If it can happen to me … it can happen to you too

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jessica Jenkins, 45th Force Support Squadron Military Personnel Flight Commander

“I’m on my way to D.C.,” said Gen. Jay Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command. “I want you to come with me and spend a few days at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.”


I was not only shocked by his offer but amazed by how quickly he acted on it.


And so there I was posing for a quick picture with Gen. Raymond on the tarmac at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, just before boarding his aircraft. The whole thing was quite surreal and before I had time to process the gravity of the situation, I grabbed my bag and off we went, headed for Washington, D.C.


We hear a lot about innovation from leadership where Airmen are encouraged to improve processes, lead and make change at any level. Recently, I found my opportunity to make a change, sitting at the conference table next to Gen. Raymond -- at his conference table -- briefing him on the results of the Patrick Military Personnel Flight Online Dependent Identification Card Renewal Initiative.


So what exactly is the Patrick Military Personnel Flight Online Dependent Identification Card Renewal Initiative? It’s basically a really long way of saying: we took an extremely labor intensive process for people to get an ID card and put most of the upfront work back into the hands of the requester -- all through an automated online process. In essence it made the processes quick and easy.


I had just finished giving the general the full brief when he said, “I like this process a lot. In fact, I think it has applicability across the Air Force. I want you to come to D.C. with me and brief Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C. on your initiative.”


So what are you going to say in this instance … NO?  Of course not … you say LET’S GO!


It is hard to believe that just a few months ago, I was being briefed on the day-to-day issues we were facing at the MPF at Patrick Air Force Base, and now I was heading to D.C. to brief Air Force leaders on innovative solutions – solutions that my team and I had come up with!


When I began my job as the MPF commander, I was briefed on the overwhelming demand for ID card issuance, renewals and appointments. Maj. Chong Gregory, 45th Space Wing Force Support Squadron commander, briefed me on an idea she had to renew dependent ID cards online.


As a team, Maj. Gregory, me, and the staff at the MPF put our heads together and turned Maj. Gregory’s idea into a plan. We came up with a streamlined process to create ID cards faster and more efficiently. This new process could save time and help more customers by moving part of our process online, and that is how the ID card initiative was born.


Shortly after we began the process, I was at a company grade officer lunch with Gen. Raymond. Though we were still in the trial phase of the process, when Gen. Raymond opened the floor for us to ask him questions, I had to ask why the Department of Defense was not issuing ID cards similar to the Department of State renewing passports or individual states renewing driver’s licenses online.


After asking him my question about ID cards, he asked me to elaborate on how this process would work. So I explained it to him.


He then said, “So do it.”


I responded, “Sir, what if we already are?”


I explained that we were beta testing the system to see if this was a viable solution before running it up the chain. The general not only loved the idea, but asked me to do a virtual teleconference to discuss it more in depth. I was certain my supervisor was going to be unnerved with my decision to discuss it publically since we had not ‘officially’ introduced the program, but she fully supported me bringing it out into the open that day.


My supervisor was not the only commander who supported boldness and innovative thinking.


The 45th Space Wing commander, Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, encourages us to foster an environment of innovative thinking, to be bold and speak up on ideas that could change the way we do business. And, it was at Gen. Raymond’s conference table that I remembered those words.


Gen. Raymond was not kidding about taking me to D.C. Approximately 30 mins after my briefing, we were boarding a C-21A military aircraft for the three-hour flight to Washington, DC.


The next day I was given the incredible opportunity to share the innovative idea our 45th FSS team had come up with. My first briefing was to Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services for Headquarters Air Force at the Pentagon. I then had the pleasure of meeting the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Stephen Wilson; and then, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein. In addition, Gen. Raymond had me join him and his team for several visits with senators discussing the space business and I ended with witnessing our new Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, being sworn into office. The whole experience was surreal and to date is the absolute highlight of my career.


Another of my favorite moments was meeting Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. I was even able to give him my 30-second elevator speech on our new ID card process. This trip was the single best learning experience I’ve had in the Air Force. I am forever grateful for this opportunity.


As a girl growing up in central Illinois, graduating from a class of eight, and finding my own recruiter to enlist in the Air Force, I never would have thought this could happen. You see these stories all of the time and they always seem to happen to other people, but this time it happened to me, which means it really can happen to anyone.


The most important thing I learned from this experience is knowing we all have the potential to change the Air Force, no matter who you are, what you do or what rank you hold. Even if it's an idea coming from a small squadron like the 45th FSS. Senior leaders want to give us the opportunity to make a positive difference in our service and this idea is living proof. As long as you stay positive and work hard, you will achieve more than you have ever dreamed. Maybe someday I'll get the opportunity to take an Airman to D.C. and bring this experience full circle!