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349 AMW receives AFRC's PACE Best Innovation Award

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

“It’s on MatterMost” is a phrase 349th Air Mobility Wing Reserve Citizen Airmen are starting to get used to. With a couple of taps on their mobile phones or a few mouse clicks on their government computers, all 2,600 wing members can now access announcements, messaging, and even controlled unclassified information on MatterMost, an open-source, cloud-based software system.

This month, Air Force Reserve Command awarded the 349th AMW’s Project Mobility Team the Public Affairs Communication Excellence award for Best Innovation, which identifies forward-thinking change in communication.

“People need good tools to communicate,” said Lt. Col. Gerard Guevara, 349th AMW inspections director. “They’ll use whatever platform works for them if you don’t give them what they really need. In the past, that was everything from personal email, to Slack or CVR Teams. Aside from the serious security issues those pose, it also makes it much harder to stay organized when you’re conducting business on both government and commercial platforms.”

The team’s conceptualization and strategic implementation of MatterMost significantly improved internal communications across the wing by providing a secure means to receive and share information at any time—without CAC access.

“It’s been a game changer in terms of our ability to share timely information and amplify messages across the wing,” said Ken Wright, 349th AMW public affairs chief. “Our members now have consistent access to the information they need from a personal device, including CUI, PII and HIPAA,” said Wright. “And they can access it from virtually anywhere, whenever it works best for them.”

MatterMost provides a secure environment for government wide, cross-functional collaboration. Since its development by the Air Force, the app’s power users have largely been aircrews that use it for flight operations across the globe. The application is in step with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.’s action orders to Accelerate Change or Lose. It is an instinctive approach to align Airmen and innovation.

349th AMW Command Chief Master Sgt. Jimmy Burmeister realized MatterMost could be a solution to a communications challenge that has vexed Reservists for years.

Burmeister’s revelation came during his regular visits with Airmen last year. The common feedback he received was that messages from various communication channels were not reaching Airmen at the shop level. He realized that MatterMost could help units share critical readiness information between drill weekends in a simple, secure way.

The command chief’s concept was brought to life by the Project Mobility Team, a cross-functional team made up of 10 experts, including process improvement, inspections, technology, public affairs, and leadership. The team was led by Staff Sgt. Touacha Her, 349th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintainer. As project manager, he delved deep into discovery during the initial phase, and then problem-solved and executed the project with the team.

“Early on in my Air Force career, I struggled with the way we utilized technology within our Air Force processes,” Her explained. “It always felt like it was five to seven years behind, but this was definitely a big step forward.”

The team’s task was daunting in scope, and its importance was underscored by the announcement that Microsoft CVR Teams would be phased out in June 2021.

Her led the charge and helped team members understand the app’s capabilities and limitations. The team designed the initial architecture for communication channels and experimented with how Airmen could leverage the new tool. Public Affairs then developed a strategic communications plan to achieve the ambitious goal of registering 80% of the wing’s members within six months of initial launch.

In March 2021, group and squadron commanders were briefed and registered, and unit administrators were identified and later trained to help onboard and assist Airmen in their respective units.

The team’s efforts were hampered by various competing priorities throughout 2021, but they have succeeded in getting the majority of Airmen registered, and expect to reach 80% or greater by the end of the year.

“It’s a crawl, walk, run kind of thing, as most process improvements are, and with 71% of our Airmen now registered, I think we are in the early walking stage,” said 349th AMW process manager, Wilfried Link.

“It’s a matter of Airmen at every level adding content and value that will convince others to use and contribute to our communication efforts. And then it is like a culture, a mass adoption, similar to any new tool that will be received.”

The platform’s capabilities were especially helpful during training events, as well as Operation Allies Refuge, when the wing’s Airmen accessed timely information on MatterMost that helped them prepare, collaborate and succeed during rapidly changing and extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

The next steps for the wing is to continually improve the way the Airmen develop and use the app’s channels, and streamline other initiatives in innovation.

“In my opinion we’re already heading down that road,” said Burmeister. “As an individual, you should be able to schedule yourself for appointments during UTA weekends, versus being told when to show up. I believe this technology can do that, and we’re committed to accelerating the change.”

Next month the 349th AMW Project Mobility Team will represent AFRC at the Air Force-level PACE competition.