Story by SSgt Jordyn Fetter on 08/09/2019LAS VEGAS--The story goes like this--You can lead a horse to water, but how are you supposed to know which body of water to go to if the options range from lakes to rivers to ponds?
That's the analogy public affairs Airmen called to mind when describing the realities of navigating and communicating the various pathways that enable Air Force innovation.
"As the Air Force's most significant tool for communicating with external audiences and sharing messages internally, public affairs is a key stakeholder in creating awareness and garnering support for and engagement with these initiatives," said Lt. Col. Tina Parker, AFWERX Director of Marketing and Communication. "With that in mind, we brought Air Force communicators together and put our creativity to the test."
AFWERX hosted a two-day workshop for more than 40 Airmen across the Air Force from bases like Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, and Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, as well as major commands like Air Force Global Strike Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa to integrate them into the ecosystem and create a clearer picture of how they fit into the innovation mix.
On July 22 and 25--one day before and one after AFWERX Fusion--the group gathered to learn about AFWERX and how the capabilities and tools used in the Air Force innovation space are relevant to the Airmen who each public affairs office are empowered to educate, equip, connect and inspire.
The event kicked off once Parker signaled a question to the group: "What one word comes to mind when you think of Air Force Innovation'?"
Answers ranged from "buzzword" to "empowerment" and "technology" to "experiment," quickly leading to thought-provoking discussions.
The group then took a behind-the-scenes look at the various innovation pathways available to match Airmen's needs with new concepts and technologies, many from nontraditional sources.
"One of my biggest takeaways as a junior enlisted member was the heavy realization that our National Defense Strategy is primarily achievable only if our messaging is effective," said Senior Airman Crystal Jenkins, 673rd Air Base Wing photojournalist and Arctic Spark Council CEO. "We cannot afford to fail to grasp the fact that innovation is more than a buzzword and, across the Air Force, we must pick up our pace to innovate better and faster than our adversaries. To achieve this, it is vital for us to communicate our message using nontraditional various forms accessing all platforms."
By bringing in capability leads like Spark Tank Director Lauren Knausenberger, AFWERX Austin Hub Director Matthew Scott, and Spark Director Tony Perez, the AFWERX team was able to share how all the initiatives actively operating within the Air Force now are intertwined with one another.
"What people often don't realize about AFWERX is how much goes on beneath the surface and is constantly evolving," said Capt. Maggie Kealy-Machella, 366th Fighter Wing public affairs officer and AFWERX marketing member. "I first heard of this organization back when I was tasked to set up a Spark Cell at my base and it quickly led me to want to be more and more involved in the incredible work we're doing."
What began as a simple invitation into the immersive world of Air Force innovation led to dialogue and debates over the purpose and function of the public affairs career field, including topics like integrating data into daily operations to demonstrate impact and creating a more clear path between Airmen who have ideas and industry professionals who can provide tangible solutions.
"Being afforded the opportunity to collaborate with peers of all ranks during the public affairs workshop allowed us to maximize our time focusing on various audiences and how to get the innovation message delivered effectively," Jenkins said. "Having the ability to be in one room to discuss what has and hasn't worked allowed us to tackle the problems we face as communicators faster."
While it may be difficult to initially decipher between the benefits a lake and a river provide, these Air Force communicators are determined to simplify and streamline the pathways for their Airmen to bring ideas to fruition.
"You all weave the power of stories and stories are the currency of our world," said Capt. Joey Arora, AFWERX Director of Ecosystem Development, during the gathering. "Stories are how you're going to get someone to follow an idea from that random Airman on base or get the wing commander to pay attention to something. That's the power I see you all have."
Looking to the future, Parker says AFWERX will continue to host events like these to connect a career field that's integral to creating an Air Force that Airmen deserve.