100th ARW Airmen develops innovation at RAF Mildenhall

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Katie Mullikin
  • 100ARW/PA

ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England – In 1999, living in the heat of Houston, Texas, 12-year-old Seann Straight, logs into a gaming site and falls in love with his first online role-playing PC video game.

Since that day, Straight developed a love for gaming, innovation and problem-solving that ultimately led him to helping Airmen develop ideas that push innovation forward in the U.S. Air Force.

With his organization skills and knowledge of building video games, Straight decided to invest his passion into a degree, receiving a bachelor's in project management from Collins College in Phoenix, Arizona. After graduating, he moved to Tokyo, Japan, where he picked up a job as a project manager working for a third-party gaming company in Tokyo, Japan.

“I worked as a project manager for five years, but they told me I couldn’t progress any higher than I had already. I didn’t want to settle for that, so I joined the Air Force,” said Straight, now a Senior Airman at Royal Air Force Mildenhall and 100th Air Refueling Wing Spark Cell program manager.

Straight enlisted into the Air Force when he was 34, with encouragement from his father, Norman Lee Straight. He joined RAF Mildenhall as a knowledge manager for the 100th Communications Squadron in November 2021.

After a couple of weeks at work he recognized an issue impacting the workplace Air Force-wide which was preventing people from sharing flyers on the SharePoint calendar. Using his coding skills and multiple programs Straight created an event calendar that uploads to SharePoint.

His update enables users to go to the SharePoint calendar and see all listed events, select one and view the flyer for it. Certain that his solution would help improve base functions, Straight went to the new Spark Cell in pursuit of getting his application applied base wide. The 100th ARW Royal Spark Cell is a program which assists Airmen who have innovations, ideas, and solutions that improve the Air Force as a whole. Airmen can go to them to discuss and receive counsel in taking the next steps in developing their products.

“I could tell that Senior Airman Straight not only took initiative with the problem and solution, but wanted to share it with others,” said Tech. Sgt. Chris Anderson, 100th ARW Royal Spark chief innovation officer. “When I talked with him and learned he had already been a project manager in the private sector, I saw hiring him as an opportunity to utilize his talents.”

After getting the job, Straight is now able to share his skills and knowledge with Airmen at RAF Mildenhall.

“I realized he had skills, talent and drive that could make a difference”, Anderson said. “That’s why I worked together with his leadership to get him hired for the Royal Spark Cell.” 

Straight now serves as the project manager for 100th ARW Royal Spark Cell and is currently organizing the annual innovative event called Spark Tank.

This year’s Spark Tank event will be at the Galaxy Club May 25, and is scheduled to begin with a public display of new ideas and innovations. Judges will consist of leadership from different squadrons that will give the final vote on the final three innovations.

Finalists will pitch their ideas to base leadership in the hopes of gaining funding for their innovations. Last year’s Spark Tank offered $50,000 to assist in the development of the top projects. The amount available for the event has doubled this year.

“Airmen can just come in and talk with us. No idea is too small or too big,” Straight said. “Whether fine-tuning their pitch, gathering additional information, navigating issues and finding solutions, or discovering there already is one, we’re here to help.”

“Our goal with Spark Tank is to highlight the innovative talents of the Airmen on base and help them capitalize those skills where their jobs might not,” said Anderson.

One of the Spark Tank winners who previously received help from the Royal Spark Cell is Airman 1st Class Jacob Helzer, who came to them for assistance with his innovative flying boom cover tool. The Spark Cell was able to help him navigate the finer details of his creation and gain funding to take it further.

“We helped Helzer’s idea get pushed to the Air Force-wide Spark Tank,” Straight said. “He’s now working with a program called AFWERX (Air Force Work Project) where they are assisting him to build and spread his invention across the Air Force.”

Helping Airman Helzer spread his idea is one of the reasons why Straight said he loves working in the Royal Spark Cell.

“I ask myself what can change? What can be better and what can I do to help,” Straight said. “At the Royal Spark Cell, we aren’t trying to steal an Airman’s idea. We don’t want the credit – we just want to help them make their ideas into reality.”

To submit innovative solutions to the 100th ARW Royal Spark Cell, email 100arw.royalspark@us.af.mil.