Mission ready equals inspection ready: No seriously

  • Published
  • By Maj. Matthew A. Shelly, 23d Wing, director of inspections
  • 23d Wing Inspector General
“Mission ready equals inspection ready.” This mantra is reiterated by many inspector general professionals, at all levels, when trying to communicate the new Air Force Inspection System. Do we, the IG, really believe this? Does the Wing Commander’s Inspection Program reflect our mantra? Unfortunately, this statement is too often met with understandable skepticism, driven by decades of compliance inspections and inspection preparation. Airmen have yet to see full buy-in from commanders or shift to inspections that are focused on mission readiness and not compliance. These factors fuel an Air Force inspection culture that is improperly anchored with a focus on compliance. It is up to the IG, specifically wing IGs, to combat and change this culture.

Mission readiness and commander flexibility are two essentials to AFIS success at the wing level. These essentials are the foundation of AFIS, and the success of AFIS hinges on the wing’s ability to properly embrace the new intent. The 23d Wing IG team has identified six “keys to success” of AFIS based on lessons learned and commander feedback during execution of the 23d Wing CCIP.

The Wing CCIP must be a part of the everyday battle rhythm of the wing

Wing meetings (staff meetings, daily stand-up, etc.) must be incorporated into the CCIP and focused on mission readiness by providing the wing commander with data that highlights both success and failures. This data must be processed by the wing IG to identify trends and potential problems for focused inspection. An essential to this incorporation is to maximize the inspection of real-world wing events such as deployments, real-world emergency responses, and unit exercises. This limits the need to plan and execute wing wide exercises, thereby saving Airmen’s time and increasing commander flexibility.

The CCIP is a wing level program and is not required, or beneficial, below the wing level

A CCIP is intended to be led by the wing IG and driven by the wing commander’s intent and priorities. Groups and squadrons are required to have self-assessment programs, not inspection programs. The wing CCIP has to be robust enough to eliminate the need for group and squadron CCIPs. This is in-line with Air Force Instruction 90-201; however, there is often a misinterpretation of the intent, and many units have placed detrimental requirements on below-wing unit commanders. Group and squadron commanders need to focus their time and energy on mission readiness, not building and managing a CCIP.

“Embrace the Red”

Commanders must see deficiencies (Inspector General Evaluation System) and observations (Management Internal Control Toolset) as opportunities for unit improvement. Deficiencies (identified by the IG) and observations (identified by the unit) identify a problem, and provide the commander an opportunity to correct that problem and avoid the problem from being repeated. Deficiencies and observations should be seen as a positive. They help a unit commander identify their high-risk areas, identify root causes to deficiencies, and identify areas to focus resources. Additionally, this affords group and squadron commanders an opportunity to communicate problem areas, request resources, and advertise unit improvements to the wing commander.

Wing IG’s must ensure that the focus of all inspections and exercises are that of mission readiness

Total mission failure in today’s Air Force is rare. The 21st century Airmen is used to “making it happen” with little resources and/or time. It is the IGs job in an inspection or exercise to determine how mission ready a unit is, which often translates into common sense, competency, continuity, and currency. Of all the keys to success, this can be the most difficult. Any inspection or exercise needs to be shaped and driven to test mission readiness and avoid the simple finger drag of AFI requirements.

The Wing IG office must be appropriately staffed

The success of the new AFIS hinges on the buy-in of all Airmen from the highest commander to the lowest ranking Airman. Wing commanders must staff the IG with the very best Senior Non-Commissioned Officers and Field Grade Officers for the CCIP to be successful. Along the same lines, the wing IG has to ensure that the Wing Inspection Team is filled with quality, competent subject matter experts and ensure that the WIT is properly trained in not just inspecting, but also advocating and educating for the wing IG. It is imperative that the wing IG is very clear in communicating the wing commander’s intent for the WIT. The WIT is the IG’s greatest asset to build AFIS buy-in in a wing.

MAJCOM IG level inspections have to be wing CCIP focused and not compliance focused

According to AFI 90-201, “The UEI…serves to: [provide] an independent assessment of Wing effectiveness and validate/verify the CCIP. The UEI is not focused on detecting shop-level non-compliance.”

Capstone and Midpoint inspections must focus on the Wing CCIP’s ability to evaluate mission readiness and identify high risk areas for the wing commander. Capstone inspection reports that have hundreds of compliance deficiencies do little to strengthen a wing CCIP. This only re-establishes a compliance driven Air Force culture. The very culture that the new AFIS is trying to eliminate. Major Command IG inspections need to be a very in depth look at the wing IG’s process and execution of the wing CCIP. This requires a certain amount of risk acceptance and trust at the MAJCOM level, by allowing wings to learn from their mistakes in the execution of the CCIP. Ultimately, both MAJCOMs and wings are still in the learning phase of how to successfully run a CCIP. The MAJCOM IGs can speed up this learning curve by focusing their efforts on assisting wings with their CCIPs and significantly lessening MAJCOM compliance inspections.

These keys to success are not all encompassing, but they are critical for the new AFIS to be fully embraced and successful at the wing level. The new AFIS is just that; new, and it is going to take time and turnover. It is not until squadron commanders under the new AFIS become wing commanders and wing commanders become MAJCOM IG’s that the new AFIS will completely achieve full momentum. During this transition process, these keys to success, along with strong leadership, will set the foundation for the new AFIS to become a part of the Air Force culture.