JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – For Maj. Joelle Uribe, every day of her 10 months embedded with the Tesla construction technology team offered a new experience or perspective that helped her grow personally and professionally.
Uribe, a military construction program manager with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, was among the first Airmen to work with Tesla through the Air Force’s Education with Industry program.
The program, sponsored by Air Force Acquisition and managed by the Air Force Institute of Technology, pairs Airmen with top-tier companies for a 10-month tour. The goal is to develop Air Force leaders with greater business acumen, empathy and expertise to implement innovative practices when they return to the Air Force.
“Partnerships with industry are instrumental to the Air Force’s mission success, promoting innovative ways of doing work, refining skills and increasing collaboration,” said Col. Dave Norton, deputy director of AFCEC’s Facility Engineering Directorate. “Participants of EWI bring back invaluable experience and new skills necessary to bolster the mission support for the Air and Space Forces.”
Uribe is one of three EWI graduates at AFCEC who bring new ideas and practical knowledge to the center’s critical Air Force mission.
Partnering with Tesla
The 2020-2021 session was the first year the Air Force, through EWI, partnered with Tesla. Uribe was immersed at one of Silicon Valley’s leading tech companies in Fremont, California, from September 2020 to June. The assignment started in-person and switched to remote working half-way through the program due to COVID-19 safety protocols.
During her tour, Uribe worked daily with data requests, embracing new technologies and software. She was on a team with construction project managers, designers, craftsmen, and facility managers, that allowed her to advance her civil engineering and professional skills.
Uribe supported Tesla’s two main initiatives — construction project executive reporting and program health and construction technology review.
Both efforts focused on finding more efficient ways to prioritize tasks and reduce dependency on software applications in favor of leveraging existing capabilities.
“Each day consisted of receiving, assigning and prioritizing data reporting requests, in addition to participating in meetings to review cost reporting tools,” Uribe said.
“I also interviewed different stakeholders to identify workflows, systems, investments and contracting terms, and publish my findings on Confluence, a collaborative online work platform, to share information within the company.”
EWI provided great exposure to learning many advanced skills, tools and methodologies, which are not always available through military or civilian education programs, Uribe said.
At Tesla, she was appointed a SCRUM master, a framework that helps organizations generate solutions for complex problems. Uribe served as the process owner to help teams collaborate on complex projects and ensuring the goals, scope and processes were clear to the team.
“The most valuable skill I learned through EWI was how to collaborate and work with others,” Uribe said. “Networking with multiple teams, collaborating and giving help and support is what it takes to achieve best practice.”
Partnerships with industry deliver myriad of possibilities to the Air Force mission.
Working with a company known for innovation created “a tremendous opening to bring back hands-on experience and insights,” Uribe said, “to help AFCEC improve project management lifecycle for military construction and deliver timely and resilient infrastructure solutions enterprise-wide.”
Partnering with Jacobs Engineering Group
Capt. David Gillette, a deputy branch chief in AFCEC’s Operations Directorate, partnered with Jacobs Engineering Group from September 2020 to June before joining AFCEC in August 2021.
COVID-19 didn’t stop or hinder his work at Jacobs, or his ability to learn and bring back new perspectives to the Air Force, he said.
Gillette’s average workday was a combination of meetings and interacting with team leads to accomplish multiple tasks.
During his time at Jacobs, he worked side-by-side with leaders on different business areas – from sales and program management to government relations and cyber teams.
“I worked on the Tyndall Air Force Base coastal resiliency project, focused on rebuilding Tyndall as an Installation of the Future and the Tyndall child development center case study,” Gillette said.
Gillette also worked with cyber security teams, collaborated with the Society of American Engineers on pandemic response and future planning, and was involved in Air Force Reserve Command project planning and reviews.
In addition to the firsthand learning experience, Gillette had the opportunity to engage with Jacobs’ president and CEO to get their thoughts on the Air Force partnership.
“EWI helped me understand how the ‘outside world’ operates,” Gillette said. “Being part of the company was one of the most useful experiences in my career, and a great opportunity to network and build relationships.”
Gillette said he'll apply his industry experience to a number of AFCEC MILCON projects, to include Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, and Beale AFB, California.
“The Air Force’s civil engineering community heavily relies on contracts and working with industry partners. It is incredibly helpful to understand how industry operates to better communicate our needs, collaborate and overall, better manage our expectations,” Gillette said.
Partnering with General Motors Company
Maj. Ryon Migacz, an AFCEC program manager who participated in EWI during the 2018-2019 session, worked at General Motors Company's technical center in Warren, Michigan.
“I was part of the Sustainable Workplaces Department, working in the facilities engineering and sustainment section, whose mission was equivalent to AFCEC in terms of managing the enterprise,” Migacz said.
He worked with a team to both actively manage sustainment construction projects as well as investment tools and strategies for long-range development across GM’s North American enterprise.
“We worked tirelessly to generate and sharpen a useful data tool to showcase the condition of existing assets and a way to benchmark future capital investments,” Migacz said.
His days were usually spent bouncing from meeting to meeting and in brainstorming sessions.
For Migacz, the assignment was an invaluable educational experience to understand what makes business profitable and successful, and how to bring that knowledge and innovation to the Air Force mission.
“Speed and innovation are critical to company and industry success in today’s tech-centric and competitive environment,” Migacz said. “Just like in the Air Force, we were confronted with the same parallels that demonstrate why Airmen and the armed service community must continuously innovate and improve to stay combat-ready in a highly competitive and complex environment.”
Graduating from the program armed him with new ways to create team connectedness and collaboration beyond an office setting, Migacz said.
The major said his EWI experience was critical to better understanding what AFCEC’s Air Force and Space Force customers need today for successful mission accomplishment.
“Being open-minded and receptive to doing things different ways is the best learning experience about the program,” Migacz said, “and my experience at General Motors has already come into play.”
As AFCEC’s representative for the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center’s Office of the Future initiative, or O2F, Migacz is driving innovative efforts to radically change and modernize AFIMSC’s workspaces, with the intent to expand O2F into innovative ways of designing workplaces across the Air and Space Forces enterprise.
Reflecting on their experience, the EWI fellows agreed the program was one of the best career development programs in the Air Force and encourage their fellow military and civilian colleagues to apply.
To learn more about EWI, visit: https://www.afit.edu/CIP/page.cfm?page=1567