Home : News
NEWS | May 5, 2022

Spark Cell brings innovation to 175th Wing

By Master Sgt. Christopher Schepers, 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard

MIDDLE RIVER, Md. - The 175th Wing was the first Air National Guard wing to be awarded funding for two programs that started in its U.S. Air Force Spark Cell earlier this year.

The goal of Spark Cells is to move individuals, units or wings forward to meet the challenges of warfighting in the 21st century and bring Airmen innovators together through connections, development and support.

From the Sprey Innovation Center of Excellence at Warfield Air National Guard Base, the first funded program the Airmen of the Maryland Air National Guard developed was Cyber Winter Studios. The program gathers all of an Airman’s records into one place on the network while monitoring unit readiness.

“You think about any transaction that would take place that requires paper in the force support squadron; this would digitize that process,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Winter, commander of 175th Force Support Squadron and field grade officer adviser. “Think about in- and out-processing, requesting your award and decorations to be updated, or requesting a DD 214. It is all done via paper, and you literally walk around the base with [checklists to be signed.] So this opportunity will present itself for members to do all of this digitally.”

The program will also be able to pull up an Airman’s fitness testing status, professional military education upgrade status, and medical readiness in a single snapshot instead of logging into three separate systems.

“The readiness focus is geared more toward commanders and supervisors,” said Winter of the project, which follows a paperless business model. “The program will essentially digest a significant number of authoritative data sources and present them in a single dashboard.”

This FSS program moved forward with help from ARCWERX, an ANG program focused on innovation and reducing bureaucracy. The funds were issued when an outside industry proposal for the project was received, said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Kerry Guy, base contracting officer. Guy wants the wing to use the Spark Cell ecosystem for total force collaboration and hopes networking will lead to “discovering and socializing real-world problems.”

The second program from the Spark Cell is the RunDNA program, which aims to prepare individuals for the physical demands of basic military training and promote a healthy lifestyle.

“RunDNA is a tool that is going to be used to enhance Airmen and future Airmen’s running performance in real-time,” Winter said. “Arguably, one of the largest medical disqualifiers from basic military training is the run during the PT portion, so this is an attempt to create better runners before they’re evaluated in the running process.”

RunDNA provides Airmen instant feedback about the best mechanics and tips for running, said Winter.

Both programs follow the mantra from Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., to “accelerate change or lose.” 

The Sprey Center of Excellence’s charter was signed in January. Work began immediately to secure innovative and creative programs that will have lasting benefits to the Airmen of the 175th Wing.

At a recent regularly scheduled drill, Spark Cell members spoke with members of the Junior Enlisted Council to inform them about the need for their input to help the wing remain relevant.

“They are a critical part of our process because they are sometimes the youngest and least experienced [Airmen], and their fresh perspective is an advantage,” said U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Joe Schuman, Spark Cell officer in charge and 175th Force Support Squadron officer. “They are the people that are closest to the problems. They are the ones working on the flight line or cooking in the dining facility that see processes that are broken, so we need their participation to help fix those things.”

The Sprey Innovation Center of Excellence will continue to field ideas from Airmen across the wing to move into the next century while respecting the namesake of the group, Pierre Sprey, who was influential in developing the A-10.

“It pays homage to his legacy and his contributions to the Air Force, back when he was still very engaged in the new capabilities of our Air Force,” said Winter, who recognized how Sprey insisted that aircraft be durable and easy to repair. “He was an innovator, so who better to recognize and honor than him and his family by naming the Innovation Center after him.”