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Emerging technologies (and why you should embrace them)

The use of interactive technology in the Air Force is on the rise, and Airmen are encouraged to embrace the different cyber outlets available to them. Ranging from access to internal Air Force sites with a variety of personnel functions to communicating through social media and social networking sites, these emerging technologies are changing the way Americans, the Air Force and Airmen conduct their day-to-day business (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

The use of interactive technology in the Air Force is on the rise, and Airmen are encouraged to embrace the different cyber outlets available to them. Ranging from access to internal Air Force sites with a variety of personnel functions to communicating through social media and social networking sites, these emerging technologies are changing the way Americans, the Air Force and Airmen conduct their day-to-day business (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Don't forget to update your CEI in vPC-GR before the end of the UTA."

Yes, that is English and it does make sense, but do you understand it? Other than "UTA," many members of the 302nd Airlift Wing may not know what to do if their commander makes this statement. The alphabet soup can be confusing especially since the number of on-line systems individual Reservists must use to update their records has multiplied over the last several years.
 
In case you don't know, the opening sentence of this article is telling a Reservist to update their Civilian Employment Information in the virtual Personnel Center-Guard Reserve before the end of the Unit Training Assembly. This action, as well as the maintenance of your personnel records, can be accomplished via the on-line applications available through the Air Force Portal.

"I remember when I joined the military personnel flight; every month we'd have people come in for a record review," said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Harding, chief of career enhancement with the 302nd Mission Support Flight's MPF. "Everyone had to do it annually and they had set times to review their entire data sheet. Now all that is done in virtual MPF and can be done 24/7."

According to Sergeant Harding, it's important to check your records in the virtual Military Personnel Flight to ensure they're accurate because that information affects promotions, job opportunities, quarterly boards and more.

"The MPF has changed dramatically," said Staff Sgt. Joe Platt, a program system manager for the MPF. "People need to understand the (virtual MPF) is an extension of the MPF. If you need help, contact your commander support staff."

Personnel-centric applications aren't the only thing available online, employment opportunities are also available, whether you are looking for a new position or temporary orders. Additionally, Air Reserve Component Network's Duty Plan, commonly referred to as "ARCNet," provides members and supervisors the ability to keep up with annual tour requirements.

"You can request and get approval for [Annual Tour) in ARCNet," said Sergeant Harding. "Instead of tracking someone down in the hallway to see if the days I want to do are good, I just request them through ARCNet."

An added benefit of the duty plan in ARCNet is being able to quickly see how many AT days a Reservist has remaining and whether the person has enough points for a good year. Commanders and supervisors have full visibility of each Reservist's schedule.

Recent additions to the AF Portal include the Air Force Training Record and Training Business Area, which are systems that track upgrade training for several Air Force Specialty Codes. The systems overlap in functionality, but each AFSC will only use one system.

"The Air Force has not devised a plan to merge AFTR and TBA," said Tech. Sgt. Jamillah Gonzalez, a unit training manager in the 302nd AW. "And some AFSC's are still using the paper form for training records."

Confusion can result from the myriad of systems Reservists need to use, but remembering that the systems are intended to make Reserve life a little easier is important. Systems being introduced are available to Reservists from home with the AF Portal and common access card, commonly known as a "CAC" card.

Although an initial learning curve may slow an individual down, all the systems are designed to make information available to the individual and leadership whenever the information is needed. The days of requiring a Reservist to visit someone in person to correct an error, find out what jobs are available, or review training records are over. Now a Reservist can perform each of these tasks anywhere in the world at anytime of the day with access to the AF Portal.

The trend toward online applications will continue. So, sit down on your couch, grab your favorite beverage, logon and start managing your career!

Social media improves communication flow

The World Wide Web has evolved into an ever-changing, fluid tool that can, and in some cases, has radically changed the lives of individuals and even nations, as well as the way companies, including the military, do business. New technologies and programs are created on a daily basis with the flow of information through the internet transitioning from what has been a simpler, one-way connection in the past to more complex, multiple layers of multiple connections available at anytime from virtually anywhere.

Fast forward to today. Not only has the Web surpassed its initial use of simple research and the basic passing of information, it has become the domain for social-networking tools. Social media, as it's known, is emerging as one of the quickest and easiest ways to spread information across vast networks of users, continents and time zones.

Three of the most popular social media sites are Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Facebook and MySpace are communities where users can create personal sites that are used to share an individual or group's real-time updates, upload photos, share links and connect with friends. Twitter uses short, text-based posts, referred to as "tweets," that update the user's status, location, thoughts and more.

Corporate America became one of the first communities to discover the benefits and vast potential of social media. Instead of sending information, one-way to consumers via print advertising or press releases, they realized they could spread their information and messages to networks of computer users as well as receive instant feedback on products and services. With social media tools, businesses can also respond to problems and opportunities quicker than ever before. Social media became a way to not just connect, but rather, interconnect with their customers, by becoming a part of their daily lives instantly, online.

While the Air Force Reserve does not necessarily have a tangible "product" to "sell" to its "customers," there is a lot of important information to convey to the American public about what the AF Reserve does. Along with that, social media is a tool that can help keep members informed and updated about their wing's latest news and activities. With continuing, real-time status updates and "tweets," the AF Reserve story is now sent to those it affects the most. And just as important, social media has opened a new, two-way line of communication that was previously unavailable.

In an e-mail to all Air Force Reserve Command public affairs personnel, Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt, the command's PA director, wrote "social media is about encouraging conversation, sharing and swapping ideas. The key tenets of which are communication, collaboration, education and entertainment."

Social media and the 302nd Airlift Wing

Did you know a 302nd Services Flight Reservist saved someone's life while on duty? Did you know seven members of the 302nd Airlift Wing traveled to Thailand to train the Royal Thai Air Force on the safe and effective use of C-130 Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems? Did you know the out-bound lane of the West gate at Peterson has been reduced to one lane?

You would if you were plugged into the wing's Facebook fan page.

With social media outlets proving their value within commercial, government and media organizations, it only makes sense the 302nd AW follows suit. In late March, the wing launched its own Facebook fan page with the goal of bringing news and even more information to Reservists, as well as the Colorado Springs community and beyond, as it happens.

The wing's Facebook site incorporates many features "Generation-Y'ers" are used to. The site gives visitors a "push and pull" ability to get information to its "fans" of the page as well as a vehicle to provide instantaneous feedback anytime, anywhere. And for those not-so-savvy internet users, Facebook is built to be a user-friendly site with an environment easy to understand and operate in.

With the use of Facebook, user can be "followers" of the 302nd AW's page, getting daily updates directly to their computer without ever searching the information out.

For easy-to-use instructions on getting online with Facebook, and then later, to the 302nd AW's fan page see the graphic at the bottom of this page. Once on Facebook, become a "fan" of the wing's page, then get ready to connect with other Airmen from the wing, as well as get instant messages on topics that affect you the most, from military pay to the many benefits of being an AF Reservist.

See you online.