JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – With the theme of Accelerate Change, the Department of the Air Force pushed innovation forward during the inaugural San Antonio Innovation Summit Aug. 3-4 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
With both in-person and live-streaming opportunities, more than 750 people attended the summit that brought leading government and industry innovation experts together with military members, community leaders and private-sector representatives to highlight successes, lessons learned and paths taken to successfully implement projects that are changing the Air Force.
“We have to remain competitive through technology, through the best and brightest Airmen, through lean processes,” said Col. Kevin Mantovani, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center vice commander, during his keynote address. “We have to design a better Air Force that’s quicker, more lethal, and deters and can defeat any adversary. That is what you’re here to do. You’re here to think about accelerating change and innovating.”
This year’s event, a partnership between AFIMSC, Air Force Personnel Center, Air Education and Training Command, AFWERX and the City of San Antonio, grew out of a smaller, virtual summit AFIMSC held in 2020.
“Building upon last year’s innovation summit, we’re really excited to have our military and community partners working together to provide our customers - the installations and the installation sparks - with the information they need to succeed,” said Marc Vandeveer, AFIMSC chief innovation officer. “The only way we can do that is by partnering, working together and letting everyone know what’s out there across the installation and mission support innovation ecosystem.”
Following CDC protocols to allow for safe, in-person gathering, the event was a welcome opportunity for collaboration among organizers and attendees from across the Air Force and Department of Defense.
“It’s an exciting point for San Antonio,” said Will Garrett, vice president and director of cybersecurity development at Port San Antonio. “As a city, as a community, government and academia, our job is to create the connection points - the infrastructure, the activity outside the wire – that helps our mission partners seek that acceleration of change, find innovation and discover talent. This summit is kind of a convergence of all those entities that support the national defense strategy and (Joint Base San Antonio) mission partners getting to that pace of change we need with technology.”
Connecting the right people at the right time is important to helping the Air Force and DoD build a powerful innovation network, said Patrick Bowar, director of technology and information for the Air Force Personnel Center.
“Innovation does not happen in a bubble,” he said, adding that cross-talk and regular collaboration between organizations benefit everybody. “We can all leverage the same great ideas and the solutions we’re using to deliver those ideas.”
Throughout the event, attendees heard from leading innovators and attended breakout sessions, workshops, innovation panels and a vendor expo. The breakout sessions gave participants a chance to try unique problem-solving activities and get hands-on experience with technology and innovative programs that are changing the Air Force, including augmented and virtual reality technology, small unmanned aircraft systems, Air Force Gaming and software platforms
For 1st Lt. Kendall Hubbard, budget flight commander with the 341st Comptroller Squadron at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, learning how other organizations tackle and solve problems was the best part of the event because she believes it will help her move ideas forward at her installation.
“Hearing ideas from other bases, especially bases with other commands and other missions, and ideas from outside of the military … I think bringing that back and being able to share that will open up more ways for information to flow. That will be my biggest takeaway,” she said.
Col. Thomas Wegner, director of the AETC Analysis and Innovation Directorate, echoed that idea, urging everyone in attendance to network, build relationships and learn how to navigate the innovation ecosystem so they can help the service continue to innovate at the speed of relevance.
“If there’s only one thing that they remember, it is that they’re not alone. There’s a network of teams across the DoD who want to do innovative things,” he said. “If an Airman or Guardian has a neat idea and doesn’t know what to do or where to go with it, there are organizations at their base and in their command that can help them take that idea from innovation to impact.”