Grand Forks Airmen and Guardians bring the future to work

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Roxanne Belovarac
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing

As the U.S. Air Force looks to accelerate change and innovation within the ranks, Grand Forks Air Force Base led the way with a Robotics Process Automation (RPA) training course, which provided Airmen and Guardians a way to develop processes to improve their unit’s capabilities both in the present and future.

Grand Forks AFB participated in the Air Force’s RPA Roadshow to train Airmen and Guardians on how to automate time-consuming administrative workloads and day-to-day duties to potentially save thousands of hours, allowing Airmen to focus on more complex tasks.

More than 40 Airmen and Guardians volunteered for the course and were trained in how to create their own ‘bots’ over the three-day event. The workshop introduced students to the RPA software and guided them through building a common bot. The students then spent the following two days building their own simple task automation with assistance from a team of on-site developers.

“I’ve gained a new skillset to streamline processes and innovate in my workspace,” said Airman 1st Class Jack LeGrand, 319th Reconnaissance Wing public affairs specialist. LeGrand said that the bot he was working on would be able to take administrative tasks that clog the workflow of his shop, leaving himself and his co-workers open for more strategic tasks.

The RPA brought the concept of ‘citizen developers’, individuals that can program bots without the need to know any complex programming languages, allowing for individuals that may not have had any experience prior to this to participate.

“If I can make my bot work correctly, this model will be pertinent to every flying wing in the Air Force,” said Tech. Sgt. Scott Blankenship, 319th Operations Group Commander’s Action Group superintendent. “A standardized process means that each wing can utilize this to make sure everything is up to date at each level, and respond more quickly so we can get people where they need to be faster.”

Blankenship’s bot was designed to create rosters from available base personnel to participate in evaluation boards. The bot goes through a list of thousands of people and finds those who are qualified for the job. Once the bot is operational, a task that would normally take a full day to complete could potentially be accomplished in moments.

Using the skills they learned during the training, Airmen and Guardians were able to create bots that can perform simple tasks that normally take all or most of a member’s day; and in many cases the bot created can be translated to do the same or similar work that is found throughout all of the Air Force.

“The leadership at Grand Forks AFB welcomed the RPA team with open arms. The enthusiasm and preparation were evident throughout our visit, and participation in the workshop was overwhelming,” said Matthew Roberts, Program Manager at the Air Force RPA Center of Excellence. “Grand Forks has established itself as the benchmark against which the success of all future roadshow events will be measured.”

The RPA Roadshow gave Airmen a chance to better themselves while also launching new processes that will accelerate change in their work centers. The Air Force continues to push for innovation throughout the entire force, training better, faster warfighters at the speed of relevance.