve combat capabilities of the MQ-9 Reaper and the U.S. Air Force.

Creech members plan to organize more Sin City Spark Cell meetings to continue inspiring the persistent creativity that will lead to future base and mission enhancements.

If you would like to attend the next meeting, learn more or set up a tour, visit