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Education with Industry program takes JBSA Airmen on unique journey

  • Published
  • By Gloria Kwizera
  • JBSA-Lackland Public Affairs
Thirty-eight officers and civilians selected for the "best kept secret" in the Air Force started their 10-month journey Sept. 2.

"[Education with Industry] is a 10-month program used to send competitively selected officers and civilians to work in selected companies and organizations so that they can learn industry best practices," said Capt. Philip Amirault, EWI alumni and current EWI program manager.

"In any large organization, especially military organizations, we get embedded in tradition and it's difficult to break away from that, so we constantly do things the same way we always did," said Amirault. "It may be the best way to do things and it may not be, but we won't know that until we look at options.

Amirault believes that the program brings strength to the Air Force because it allows participants to experience a different kind of working environment and to bring new ideas back to their work centers.

"Through EWI, they will learn about industry best practices and will see the type of innovation we should bring to our table to make our organizations more efficient," he said

To prepare for the experience, the participants in the 67th Air Force EWI Program attended a mandatory two-day orientation seminar in San Antonio which included a discussion panels with previous students and private company coordinators and briefings about the program mission, goals and history.

At the seminar the EWI program managers explained the program is tailored to each assignment and each student, and no two experiences will be the same. What each student gains from the program is often based on personal initiative and desires.

Hands-on experience

On hand at the seminar was Lloyd Wiltz, who recently returned to his job at the 502nd Contracting Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland following a year at the United Services Automobile Association in San Antonio, Texas. He is, he says, already putting his new skills and experience to use in his daily tasks.

Wiltz, a continuous process improvement program advisor, was among nine civilians selected Air Force-wide and the only Air Education and Training Command Airman selected in 2013.

"As a EWI student, you need three things to be able to succeed. You have to be agile, astute and adaptable," Wiltz told new students during the orientation panel. The experience was an opportunity to grow and learn more about the Air Force and how it functions, he added. "I actually learned more about the Air Force - especially the core mission - than I ever knew before."

As a cohort, his class of other EWI participants met a couple of times during the year. They visited a space operation unit and an air operation unit, where they were able to see the mission in motion. "The visits helped us really understand the impact of the operational air, space and cyberspace missions and what it takes to accomplish them," he said. "It was a great opportunity to see it and learn how it works.

"At JBSA, you get to hear the sound of freedom when the planes take off and you can connect what the air mission is about. But when you talk about space and cyberspace, you are not connected to it until you are exposed to the mission and capabilities," Wiltz said.

He explained that the experience helped him see the Air Force mission more clearly than ever because seeing the capabilities up close and in person made him appreciate the role he felt honored to play in completing the Air Force mission everyday.

Wiltz, who started his federal service career in 2005 as a Student Career Experience Program participant as a Texas A&M graduate student, credited great sponsors, coaches and mentors for his successes.

He encouraged this year's participants to make sure they find a sponsor who is an executive, a coach who is a supervisor and a mentor who is a peer at their EWI location. Those three individuals, he said, will help them remove barriers they may face, get connected to the right people and navigate through their new environment.

While at USAA, Wiltz conducted a systems metric analysis and four designs for lean six sigma innovation projects that were key to their enterprise innovation center strategic operations.

"At USAA,  I came to understand truly what it takes to commercialize technology to either license or sell a product, spin-out a start-up," said Wiltz. "You get to work with expertise from all over the company and help generate revenue for the company."

Jane Dziuk, USAA's executive director for internal innovation, had nothing but praise for his work.

"While here he updated our innovation processes to a new level of maturity, including helping develop our process for innovation commercialization," said Dziuk. "He also led the research and innovation teams in a passion project for home automation in partnership with the Center for Intrepid, Operation Finally Home and the Gary Sinise Foundation."

Not only do the Airmen gain knowledge and experience through EWI, but participating businesses are enriched as well.

"We were honored to work with Lloyd," Dziuk said. "He provided a huge amount of support to the innovation team, and he will be greatly missed."

The journey ahead

As the Air Force marks its 67th anniversary in September, the 67th EWI class will head off to work -- and learn -- at more than 25 host companies across the country, firms ranging from Amazon to the United Launch Alliance.

"You get 10 months to become a better worker and leader," said Capt. Edwin Bell, EWI alumni and former EWI program manager.

As the new class embarked on their adventure, Wiltz, Bell and other former students encouraged them to not only adapt to the culture, the language and the history of the organizations they will be going to, but also to be agile and constantly ask what they, in turn, can offer those organizations.

"The first things I asked the executive were 'What do I need to do in order to be successful? And what are the top three things you would like my help with before I leave in 10 months?'" said Wiltz. "That's how I got my first three assignments. Other opportunities just came because they (USAA) noticed that I was willing to work and help where needed."

"The great thing about the EWI program is that, no matter what skills you come in with, they will match you with a company that makes the most sense for your personalized experience. All officers and civilians get unique experiences," said Amirault.

In addition, Bell added, "If you compare two participants' experiences, they would be wildly different, so any officer or civilian can come in with their unique background experiences and they will have just as positive an experience as any other. There is no single model required to apply or get selected."

A unique opportunity

The program, an Air Force Basic Developmental Education level program, is sponsored by the Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition and managed by the Air Force Institute of Technology. The highly selective, competitive non-degree educational assignment within an industry related to the student's career field is open to company grade officers and GS-11 through GS-13 civilian employees.

"This is an amazing opportunity that we have and we have built partnerships with civilian companies since 1947. We are very appreciative of the civilian companies and their willingness because it is a win-win situation. For those companies, their willingness to do this really benefits us as a country and as a force," said Dave Slade, SAF/AQ Career Management director and EWI sponsor.

"What the Air Force has done over the last 67 years is amazing and, for something to last 67 years, says a lot about what this program is and what the Air Force has invested in it," said Tricia Swynenburg, strategic partner at Boeing.

Both Amirault and Bell emphasized the fact that the amount of effort it takes to join the program is the same amount of effort it takes to succeed once in the program.

"I had a unique opportunity to see my program from the industry position and then from the government position. The interaction between the two helped me to see how communication can be improved," said Bell.  "After being able to walk in the shoes of industry personnel for 10 months, I believe I learned a lot to help the Air Force."

While none of the students receive an accreditation or degree from EWI, students are encouraged to pursue civilian sector training opportunities to develop themselves during their EWI assignment.

Both Amirault and Wiltz come out of their programs with educational certificates related to their careers.

"Lloyd completed the Innovator Certification course from University of Texas at Austin and the Innovation-Creative-Capital Institute (IC2 Institute)," said Dziuk.

Wiltz presented some of his work to the new EWI students and explained how it tied all of his educational and work experiences together.

"This is my 12-page paper reduced to an infographics, using skills learned through UT, an opportunity provided to me by USAA. This is the new executive summary for the 21st century! You can have a bad, good or great experience. It's all up to you," Wiltz said to his attentive audience.

"Lloyd is an example of a civilian taking advantage of the many Civilian Development Education programs the agency has to offer," said Myra Evans-Manyweather, Wiltz's supervisor and 502 Installation Support Group resource advisor. "In this case, it benefits the employee, the agency as a whole and the participating company."

While Wiltz was sponsored by USAA for the 90-day market research, innovation development and executive presentation certification course, Amirault did it on his own.

"There is a certificate called the Program Manager Professional Certificate, the PMP is one of the leading industry standards for program management professional," he said. "I decided as part of my industry experience that I would get that certificate for myself.

"We have a lot of students that would go out no matter what their specialty is and search for that opportunity to get certified but on the civilian side kind of on their own initiative."

For more information about the EWI program, contact the applicable career program management offices or find out more information through the myPers website at