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Mission assurance: One Airman's idea has potential to improve entire Air Force

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. (AFNS) -- (Editor's note: Some last names have been removed for security reasons.)

An Airman from the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing stepped outside the box this spring and proposed an idea that significantly improved local mission assurance.

Thanks to a platform set up by the 363rd ISRW leadership team, he was able to pursue his idea and benefit not only the wing, but also potentially the entire Air Force.

Tech. Sgt. Ken, 363rd Intelligence Support Squadron special missions section NCO in charge, was tasked with identifying ways to protect the mission of the units that comprise the wing’s Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, campus. After reviewing the wing’s current use of a tape backup system, which is used to store and backup data to physical magnetic tapes, Ken grew concerned about the potential loss of mission data stored on these tapes.

“Just because someone says you can do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to do something new,” said Ken. “Eliminate the tape backup system and transfer all that information into the cloud.”

To jump-start his idea, Ken submitted a proposal to the 363rd ISRW LION board, a platform for Airmen to pitch innovative ideas to the wing’s leadership for possible funding. He proposed leveraging a secure commercial cloud services contract, commonly known as C2S, to transition the wing from a legacy tape backup to a cloud-based backup system.

By leveraging the C2S contract, the wing would have on-demand access to mission data.

“The write-up for his idea was so good that our wing’s O-6s, who comprise the LION Board, said we didn’t even need to hear his pitch,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Patrick Sutherland, 363rd ISRW vice commander. “We all just said, ‘Yes, that’s a fantastic idea, and he should just get started!’”

With his leadership’s support, Ken hit the ground running. In May, he and fellow members of the 363rd ISS met with the Air Force Intelligence Community Mission Modernization Office, or M2O, to begin the process of getting a task order for C2S.

By June, the 363rd ISS had used $17,000 of squadron innovation funds to acquire a high-speed data transfer capability, which consisted of software that enables the two-way transfer of information from the wing’s shared drive at JB Langley-Eustis and the cloud.

Just seven weeks after meeting with the M2O, the 363rd ISRW became the first Air Force entity to be awarded a task order for the secret classification level on the C2S contract.

“We’re the first ones,” said Ken. “We’re leading the way in getting out there and figuring out all the growing pains in getting access to the secure cloud environment.”

In the span of several months, Ken’s mission assurance initiative blossomed from his initial concept of a disaster recovery and data backup solution to include two more efforts: procuring a dedicated circuit for transferring data to and from the cloud environment for Langley and another location, and migrating mission applications from on-site to being hosted on the cloud network.

With the data stored in a virtual space, other groups and wings at Langley can access the data via the same circuit.

“The overarching effects of the project transition is not just disaster recovery; it’s now mission assurance for the entire wing,” Ken added. “And then, it’s not just for our wing; we’re setting up the infrastructure for any organization at Langley and at our alternate location to access cloud resources.”

The final piece of Ken’s mission assurance initiative moves mission applications used by the warfighter for target development into the cloud. This enables warfighters around the world to access the targeting data generated by the wing. Ken worked with the M2O to open access to the cloud through the 24th Air Force change management process to ensure other Air Force customers who follow the 363rd ISRW will have fewer steps to complete to gain access.

The entire initiative has been a collaborative effort between Ken and his team, who worked with 12 different organizations ranging from the Air Force Intelligence Community M2O at Lackland Air Force Base, the Air Force intelligence community chief information officer’s office at the Pentagon and multiple organizations that comprise the 24th and the 25th Air Force.

“This entire initiative is beyond just the 363rd ISR Wing,” said Ken. “This is beyond even Air Force ISR—this is to support the Air Force overall.”

Wing leadership echoed Ken’s sentiments. “When I think about what Tech. Sgt. Ken has done, I am so proud,” said Sutherland. “It really is a case study in the impact that one single, determined Airman can have across our Air Force when given the freedom to solve big problems.”

“Ken’s success is a fantastic exemplar of the Lion Way,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Jon Rice, 363rd ISRW commander. “We have created an entrepreneurial ecosystem to unleash audaciously innovative Airmen like Ken and pair them with resources and leadership support to solve our most challenging problems.”

Just five months after Ken voiced his idea to wing leadership, he and his team were granted an interim approval to test, a major step in making his mission assurance initiatives a reality. Ken plans to be fully-operational by July 2019.

“People say things can’t be done,” said Ken. “I’ll turn your no into a yes.”