Airman’s invention backed by Spark Tank accelerates change

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Andrew Kobialka
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The world was built on the ideas of creative people. Imagine if their ideas stayed mere ideas... nothing changes, nothing improves.

Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., said in a recent paper outlining his vision for the Air Force, “If we don’t change - if we fail to adapt - we risk losing the certainty with which we have defended our national interests for decades.”

In the spirit of this vision, the Air Force has dedicated itself to preserve and support the innovative ideas of everyday Airmen.

Case and point: Senior Airman Hartman, 726th Air Command Squadron cyber transport technician, invented a deployable cable management device and has gained the support of the 366th Fighter Wing leadership through the Spark Tank Challenge.

Spark Tank is an annual challenge designed to create an avenue for Airmen to potentially present their ideas to the senior leaders of the Air Force.

Exciting as this may sound, it means little if Airmen don’t know what the process of innovation looks like. So where does an Airman start?

Hartman started with a problem. He realized that when laying cables, they would regularly get tangled, making it difficult to set-up and troubleshoot, while also becoming a safety hazard to personnel and assets. All this may simply seem like an inconvenience, but during a real mission, efficiency and safety can mean the difference between mission success and in some cases, life and death.

For example, if communications were disconnected due to a compromised cable during a firefight, Hartman would spend time untangling cables to find the correct one to begin repairing. This time leaves Airmen in the fight exposed without timely intel or instruction. The new cable management device would decrease the time needed to identify the proper cable to repair and ensure that Airmen are ready to bring the fight faster and smarter.

However, before Hartman could save lives, he had to create a practical solution.

“I was frustrated that I didn’t have the tools to do my job well,” Hartman said. “So after a long day at work, my mind wouldn’t stop thinking about the problem. I took a pen to paper and started to make a rough sketch of a few ideas that might be a solution.”

Over the next few days, Hartman revised his idea many times. Looking for feedback, he sent the sketches to a group chat of his co-workers. A few NCOs approached him and encouraged him to push the idea forward.

That little validation was all it took to light a fire inside Hartman. He continued to improve upon his idea, working hand-in-hand with his support team. Then, one day, they came across a flyer asking for submissions to Spark Tank.

With encouragement from his NCOs, he submitted his idea.

During his interview Hartman recalled getting the good news.

“A few weeks later I got an incredible letter from the Gunfighter Spark Cell, saying they wanted me to present my idea to the wing commander,” Hartman said. “I went from extreme frustration at work to extreme excitement!”

He paused a moment then began again, “I didn't have a way to apply my idea, but now that Spark Tank and the wing are pushing it, suddenly, it had legs. That was a great day.”

Hartman went to work and created a digital model of his cable management device and used the base library to 3D print a model for his presentation.

“Watching Senior Airman Hartman work hard to make this idea become a reality has been inspiring,” said Master Sgt. Christopher Hamley, 726th ACS chief of network systems. “He persevered through the nay-sayers and held onto the support of the NCOs that believed in him.”

Hartman worked closely with his NCOs to prepare for the presentation and it paid off. Hartman’s invention can now be found on where it can be voted on by fellow Airmen and reviewed by Air Combat Command and 15th Air Force staff to decide if it will be pushed even higher.

“I don’t know if he saw us, but we saw him,” Hamley said. “He has shown tremendous strength and motivation throughout this process. From the beginning, I’ve watched him stay behind at work, when others left, to manage cables. So he’s passionate about this and has proven to have the expertise to make it happen.”

Hartman was like any other junior Airman. But he poured time and energy into his idea and it caught the attention of wing leadership.

“To all the Airmen out there with an idea I’d say this: write your ideas down and reach out to people who will support you like NCOs and Spark Tank.” Hartman said. “They are here to give Airmen a way to make a change. I appreciate having had that opportunity.”

Hartman is just one of three Airmen from the 366th FW who gained the support of wing leadership to submit to ACC Spark Tank. It doesn’t have to stop there. Consider submitting your ideas and be a part of the Air Force vision to accelerate change.

Submit your ideas a variety of challenges / vote on existing ideas (including changes to dress and appearance) here: