Igor Sikorsky, the Ukrainian-born American pioneer in helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft, said it well: “The work of the individual remains the spark that moves mankind forward.”
In the 80-year history of Civil Air Patrol, Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, former national commander, provided one of those sparks that fueled the U.S. Air Force auxiliary through innovation.
The ideas fueled by what is now known as the JanEX Project will be “the building block for the next 80 years,” said Lt. Col David Dlugiewicz, vice commander of the Ohio Wing.
To honor Smith’s legacy, Civil Air Patrol has commissioned the JanEX Prize to honor the most forward-thinking innovations through its “100 Ideas in 100 Days” initiative. CAP will bestow gold, silver, and bronze medals to the best ideas of the annual competition.
Naming the honor for Smith was an easy decision, said Maj. Gen. Edward D. Phelka, his successor as national commander and CEO. The new award is part of the JanEX project, announced in February at a meeting of CAP’s Command Council in Washington, D.C.
Award winners will be announced in August at the 2022 National Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.
As the demands on Civil Air Patrol increase because of more intense weather events and increasing strains on local and state budgets, innovation takes on greater urgency and importance, Phelka said.
“In a constantly evolving landscape, innovation will help ensure CAP’s capabilities remain relevant. Our members are incredibly creative and continuously impress with their ability to think outside the box to provide innovative ways to solve problems and speed resources to where they’re needed.
“The Board of Governors was wise to include innovation as one of our strategic goals — the importance of innovation cannot be overstated,” he said.
Smith served as CAP’s national commander from 2017-2021. He’s also a former leader of CAP’s high-level Leadership Development Working Group, which generated tools and courses to improve CAP leadership.
A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Smith joined the CAP in 2005. A 26-year Air Force veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, he’s also past commander of the Southwest Region and the New Mexico Wing.
“Gen. Smith’s tenure as national commander/CEO saw the addition of innovation to CAP’s strategic goals. His leadership helped transform our culture toward continuous improvement — one that welcomes innovative and creative solutions,” Phelka said.
Dlugiewicz, a member of the innovation team, agreed.
“Maj. Gen. Smith was forward-looking and knew CAP had to innovate. He was supportive of everything we were trying to do,” he said.
Why 100 ideas in 100 days?
“Like a SMART goal — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound — everyone understands the 100 days of safety during summer, and 100 is an easy number to remember,” Dlugiewicz said.
Phelka added, “The 100-day timeline allows for the ideas to be reviewed and evaluated for top contenders.”
CAP has always been individual- and squadron-driven. The Smith JanEX Prize honors that concept, Phelka said. A couple of ideas that became standard operating procedure originated down the chain of command.
“The two best examples of this are the Cell Phone Forensics Team and National Radar Analysis Team. Both began as member-originated ideas that were designed to enhance the speed and accuracy of search and rescue efforts,” Phelka said.
“Talented and creative members put their professional skills to work and established solutions, which have evolved over time and have revolutionized search and rescue — not just within CAP but across the entire (search and rescue) community.”
Innovation sparked by the Smith JanEx Prize competition will also enhance the organization’s ability to recruit and retain a young, diverse force.
Phelka quoted a former Air Force chief of staff: “As Gen. [David L.] Goldfein said, ‘A diverse force is a stronger force.’ Diversity includes not just ethnicity, gender, and religion; it also importantly includes diversity of thought and experience.
“CAP is open to new ideas from all members, adult and cadet alike. Members from all walks of life are great contributors to our missions.”
CAP newcomers can bring fresh perspective, Dlugiewicz said.
“New members come with new ideas and no baggage of ‘this is how we always do it.’”
And while not all ideas received during the 100 days will be implemented, Dlugiewicz said, others will help shape the organization’s future.
The Smith JanEX Prize recipients will be honored at the National Conference in August.
Innovation sparked by this competition can have influence even in the day-to-day routine of CAP missions.
“If we can start to innovate on some of the routine things we do every day and save time to allow us to innovate on the bigger things. … We don’t know what missions we will add next year, but we know there will be some,” Dlugiewicz said.
“[But] several ideas could be combined into something we do. or that idea could be the cornerstone of something that will be a building block for the next 80 years.”