Air Force Academy senior leader and cadet candidate break innovation barriers
U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet 1st Class Yann Wollman (left) and Col. Houston Cantwell, the Academy’s vice superintendent, present their idea — the “What’s Up” App for event planning — to senior leaders during the first Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Innovation Rodeo, March 1, 2019, in San Antonio, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)
Story by Jennifer Spradlin, March 18, 2019
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — These days, you don’t have to be a science major or a faculty researcher to make a difference in the research arena and solve problems for the Air Force.
“When it comes to innovation, the Air Force Academy is ‘walking the walk,’” said Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the Academy’s superintendent.
Just ask Col. Houston Cantwell, the Air Force Academy’s vice superintendent, or Usama Bamieh, a cadet candidate at the Academy’s Prep School, Silveria said.
Cantwell took first place at the first Installation Management and Sustainment Command Innovation Rodeo for his “What’s Up” app last week at Joint Base-San Antonio, Texas. Bamieh was one of six finalists featured in the 2019 Spark Tank Competition during the Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 27-March 1.
The Rodeo awarded a total of $650,000 to the top three teams from a field of more than 120 submissions. The Academy’s team was comprised of Cantwell and Cadet Second Class Yann Wollman and brought home $250,000 by finishing at the top. They will partner with AFWERX, an Air Force program that fosters a culture of innovation, and the private sector.
The Academy’s app, a crowd-sourced event calendar, connects Airmen and their families to club activities and organizations around the installation. It breaks barriers between people, clubs and-or organizations by enabling clubs and-or organizations to easily add their activities to a comprehensive installation calendar while allowing easy review of the activities through an intuitive app.
“I wanted to answer the question, ‘how do I know what’s going on?’ for Airmen and their families and quite honestly, myself,” Cantwell. “For wing commanders, it can be hard to gauge or even be aware of the many events available across an entire installation.”
The colonel came up with the idea for the app while commanding the 49th Wing at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, home to nearly 2,000 first-term Airmen. Cantwell said there were multiple opportunities for Airmen and their families to participate in recreational activities and events, but conventional advertising methods were spotty and ineffective.
“The idea was to bring two disparate groups together, the organizations and the Airmen, for a seamless transition of information in a ‘one-stop shop,’” he said.
Cantwell took advantage of the opportunities the Academy offers senior leaders to mentor cadets, and partnered with Wollman, president of the Academy’s Innovation Club, to refine his idea ahead of the competition. Wollman joined him during the app presentation in San Antonio and “brought energy and fresh ideas that only a cadet could bring –Yann did a fantastic job” according to Cantwell.
“We’re just following what General Silveria says about innovation: go out there and break barriers,” Wollman said. “We’re ready to get together at the Academy and start prototyping and testing out the idea.”
Cantwell said the importance of innovation cannot be overstated.
“I applaud the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center for emphasizing innovation and showing you can make a difference by thinking outside the box and bringing your ideas forward,” he said.
At the Prep School
Prep School Cadet Candidate Usama Bamieh, an enlisted Airman admitted to the Prep School, pitched his weather aggregation software, “Lexi,” to a five-person panel that included Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, and Shark Tank personality and business mogul Mark Cuban.
“Our legacy method of forecasting, which takes about 45 minutes, doesn’t provide environmental intelligence quickly enough,” Bamieh said. “Lexi reduces that [initial] time to about 15 seconds, and operates off any communication system that we have available.”
Bamieh developed the software program to streamline the Mission Execution Forecast at U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr, Germany. The MEF is a snapshot of weather conditions in an area of responsibility and includes information like wind speed and temperature.
Spark Tank provides a high-profile, public forum to celebrate the innovations of Airmen, identifies avenues to increase lethality and cost-effective modernization, pushes boundaries to pursue future technologies, and recognizes problems and creative solutions. This year, out of 320 submissions, six finalists were selected to pitch their ideas.
Although Bamieh did not win, the Spark Tank panel recognized the potential for the software and pledged to connect Bamieh with the Kessel Run Project to help him further develop the idea.