Digital Internship Program For Total Force Airmen
by U.S. Air Force Jordyn Fetter, AFWERX Public Affairs
June 14, 2020
In an effort to create a more streamlined pipeline for digital talent inside the Air Force, the Department of Defense software community created a Digital Airmen Internship Program that kicked off in late May 2020.
Hannah Hunt, Kessel Run chief of staff, speaks during a Digital Airmen Internship webinar on April 24, 2020. The first iteration has 60 slots for military developers who will be virtually embedded with Air Force solution centers and programs ranging from 12 weeks to one year. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
The first iteration has 60 slots for military developers who will be virtually embedded with Air Force solution centers and programs ranging from 12 weeks to one year.
“One of the challenges the Air Force faces is having a steady stream of digital talent on hand to tackle various projects,” said Capt. Eric Robinson, 15th Wing TRON director and Aloha Spark lead. “With the infrastructure in place to manage this supply and demand of talent, we’re aiming to consistently cultivate the skills we need in units across all installations.”
The idea for an internship came to fruition after Robinson realized the challenges presented by COVID-19 could be turned into an opportunity to develop digital skills within the workforce.
“Many Airmen joined in a time where they knew we needed digital talent and were told that they would make a difference, yet at some point got stuck building powerpoints, excel documents and formatting reports,” Robinson said. “This is one step toward empowering those Airmen and providing them the tools needed to usher the Air Force into the digital age.”
He then connected with Capt. Christian Brechbuhl, 16th Airlift Squadron instructor pilot, Joint Base Charleston's director of innovation, and Airmen Coders lead, to develop a plan for the internship.
“Every day I talk to Airmen who are incredibly motivated to learn and solve problems in their units using skills outside of their normal career field, but when it comes to coding, and doing it securely, units often don’t know where to start,” said Brechbuhl. “Providing more opportunities like this for our teammates regardless of your day-to-day job is an essential part of growing our digital force. Throughout this experience, it’s been amazing to see the investment into this project from commanders across the Air and Space Forces and the excitement from applicants.”
Airmen will be tied in with real mission application teams, primarily related to their Air Force specialty code, which started on June 1 for Kessel Run, TRON, LevelUP, Platform One, and Corsair Ranch, and are scheduled to begin on June 8 for BESPIN.
The initiative will also provide interns an opportunity to work directly with mentors in the Air Force software community early in their careers while expanding their technical skills on projects that address existing problems or opportunities.
In the past, opportunities for Airmen to connect with this larger ecosystem were limited to knowing someone who worked at a solutions center and happening across project opportunities.
“If you look at all the successful Air Force software factories, at the core of all of these units, there is always a small group of Airmen that happened to be at the right place at the right time and just happened to have the right skill set,” said Maj. Rob Slaughter, DoD Platform One director. “We want to build a future where success of software initiatives doesn't rely on luck anymore. This internship program is a giant leap in accelerating that vision.”
The intent is to turn this into a long-term pipeline that can provide an end-to-end solution for talented servicemembers to learn, build, and deploy code across any mission set.
Once Airmen apply through the central portal, they will be tracked for future career and assignment opportunities inside of the software community.
“I’m incredibly excited to see opportunities like this become available for our Airmen," said Chief Master Sgt. Denzil Hellesen, Air Force Cyberspace Support career field manager. “We have an amazing workforce with the aptitude, ability, and eagerness to grow and apply digital skills to the mission. The innovation of this internship is needed to drive the Air Force forward.”
Those who are onboarded through this process will also be provided access to the Air Force’s digital Airmen community on a messaging group and have the opportunity to work on an assignment of their choice that are being provided by various organizations across the force.
In addition to the Air Force’s solution centers, other organizations involved in this effort include the Airmen Coders, AFWERX’s Spark Cells, Air Force Research Laboratory and more.
“Not only is this incredibly exciting for those who are looking to develop their skills, but we need digital Airmen to be our foundation if we have any hope of winning future digital engagements,” Slaughter said. “Digital Airmen are the future of the Air Force.”
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