MacDill Matters: Air Force innovation awards, and keeping the SS American Victory in Tampa

The SS American Victory docked at the Port of Tampa behind the Florida Aquarium [Luis Santana | Times (2010)]
The SS American Victory docked at the Port of Tampa behind the Florida Aquarium [Luis Santana | Times (2010)]
Published Mar. 20, 2019

Two years ago, the 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill Air Force Base kicked off a competition it calls "Fuel Tank."

Based on a similar Air Force-wide competition called "Spark Tank," it's an effort to harness the ingenuity of airmen, and award money to fund innovative ideas. Base commanders fund the concepts through a pool of money dedicated to those efforts. Many of the winning ideas could become candidates in the Air Force's Spark Tank initiative.

Having seen how these men and women keep the ancient KC-135s flying, refueling tankers that first rolled off the assembly lines during the Eisenhower era, I can attest to the fact that there is no shortage of good ideas.

Here is a list of this year's top Fuel Tank awards, courtesy of the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

• $24,000 to fund 1st Lt. Bianca Santos's concept for pivot cockpit equipment: Pilots and boom operators will benefit from universal cases and mounts to position their electronic tablets in a functional manner during flight.

• $25,000 to fund Lt. Col. John Schwartz's idea for Security Forces entry control software: It will allow Security Forces to compile a list of approved base visitors with the ability to update instantaneously and remotely to accommodate last-minute additions. This process will shorten or eliminate delays at the gate during large events.

• $30,000 to fund Senior Master Sgt. John Verrecchio's emotional intelligence course: Improves self-awareness and relationship management among members. Goal is improve relationships and cohesiveness at the unit level.

• $20,000 to fund Capt. Felix Carrillo's concept for a maintenance shift scheduling app: Inspired by global companies, an online system to track, organize and sync shifts across a mission-essential team that works around the clock.

• $15,000 to fund Tech. Sgt. Noel Gamez's concept for a Joint Services Against Drunk Drivers app: The app will streamline driver and rider communication, and allow both as well as the dispatcher to track the status and ETA of the ride. Driven by the desire to make this service a DOD-wide standard to save lives.

• $30,000 to fund Tech. Sgt. Vernoy's concept for a maintenance trailer: The trailer allows fuel cell airmen to travel to locations away from their work center, which is currently located on the far side of the flight line. It brings comfort and utility to their teams as they perform their maintenance, and is an upgrade from the current carts that they utilize to carry necessary equipment.

Overall, $209,000 was awarded to fund ideas in this year's competition, according to Capt. Samantha Morrison, a wing spokeswoman.

"I was blown away by the ideas and presentations," said Col. Stephen Snelson, the wing commander.


Speaking of innovation, the folks who run the SS American Victory ship, the old WWII cargo vessel docked in Channelside, are looking for ways to increase funding. They are working with the folks from Synapse, a nonprofit organization created by entrepreneurs to build connections within the state's network of private-sector innovators and investors.

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The ship, which has been in Tampa since 1999 and also serves as a museum, runs an annual $70,000 deficit, said Dave Scott, a retired Air Force major general and chairman of its board.

Between dry dock costs and needed repairs and improvements, there is a struggle to keep the boat afloat, said Scott.

Scott said there is no panic at the moment that the ship will set sail for good.

"I am more worried that it will just fall from visibility and atrophy to the point where we can't sustain it anymore," Scott said, adding that the ship is not underwritten by public funds and generates income solely through entrance fees, venue rental and special events.

To that end, the SS American Victory is having another "Salute to Service" cruise, this Saturday, March 23, from noon until 3 p.m. It coincides with the 33rd annual Merchant Marine convention coming to town. There will be music, food provided by Mission BBQ and a number of World War II veterans on board.

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to or call (813) 228-8766


The Department of Defense announced the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Inherent Resolve since my last column.

Sgt. Holli R. Bolinski, 37, of Pinckneyville, Ill. and Spc. Jackson D. Johnson, 20, of Hillsboro, Mo. died March 5, 2019, as a result of a non-combat related incident. Both soldiers were assigned to 657th Transportation Company, 419th Transportation Battalion, 103d Sustainment Command, Mount Vernon, Ill.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 61 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel; 58 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one troop death in support of Operation Joint Guardian, one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; one death in Operation Octave Shield and six deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at or (813) 225-3112 . Follow @haltman .