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Virtual reality could transform wing exercises

2021 AFIMSC Innovation Rodeo spotlight graphic

Joseph Suddarth, assistant fire chief in the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, is a finalist for the 2021 Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Innovation Rodeo. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Jim Martinez)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – Joseph Suddarth, assistant fire chief in the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, believes the Air Force must evolve and adapt in order to capture and maintain a more agile workforce.

“We’re flying fifth-generation aircraft, and I feel we should be able to enhance mission readiness and the exercise platform to that level,” said Suddarth, a native of Clarksville, Missouri. “The current pandemic has really opened the floodgates to collaboration and innovation.”

Suddarth will have the chance to collaborate and innovate soon as he is one of eight finalists selected for the 2021 Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center’s annual Innovation Rodeo. We asked him more about his idea:

Q: What are your primary duty responsibilities?
A: I serve as an assistant fire chief for Eglin AFB Fire and Emergency Services Flight. My responsibilities include overseeing the training and education division supporting 190 firefighters and 10 fire stations covering 724 square miles. I also support the wing inspection team.

Q: What’s your idea for the 2021 AFIMSC Innovation Rodeo?
A: My idea is to use inexpensive wireless virtual reality headsets to conduct full-scale exercises that provide photorealistic realism to convey the impacts and consequences of real-time decisions. VR training modules, such as aircraft emergency response or airfield damage repair, could be integrated into the emergency operations center to provide instant feedback during a simulation.

Q: What problem will your idea solve?
A: It will allow the Air Force to build and correlate mission readiness into an augmented or virtual reality platform that enables critical thinking in a repeatable zero-risk platform. It can also innovatively transform wing level exercises to showcase 21st-century Air Force capabilities. This platform could even be used at the installation level or used at a multiple installations simultaneously. 

Q: How will your idea help the Air Force deliver installation and mission support capabilities, improve installations or support families in a better way?
A: The number one goal is to enhance mission readiness, especially at the command and control level. It will help the Air Force train first and emergency responders in a repeatable environment where they can make and learn from mistakes in order to enhance critical thinking. The second goal is to give back Airmen’s time to their units by reducing the footprint and number of personnel needed to conduct an exercise. 

Q: How did you come up with your idea?
A: Our career field is multi-disciplined and requires us to process and make decisions on the fly. The current tabletop or functional exercise format has multiple limitations, such as funding, manpower and environmental concerns. Those limitations prevent responders from seeing the actions or consequences of their actions. After seeing a few concepts, my thought was: How we can make our events more realistic?

Q: How does it feel to be selected as a finalist for the 2021 Innovation Rodeo?
A: I was very surprised and honored to even be considered at this level.

Q: What are you hoping to gain from the experience?
A: I hope to learn how the process works so I can take the information back to the installation and enable others to compete with their ideas.