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Wash rack innovation wins AFCENT Spark Tank competition

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn, left, and U.S. Air Force Senior Airmen Ryan Disher, center, and Fernando Jimenez, vehicle operators assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, display their team’s winning submission in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn, left, and U.S. Air Force Senior Airmen Ryan Disher, center, and Fernando Jimenez, vehicle operators assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, display their team’s winning submission in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. The 379th ELRS Airmen were presented the first place award for their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Fernando Jimenez, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, displays his team’s winning submission in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Fernando Jimenez, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, displays his team’s winning submission in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Jimenez, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award for their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, displays his team’s winning submission in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, displays his team’s winning submission in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Grahn, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award for their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Disher, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, displays his team’s winning submission in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Disher, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, displays his team’s winning submission in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Disher, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award for their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

A drainage pan rests in a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.

A drainage pan rests in a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Three 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Airmen were awarded first place in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition for their prototype wash rack drainage pan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Disher, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, removes a drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Disher, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, removes a drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Disher, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition. Their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans, combined with the second and third place winners, secured more than $100,000 in funding to further develop their products. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Disher, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Disher, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Disher, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition. Their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans, combined with the second and third place winners, secured more than $100,000 in funding to further develop their products. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Disher, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Disher, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Disher, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition. Their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans, combined with the second and third place winners, secured more than $100,000 in funding to further develop their products. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Disher, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Disher, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Disher, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition. Their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans, combined with the second and third place winners, secured more than $100,000 in funding to further develop their products. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Fernando Jimenez, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, removes a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.
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U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Fernando Jimenez, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, removes a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Jimenez, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition. Their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans, combined with the second and third place winners, secured more than $100,000 in funding to further develop their products. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Fernando Jimenez, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, returns a drainage pan into a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.
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U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Fernando Jimenez, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, returns a drainage pan into a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Jimenez, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition. Their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans, combined with the second and third place winners, secured more than $100,000 in funding to further develop their products. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.
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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Grahn, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition. Their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans, combined with the second and third place winners, secured more than $100,000 in funding to further develop their products. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.
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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Grahn, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition. Their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans, combined with the second and third place winners, secured more than $100,000 in funding to further develop their products. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020.
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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn, a vehicle operator assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, inspects a prototype drainage pan from a vehicle wash rack at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 13, 2020. Grahn, along with two other 379th ELRS Airmen, was presented the first place award in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Spark Tank competition. Their innovative idea of a better solution to the base's wash rack drainage pans, combined with the second and third place winners, secured more than $100,000 in funding to further develop their products. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --

For the first time, U.S. Air Forces Central Command opened its innovation doors to field ideas from Airmen through a competition that spanned across U.S. Central Command’s 20-nation theater with the theme of improving operations and navigating the new normal. 

With the deadline for submissions closed out, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Koscheski, the deputy commander of AFCENT and deputy Combined Forces Air Component Commander, and his judging panel joined together to evaluate 11 submissions based on practicality and effectiveness to ultimately choose a winner.

On June 9, along with the command team of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, Koscheski recognized U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Grahn and U.S. Air Force Senior Airmen Ryan Disher and Fernando Jimenez as the first place winners of the event for their prototype wash rack drainage pan. The three vehicle operators assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron combined to dedicate more than six hours a week each, for nearly two months, to iron out their award-winning idea from start to finish.

“These Airmen simply took it upon themselves to identify a problem in their work center, then developed and fielded a solution that created immediate results,” Koscheski said. “Taking this kind of initiative is what we're asking Airmen to do every day across all functional areas. Incremental improvements, like the winning idea, are key to making progress and improving across the AFCENT area of responsibility.”

In an environment that witnesses high gusts that lead to the movement of sand and rocks, the outdated system in place proved no match to the factors of Al Udeid AB, and those natural elements frequently clogged the drainage system and filtration pump of the base’s vehicle wash rack. The piece of equipment that serves as the line of defense for this is a metal box, roughly 11 1/2 inches long and wide, and 7 inches high, that has seven small holes on the bottom to allow water flow but catch dirt and debris. 

“The first one was a metal box that had a couple of holes in it,” said Jimenez, deployed from the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. “It had a handle that was pretty much broken off, and you had to use your tool to pull it out and it usually got stuck in there. It wasn’t really catching anything, it was just a bunch of sand and dirt going through and clogging up the pipe system from the wash rack.”

With the ineffective equipment leading to clogs of the system, this led to out of service time for the base’s sole source of cleaning vehicles. With unwashed vehicles comes wear and tear from the elements, as well as a risk of safety for the Air Force’s biggest asset, its warfighters. 

“With the down time of not being able to wash vehicles, you’re introducing safety hazards as people are not able to see correctly,” said Grahn, deployed from the 27th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. “Then you have erosion of the vehicles themselves because we’re in a high erosion zone.”

In an ongoing effort to combat the lost time of the wash rack being closed, 379th ELRS Airmen found themselves spending multiple trips and countless hours each day cleaning out the drainage pans to ensure that Al Udeid service members could routinely clean their vehicles. With the estimated math from the winning crew, they found that their team was spending approximately 40 hours each week cleaning and repairing just one facility out of many that the squadron has. 

With this in mind as well as support from their chain of command, the three-man team began drawing up what they thought were solutions that they ultimately combined together to get their finished product. 

“We all drew our own versions of it and then we all came together and thought ‘this seems pretty good, lets add this to that,’” said Jimenez, a native of San Diego, Calif. “It was just a mashup of everybody.”

“It was basically like a Frankenstein,” said Disher, deployed from the 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, McConnell AFB, Kan. “We took one piece from mine, a piece from his and a piece from his, and we created the masterpiece of what we thought would work the best.”

With the anticipated solution drawn out, it was time to import this idea into a computer and use software to bring the idea to life. After being introduced to the base innovation lab and receiving guidance on its resources from the AFCENT innovation officer, the three began inching towards bringing their design to reality.

After two rolls of plastic material and 20 hours of printing, the team discovered what they believed was a solution to their team’s problems: a 95%-scaled plastic drainage pan that features more holes to allow better water flow with a detachable piece that serves as a rock catcher. 

“With the innovation lab and people actually explaining and helping like that, I think it was easy,” said Grahn, a native of Oshkosh, Wis.  

Upon installation and trial runs of their conceptualized solution, the team found that what they designed proved to be a more efficient, time-saving solution that will prevent the deterioration of an approximately $1,350 filtration pump, which is essential to filter out water and oils. Since installation of their prototype, the team found that the wash rack has been open 100% of the time and has slashed maintenance hours in half. 

“It’s scaled 95%, however, it’s working in our benefit because we want to use a rubber seal, similar to what’s on the bottom of a garage door, to go around the box to help make a tight fit because there is a little bit of play,” said Disher, a native of Mount Carroll, Ill. “Once we create that seal around it, it should catch 100% of what is in it.”

With their innovative product in hand, the team jumped at the opportunity to submit their approximately $40 product into the AFCENT Spark Tank contest and ultimately were awarded first place. Along with the second and third place submissions, the team helped procure $100,000 in funding to further develop their designs.  

“I felt like the whole experience was really cool because I didn’t think we were going to win,” Jimenez said. “Everybody talks about this cool stuff like ‘hey, we got computer tech stuff’ and I think ‘ah we just got a box.’ In reality, it shows you that what we had was something practical, we could actually make it, and it really didn’t cost that much money.”