The Air Force has launched a new mobile app that aims to provide airmen necessary information for their lives and careers — and might one day allow them to use Common Access Card-secured sites on their phones.
The app, called Air Force Connect, will allow all types of Air Force organizations to deliver information to their airmen, their families and the local community, the Air Force said in an April 10 release. The app now can be downloaded from Google Play and Apple’s app store.
Air Force Connect was one of six finalists for the inaugural Spark Tank innovation contest last February.
To get relevant, local information tailored to them in the app, airmen can add their unit as a “Favorite.” They can then swipe left and right to find features such as directories, checklists, groups, polling, events, physical fitness test calculators and notifications — and customize what they want to see.
“Airmen are constantly on the go and their computing needs are no longer tied to a desktop computer or a lap top,” Col. Minh Tri Trinh, who is in charge of the app’s rollout, said in the release. “We believe Air Force Connect and its future iterations will continue to be transformative, delivering on the promise of convenience and the power of technology, now and into the future.”
There are now about 100 units in the Favorites portal, the release said, and more are being added. The Air Force said that if an airman can’t find his unit on the Favorites list, he should contact his local public affairs office to have it added.
The team working on the app is now beta-testing a feature that would allow them to use their CAC with the phone. Airmen would pair their device with a mobile CAC reader, plug in their card, and log on to sites such as the Defense Travel System, the Air Force Portal and Webmail to access encrypted emails.
Other CAC sites that might become available on a mobile phone with this feature include eFinance, Air Force Reserve Command Network, the Volunteer Reserve System, the Reserve Management Vacancy System and the Virtual Personnel Center.
Though Air Force Connect did not win last year’s Spark Tank contest, Air Force officials were impressed enough by the team’s idea to give them money to buy several thousand mobile CAC readers, which are being distributed to units across the force.
“You can actually file your DTS voucher completely on your mobile device,” Trinh said at the Spark Tank panel at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in February 2018.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said during that panel that his daughter, who is also an airman, once told him “Hey Dad, I don’t know what hell looks like, but I’ll know I’m there if I’ve got to file a travel voucher on DTS to get out.”
“This will be easier, sir,” Capt. Liquat Ali, a member of the Air Force Connect team, said. “She could get it done in five minutes.”
The team intends to study information from the beta test and, later this year, make recommendations to Air Force technology leaders about whether the CAC reader idea should continue in the long term.
Other Air Force organizations, such as Air Force recruiting, the Key Spouse Program and Air Force Services, are looking for ways they can use Air Force Connect. Those programs will also have some features throughout the app.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.