HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Terry Rettenberger's ideas have helped not only the Air Force, they've padded his wallet as well.
Rettenberger, a civilian at Hill Air Force Base who works as an equipment specialist with the 416th Supply Management Squadron, was awarded Monday with the Air Force Exceptional Innovator Award.
He received the award for three different ideas that involved designing and developing new tools and revamping the maintenance process for antennas on the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Hill officials report that Rettenberger's innovations have saved the Air Force $6.5 million to date.
"I've worked at Hill for 30 years," Rettenberger said. "So I've kind of dabbled in a lot of things and I've been able to see some ways to make things more efficient."
In addition to official recognition from the Air Force, Rettenberger received $30,000 in reward money as part of Hill's IDEA Program.
The IDEA program is incentive-based and allows Hill Air Force Base employees to suggest changes or implement new procedures and ideas into everyday Air Force operations.
The ideas can range from improving processes on an assembly line to a better way to file paperwork to improving traffic and safety on base -- anything that would benefit the Air Force.
The ideas can come from anyone, but only civilian employees and military members are eligible for cash awards.
"It's an excellent way to reward employees who suggest ideas that create a more efficient way forward for the Air Force," said Teri Gibby, Hill's IDEA program manager.
The money award is 15 percent of the documented savings, with a $10,000 limit for each idea. For ideas with no tangible savings, such as those that improve safety or save time, the award is $200.
Rettenberger began crafting his ideas for maintenance procedures for the antennas, which are used to locate enemy targets and aircraft that the pilot can't see with his or her own eyes, in 2007.
The culmination of his more than three years of innovation not only saved the Air Force money, but has helped the aircraft's overall antenna reliability and performance.
Rettenberger said he's used some of his reward money to buy new tools for himself.
"It really helps motivate people," he said of the incentive program. "You are helping the Air Force, but you're also helping yourself."