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'Bright' idea worth $10K for LRS civilian

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Materials expeditor John Solomon, 62nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, pays careful attention to the small details of his job. And his keen sense of awareness paid off in a big way recently. 

While overseeing parts that are deemed unserviceable and then routing them to the backshops to be repaired, Mr. Solomon kept noticing one particular part coming through his section -- the C-17 Globemaster III latrine fluorescent light assemblies. Each time one of the assembly came through with a broken or cracked lens piece, the entire unit was discarded and replaced with a new one because the aircraft technical order instructs maintainers to do so. 

"It was ridiculous that we were throwing away a $1200 lens assembly just because the outer lens was broken," said Mr. Solomon, who used to work in the 62nd LRS parts warehouse as an active duty Airman before separating. 

The TO failed to mention any replacement parts or places to order them, so Mr. Solomon set out to find a more cost-effective alternative to just throwing the entire assembly out. After months of scouring the Internet and several conversations with Boeing parts advisors, Mr. Solomon ended up finding a company that sold the assembly for $139. But the eager materials expeditor still wasn't satisfied. 

A bit more research yielded a greater revelation: The Air Force could buy the lens replacement directly from Boeing for just $12. 

"The people at Boeing told me that no one from the Air Force had ever ordered one of the lenses," he said. 

The long research journey that started in October finally came to an end last month when Mr. Solomon received the first lens. His hard work prompted Air Force officials to modify existing technical orders to allow the new pieces Mr. Solomon discovered to be included in any repair. 

For all of his efforts, Mr. Solomon was recently awarded a check for $10,000 from the Air Force's IDEA program, an incentive program established to recognize Airmen for their approved ideas that benefit the government by streamlining processes or improving productivity and efficiency. The simple modification will save the Air Force nearly $72,000 in the first year, said IDEA program manager Tech Sgt. Angelique Snyder, 62nd Mission Support Squadron. 

Mr. Solomon's hard work on the project has inspired others within his office. 

"It just takes a different set of eyes looking for stuff like that," said Janice Barker, 62nd LRS, who works with Mr. Solomon. "Now we are all keeping our eyes out for things we can improve." 

"It's just about having the mentality of 'Can I do a bit more research and find this at a cheaper price?'" Mr. Solomon said. 

Although he acknowledged the money is a nice bonus, Mr. Solomon said the real thing that motivated him throughout the search was the challenge of solving the problem.