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Wing Operations Center takes innovation prize

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --

The 55th Wing Operations Center will soon be receiving $2.8 million worth of upgrades to their mission systems, thanks to the innovation of WOC Airmen.

The WOC team researched, designed and pitched a proposal to the Air Force’s Digital Innovation Challenge, and beat out 64 other competitors to win full funding.  

WOC civilians, contractors and military members collaborated on a design with a goal to take Offutt’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance game to the next level. 

“The proposal will do all the things the Air Force has been talking about in our ISR strategy, including using proven artificial intelligence to speed up effects,” said Matthew Burns, 55th Intelligence Squadron and former WOC director.

When the Air Force’s intelligence and cyberspace staff announced they would be sponsoring a summer prize competition for digital innovation projects, the 55th WOC team saw opportunity meeting preparation.

“We have had so many ideas that have been part of the WOC vision to evolve our ISR mission that we just haven’t been able to implement since the flood,” said Chris Regan, 55th ISS WOC deputy director.

The Digital Innovation Challenge came at a perfect time for the WOC’s Airmen, who had been focusing on innovation and project design skills during telework periods due to COVID-19.

Lt. Col. Jason Guyette, 55th ISS commander, referred some of the WOC staff to some Innovation and Design Methodology seminars early in the pandemic. 

“There were some great courses offered by some of the people I’d studied with in the past, and they were very quick to go virtual,” he said. “In intel, we’re big proponents of careful and structured thinking.  Usually analysts think of methods for analytic and convergent thinking, but design thinking is more about diverging into multiple possibilities and synthesizing creative options, but still in a rigorous way.”

Regan and Mater Sgt. Eric Balli, 55th ISS WOC superintendent, continued on to the 16-week Summer of Design program, where their work also qualifies them for a graduate certificate from the Darden Business School. 

“We had some outstanding instructors and colleagues,” said Regan. “We worked with U.S. special ops instructors, a School of Advanced Air and Space Studies professor and an instructor who teaches planning to the Polish armed forces.”

Regan and Balli also created the winning design selected by judges as the best of the Summer of Design.

“I fully expect this will not be the last goodness that comes from our professional development investments,” said Guyette.  “This is just a fantastic example of how developing our Airmen leads naturally to mission evolution and revitalization.”