Aloha Spark: A “sign” of the times

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Amber R. Kelly-Herard
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs

Col. Halsey Burks, 15th Wing commander, recently announced “Empowering innovation” as one of the top three priorities for the wing.

Putting words behind his actions, Burks announced Capt. Branden Gulick would oversee Aloha Spark, the wing’s innovation hub, and brought Dr. Sridhar Balasubramanian from the University of North Carolina here to teach innovative thinking.

To increase visibility of the commander’s priority, the first Aloha Spark competition took place on the 15th Wing Facebook page. More than 20 innovative ideas competed and the top three ideas received prizes for their efforts.

Innovation: It’s a sign

With 131 “likes,” Capt. Tiffany Harwood, 15th Medical Operations Squadron, Master Sgt. Shamar Jones, 690th Cyber Operations Squadron, and Staff Sgt. David Knutson, 647th Force Support Squadron, won first place with their idea to place signs alerting drivers without base access to turn around prior to reaching the gate to reduce traffic.

“Every morning I leave my house super early to travel 7 miles,” said Knutson. “The entry control point is the most unpredictable part of my commute.”

“The traffic creates an issue for military personnel and has a negative impact on the civilian communities,” Knutson added. “I hope signs can eliminate some of the tension.”

Burks announced through the “Horace Hickam” Facebook page, that the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam leadership is currently working with the State of Hawaii on this issue.

Frustration spurs idea

The source behind Tech. Sgt. Michael Pointer‘s idea, who works at the 15th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, came from a little bit of frustration.

During Pointer’s deployment, he was placed in a non-traditional duty position that required knowledge about Microsoft Office. Since he was not familiar with many Microsoft Office products, he spent several hours researching how to make the products work.

“These products were used by myself or someone else to brief the chain of command,” Pointer said. “I submitted them to my supervision and since they didn’t create the product, they had a difficult time understanding it, which made me self-conscious about the reviews because I didn’t want to look like a fool, nor did I want anyone who used my products to look like a fool.”

Pointer’s idea to implement Microsoft Office courses in Airman Leadership School and Non-Commissioned Officer Academy curriculum to better equip Airmen in their workplaces, won second place with 96 “likes.”

The next step for Pointer is to implement training within the 15th Wing and measure effectiveness to present to the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education at Maxwell Air Force Base.

The “Sharpe-est” tool in the toolbox

Senior Airman Norman Sharpe, 747th Communication Squadron, has the idea for an automated toolbox.

“The toolbox recognizes when a tool is removed and updates a database,” said Sharpe. “This will provide better accountability for tools and eliminate paperwork.”

Sharpe estimates an automated toolbox would save at least 80 man-hours per quarter.

A group has been established to plan the best way forward for Sharpe’s program.

Sharpe’s idea was third place with 63 “likes.”

Moving forward

The Aloha Spark team plans to meet with every individual who submitted an idea, not just those who won, to create a plan of action and present their ideas to the wing commander.

“When you’re in your workplaces and you think of ideas that could make your jobs more efficient, please come chat with me,” said Gulick. “I’d like to take those ideas and make your lives better.”

Aloha Spark plans to expand its reach through more responsive and connected ideation platforms, tapping into the IdeaScale network used by AFWERX.  In addition, the Aloha Spark Cell is actively pursuing plans to create an Innovation Lab on-base for members to reserve to pursue innovation projects. Lastly, the Aloha Spark group is organizing a coding development group to begin to tackle small software and coding challenges our Airmen face. 

To become involved or to submit ideas, email to