Spokane Journal of Business

Fairchild Air Force Base aims to grow its externship program

More companies sought for temporary placements

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Fairchild Air Force Base is continuing its externships program with a second cohort next month.

Capt. Sean Johnson, chief technology officer of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild, says the program currently is accepting up to 10 external partners for the Decentralized Fellowships program.

Called DFellows for short, the program matches airmen with private- and public-sector employers with the intent to exchange knowledge and ideas.

The second cohort begins Feb. 20 and will end March 31.

So far, five organizations have agreed to participate in the new round of DFellows: Collins Aerospace Systems, which has a manufacturing plant on the West Plains; Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho; Rohinni Inc., a Liberty Lake-based micro and mini LED lighting technology developer; SafeGuard Equipment Inc.; and Tate Technology Inc., a Spokane Valley-based electronics manufacturer.

In the beta test of the program last August, five service members were matched to five local entities: Spokane Valley-based clean tech company CarbonQuest Inc., SafeGuard Equipment, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, Tate Technology, and Spokane-based fintech software startup Treasury4 Inc.

The first cohort of service members in the DFellows program spent four weeks at their externship placement. Johnson says that wasn’t enough time, so the Air Force decided to extend the program to six weeks.

“Even the most qualified and capable of us do not show up at a new organization knowing it all,” Johnson says. “We want to allow somebody to figure out the bland, surface-level stuff … in the first week or so, then quickly move to wrap their arms around a problem the company has where they could provide some value.”

Fairchild works to help the service members participating in DFellows navigate the civilian and professional world.

“We do some professional development with them along the way that’s a little atypical for the Air Force,” Johnson says. “We’ll help them build a LinkedIn account. We’ll help them build their profile and start acting more like a civilian professional so that they can start building the network for problem solving. Regardless of whether they stay in the Air Force for six years or 36 years, we want members to … be able to communicate and network the way private industry does.”

At the end of the externship, each participant creates a capstone presentation, to which the leaders of the host companies are invited.

“We address three topics: What did you do? What did you learn? And what do you hope to bring back to the Air Force?” Johnson says.

Johnson says another base will launch a DFellows program next month.

“Luke Air Force Base, which is down in Phoenix, took the lessons we learned in August, and has aligned their first execution of this program with our second,” Johnson says. “I’ve been helping them get established along the way.”

Johnson says organizations interested in joining the DFellows program can contact him through Fairchild’s public affairs line.

Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the health care industry. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys traveling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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