AFIT EWI Fellows challenge status quo, pitch innovative ideas at mid tour conference

Posted Thursday, March 19, 2020


Seventy four AFIT EWI Fellows met with AF senior leaders at the Mid Tour Conference.  This is the largest EWI class in more than 25 years demonstrating Air Force senior leadership embracing the value a structured industry immersion brings back to the Air Force.  (Contributed Photo)

By: Captain Joshua Benedetti, Amazon EWI Fellow

ORLANDO, Fla. – Seventy-four Air Force Institute of Technology Education with Industry Fellows gathered in Orlando for the program’s annual mid tour conference where they shared personal industry insights and best practices as well as heard from Pentagon and corporate leadership. 

The group was comprised of officer, enlisted and civilian Fellows representing 15 career fields. Each Fellow briefed the group and began by summarizing their unique EWI experiences dating back to September when they began fulltime work at 45 companies across the country including Amazon, Apple, Boeing, Deloitte, and Microsoft. The educational tour lasts 10 months, and the Fellows will return to their respective Air Force careers in July.

The conference focused on applying current industry best practices to solve pressing Air Force problems. The Fellows were challenged to examine existing government constructs and policies through the eyes of industry.

Rita Flaherty, Vice President of Strategy & Business Development at Lockheed Martin, served as a keynote speaker for the event. She implored the Fellows to leverage their time at their respective companies to gain a new perspective on public private relationships.

“You have such a unique opportunity; I encourage you to take advantage of it,” said Flaherty. “You’re bringing diversity of experience back to the Air Force and that is a big deal.”

Lt. Col. James Townsend, Maj. Phil Amirault, and retired Lt. Col. Jeremy Anfinson led an acquisition panel, sharing the latest acquisition strategies and news with the Fellows. Townsend, SAF/AQX’s AF Information Systems Portfolio Analyst, said “the relationships developed and insights gained by these Fellows are unrivaled by any other Air Force experience.”

This year’s EWI class is the largest class in over 25 years largely due to Air Force senior leadership embracing the value a structured industry immersion brings to the Air Force.  In recent years, Air Force leadership has placed a premium on the business acumen and diversity of thought that the graduates bring back to the Air Force.

Mr. Sammy Slade, the executive sponsor of the EWI Program stated “EWI continues to be one of the most valuable and successful programs we execute. We’re investing in our young leaders, and in turn, they’re bringing a unique perspective back to the Air Force and challenging the status quo with a ton of diverse and innovative ideas!”

Fellows presented innovative ideas derived from their personal corporate experiences which, if creatively applied within the Department of Defense, have the potential to yield tremendous benefit. Highlights of some of the fellow’s ideas and experiences included:

  • Capt. Nicholas Spivey, a Logistics Readiness officer at FedEx is working on a project that uses blockchain technology and sensors to more efficiently track how much fuel is issued to Air Force vehicles. “Blockchain, when applied correctly, can provide value to the customer as well as grant a competitive advantage,” said Spivey.
  • 1st Lt. Jeff Lowder, a program manager assigned to Prudential, shared his experience learning the Scaled Agile Framework, and how it effortlessly creates additional touch points and reviews with users. His capstone project is focused on connecting Air Force administrative and financial systems to increase military personnel efficiencies and effectiveness!
  • TSgt. Inna Lvova, a finance technician at Apple plans to improve the finance user experience for Airmen by programing automated chat bots to provide quick answers to routine questions. The artificial intelligence enabled technology would be called FAST, standing for Financial Automated Solutions Tool, and has the power to be a huge manpower saving tool.
  • Capt. Teresa Garcia, a cyberspace operations officer at Cisco is looking at improving Air Force enterprise cyber security by moving to the industry standard “Zero Trust” model, which requires stringent individual user, and not just network, authentication.
  • Capt. Jeff Livingston, a force support officer at Amazon and Capt. Gretchen De Blaey, a weather officer at Amazon proposed migrating the Air Force’s more than 100 personnel systems to one centralized software program hosted in the cloud. The working title is ForceLink, and it would mirror Amazon’s personnel management software currently hosted on the Amazon Web Services cloud.
  • Maj. Patrick Grandsaert, a civil engineering officer at Microsoft is planning ways for the Air Force to incorporate sensors into its building’s HVAC systems to reduce energy consumption and save money. “There is a mission to buildings. And that is to keep us productive,” said Grandersaert.

AFIT EWI Fellows toured Blue Origin’s rocket factory in Merritt Island, Fla. during their Mid Tour Conference to learn what it takes to build the world’s first reusable rocket - Blue Origin's New Shepard.  (Contributed Photo)



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