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Innovation Accelerates Readiness: Acquisition Reservists critical to Air Force's COVID-19 response efforts

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

While the United States was going on lock-down this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of dedicated Reserve acquisition experts were springing into action to help ensure the Air Force would not be grounded by the novel coronavirus.

“This was an unprecedented time in our country’s history,” said Col. Andrew Leone, the mobilization assistant to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistic’s deputy assistant secretary for contracting. “You had companies being forced to shut down their production lines, logistics chains were disrupted and everybody was scrambling to get their hands on PPE (personal protective equipment). The Air Force acquisition community had to mobilize to ensure what was happening to our country’s industrial base and logistics network would not have a negative impact on our ability to carry out our missions.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, established the Air Force Acquisition COVID-19 Taskforce to partner with a similar Defense Department taskforce and help navigate the Air Force’s actions in a time of acquisition uncertainty.

Lt. Col. Gary Frisard was one of a number of Air Force Reserve acquisition experts called upon to serve on the taskforce.

“One of the taskforce’s immediate priorities was to make sure we worked with the industrial base to produce the things that were needed right away – masks, ventilators and so forth – but also really start leaning forward and looking at what happens down the road if plants start shutting down and how does that affect our ability to get parts for weapon systems and everything else that makes us operational,” Frisard said.

The taskforce was divided into four separate lines of effort. LOE 1 focused on quickly acquiring the medical equipment and supplies, like PPE, needed to combat the coronavirus. LOE 2 focused on the long term and exploring investing in critical companies that could potentially shut down if the pandemic continues. LOE 3 focused on the direct impacts to existing Air Force systems. LOE 4 is small-business focused and is centered on preserving the Air Force’s relationship with innovative start-ups.

Assigned to LOE 3, Frisard led a team of more than 30 acquisition specialists who created an acquisition game plan to mitigate the impacts to more than 1,500 defense industry partners, created a unified DoD storefront to capture and record industrial base impacts due to COVID-19 and created a data integration model that prioritized more than $40 billion in COVID-19 impacts to current Air Force programs and systems.

Frisard said the taskforce members put in some extremely long hours during the first few weeks of the crisis.

“I am a former intel officer and I’ve deployed a few times, and this was kind of like combat operations,” he said. “We were working 19-hour days and lots of weekends just to figure out what was going on. The pace was pretty remarkable.”

Lt. Col. Jorge Manresa, chief of ventures contracting operations for AFWERX, was another Reservist assigned to the taskforce. He worked on LOE 4.

AFWERX is a community of Air Force innovators who strive to connect Airmen to solutions across the force: whether that be funding, collaborating with industry or simply receiving guidance on a project. AFWERX serves as a catalyst for agile Air Force engagement across industry, academia and non-traditional contributors to create transformative opportunities and foster an Air Force culture of innovation. Its goal is to solve problems and enhance the effectiveness of the Air Force by enabling thoughtful, deliberate, ground-up innovation across the Air Force.

“What really amazed me is that we were able to focus on COVID acquisitions without missing a beat on all of the other AFWERX acquisition projects we have in the works,” Manresa said.

As an example, Manresa said the DoD was able to work with a couple of companies that produce testing swabs to really ramp up their production in a short period of time.

“One of the companies, Puritan, was already producing the swabs and we were able to use the Defense Production Act to invest and help them increase their manufacturing capability,” he said. “With the second company, U.S. Cotton, we were able to help them adapt their facilities to start producing this kind of swab for the first time.

“At the same time we were working on these COVID-specific projects, we were continuing to pursue relationships with our innovation partners that help us bring tech to the warfighter.”

As an example, Manresa cited a recent award that provided $7.5 million in funds from the National Guard Bureau to Essentium, a small Texas business that produces 3D printers capable of providing critical aircraft parts on short notice for a fraction of the normal cost associated with ordering spare parts from traditional suppliers.

Leone said Manresa and Frisard are just two of the dozens of Reserve Citizen Airmen who stepped up to work critical acquisition tasks in the face of COVID-19.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the Reservists who have answered their nation’s call to serve on the COVID-19 Acquisition Task Force,” he said. “Their actions have helped make sure the Air Force has been able to continue its critical missions during these uncertain times.” #ReserveReady