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442d Reservist is first Total Force Airman to pass CPI Black Belt equivalency exam

Staff Sgt. Denis Silva holds two certificates in front of a set of shelves.

Staff Sgt. Denis Silva, an officer trainee with the 442d Civil Engineer Squadron, holds his civilian process improvement certificates May 17, 2021, in his Florida office. Silva is the first total-force Airman to pass the Air Force's continuous process improvement black-belt-equivalency exam.

Staff Sgt. Denis Silva holds two certificates in front of a set of shelves.

Staff Sgt. Denis Silva, an officer trainee with the 442d Civil Engineer Squadron, holds his civilian process improvement certificates May 17, 2021, in his Florida office. Silva is the first total-force Airman to pass the Air Force's continuous process improvement black-belt-equivalency exam.

Staff Sgt. Denis Silva holds two certificates in front of a set of shelves.

Staff Sgt. Denis Silva, an officer trainee with the 442d Civil Engineer Squadron, earned this Six-Sigma Black Belt certificate through the American Society for Quality. Silva is the first total-force Airman to pass the Air Force's continuous process improvement black-belt-equivalency exam.

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --

Continuous Process Improvement is not easy. It takes a host of highly-trained individuals to help guide the rest of the organization to be more efficient and, ultimately, more productive.

The term Black Belt (ultimately a reference to martial arts mastery) comes from the 6-Sigma process developed in the 1980s at the Motorola Corporation. The Air Force, in its commitment to Accelerate Change or Lose, utilizes a modified version of the 6σ tools to improve its processes. Both Green-Belt and Black-Belt certification involve academic and practical training, which can take a significant amount of time. So, when a member is 6σ-qualified in the civilian sector, the Air Force offers an opportunity to transfer that certification to the military side through equivalency testing.

The equivalency test does not take the place of the practical portion. A would-be Black Belt still needs to conduct a Black-Belt-Level CPI event and document the results of that event.

To date, three Airmen have taken the Black-Belt-equivalency test and been unable to meet the required passing score of 70 percent. Staff Sgt. Denis Silva, a traditional reservist and officer trainee with the 442d Civil Engineer Squadron, is the first Air Force member – throughout the Total Force – to pass the test. And he did it on a pretty tight timeline.

“We thought that, when we ordered the test, it would just sit here until he was ready,” said Mrs. Shallyn Troutman, the 442d Fighter Wing process manager. “But when it got here they said ‘The clock’s ticking. You have 10 days to complete the test.’ “

So, Silva – already Black-Belt certified through the Delphi Corporation and American Society for Quality in his role as a senior program manager with Saft – brushed up on what he’d learned having facilitated more than 15 CPI events since 2002, took the test, and knocked it out of the park with a score of 90%.

“Black Belts are highly trained and skilled individuals who can apply Continuous Process improvement principles to influence and promote change in any environment,” Silva said. “I believe, as an Air Force certified Black Belt, I will be able to be an active member in our Wing and help pave the path to achieve our Wing’s vision, to be ‘A Lethal, Agile and Dynamic Fighter Wing – Combat Proven Warriors Ready to Answer the Call’.”

Upon his return from Officer Training School, Silva will be assigned a task from Troutman’s portfolio of potential process improvement projects. He will run a CPI event for that process and track the results for approximately six months. If the process improved successfully, he can then submit those results to the Air Force Reserve Continuous Process Improvement/Innovation and Lessons Learned Division to receive his full certification.

“The AF Black Belt certification is among the highest-level professional accreditations you can achieve during your military career.” Silva said. “It is not only a proof of academic and professional competence, but also a recognition of your ability to support the Air Force mission.”

Silva believes having more CPI-trained Airmen will increase the wing’s ability to achieve its goals, and to support to Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s goal to accelerate change.

“Staff Sgt. Silva’s achievement gives our Wing a total of 3 members Black Belt trained of our required 6,” Troutman said. Air Force Instruction 38-401, Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) requires commanders to have five percent of their members Green Belt academics trained and one percent Black Belt trained. “It also gets us a step closer to developing a pipeline for certifying members in CPI, as it takes a certified Black Belt to certify a Green Belt.  Moreover, having someone with his experience level in the wing will be invaluable as we examine our internal processes and develop better, more efficient ways to do business.”

Should anyone want to follow in Silva’s footsteps, he had this advice: “First, you should make CPI part of who you are. It is how you operate and keep yourself relevant over time in every aspect of your life. Second, you should use CPI not only to make yourself better, but also others. Make it part of your personal mission to help others succeed. Lastly, never stop pursuing Excellence! Humanity is in desperate need of role models. Just simple individuals who can lead by setting high standards for themselves and giving example.”