Grissom Air Reserve Base sparks innovation

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Rachel Barton
  • 434th Air Refueling Wing

The 434th Air Refueling Wing is setting up a new innovation center or “spark cell” at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind.

Spark cells are a decentralized network of Air Force facilities around the world, used to execute locally generated ideas and projects. Spark cells are developed by AFWERX, which is an Air Force program established in 2017, that aims to speed up the innovation process by promoting connections across industry, academia and the military. 

“The goal for the spark cell is to have a facility that enables Airmen to take initiative on developing new ideas, products and processes,” said Bryan Runion, 434th ARW process manager.

“Create and promote a culture of innovation in the 434th Air Refueling Wing,” is the Grissom spark cell’s mission statement.

“The idea is to empower the Airmen, because the people who have the best ideas, a lot of the time, are the people that are closest to the work,” Runion said.  “They might have an idea or a technology solution that can benefit the Air Force.”

Runion explained that when Col. Thom Pemberton, 434th ARW commander, took command, one of his goals was to put an innovation lab on the base. They have been working toward making that a reality.

“In the Air Force acquisition world, it can take years to get things done,” said Runion. “Maybe some of these are things we can leverage through a spark cell to get things out there faster.”

Runion has held several meetings to generate buzz for the Grissom Spark Cell. Interest in the project has steadily grown in recent months.

Recently, Runion traveled to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., accompanied by Tech. Sgt. Phillip Timoschuck, 434th ARW chief innovation officer, and Tech. Sgt Matthew Poor, 434thARW chief collaborations officer, for a three-day summit at AFWERX headquarters.

“There were other units there that were just like us that are trying to start up so the good thing is that we can learn from other people who have done it,” said Runion. “It was great networking and great training. I think the innovation community in the Air Force is growing.”

Grissom’s spark cell will share a joint use area with the passenger terminal here and be available for use by Airmen and teams to develop ideas and products, in a cost-effective manner, to make the Air Force mission more successful.

“This could be a great fit for maintenance,” said Timoschuck. “There are a lot of things that we don’t have that Boeing or GE don’t fabricate for us and we could actually start fabricating and testing.”

Depending on future funding, some of the tools available could include computer workstations, 3-D printers, virtual reality training systems and computer aided design software.

“Now comes the hard part, we need some people to make this a reality,” Runion said. “We’re looking for people that have a passion for ideas, innovation and technology. If you have a strong desire to solve problems and have innovative ideas, this may be what you are looking for. You can help us to make this a reality.”

Anyone interested in being involved in the spark cell should reach out to Runion at (765) 688-2290.

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.