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New inspection system offers Airmen 'direct line' to Pentagon

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- In what officials call a successful first-of-its-kind event, Air Mobility Command inspectors launched the command's implementation of the new Air Force Inspection System at Little Rock AFB, Ark., the last week of September.

Part of that new system included the chance for Airmen and family members to confidentially pass their concerns directly to the Secretary of the Air Force Inspector General at the Pentagon.

Coming eventually to every air base, the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force have approved the new system to be at full-operational capability by October 2014.

Leveraging feedback from the beta-test conducted by United States Air Forces in Europe last year, Air Mobility Command is accelerating implementation of this new way for commanders to assess and maintain the readiness and health of their units.

Some of the inspection changes--the largest in decades--are radically changing how things are done.

One new twist on the inspection process involves confidential interviews some wing-level Airmen and family members will have with headquarters IG team members--called "Airmen-to-IG sessions." Such interviews are meant to allow new and fresh perspectives than couldn't be obtained under the former IG and functional inspections, says Brig. Gen. Steve Arquiette, AMC's Inspector General.

"The feedback from the interviews gives us a different lens to look at things," said Arquiette. "You can really see how there are cross-cutting issues that would either raise the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of a wing, or lower it, but now you can pinpoint exactly what those are and how you can go about addressing those issues. The Airmen and spouse participants were extremely upbeat over having the opportunity to give direct feedback."

The inspection team will gather issues learned from Airmen-to-IG session interviews, which are designed to listen to the needs and challenges of Airmen so that the Air Force can gauge the command's overall effectiveness and highlight areas of undetected non-compliance.

The top five issues from each wing go directly to the Air Force Inspector General's office. Wing leadership also receives a list of wing-specific issues, officials said.

Little Rock AFB, the 'inaugural run'

The19th Airlift Wing's Black Knights volunteered to be the first AMC unit to align under the new system. Over the course of several months, the wing stood-up its Wing Inspection Team and performed required self-assessments, with guidance from the AMC Inspector General team and its functional expert partners throughout the Air Force.

"We had very specific objectives going into this first visit, understanding that we [and the wing] were walking through this together," said Col. Christopher Sullivan, from AMC's Inspector General Team. Col Sullivan led a small team that observed the new process first-hand and documented lessons learned to apply as the command continues to mature this new assessment methodology.

"We had to establish some trust with the unit by explaining that the Unit Effectiveness Inspection was much more of a process over time, not just a one-week product," he said.

Little Rock Airmen "knew this was a trial run, and kudos to them for being first and leading the way," said Sullivan. "The wing authored a thorough Commander's Inspection Report which provides all wings a very good template to mirror and build upon."

The new approach to inspections launched officially Air Force-wide in June 2013.

"While the new process of commanders ensuring their units are mission-ready presents some near-term challenges, said General Arquiette. "Persistence and patience will ultimately make the inspection system changes very worthwhile.". "The timing couldn't be better for this program," he said.

"This new system provides us the opportunity to be even smarter with how we inspect, how we execute our missions--and for our wings to be as effective, economical, and efficient as possible through the use of the timely feedback they will gain through their self-assessments and self-inspections," said the general.

The next step for the new system

"We need people to have some 'buy-in' or some faith that this is the right idea, and we need their best effort," said Sullivan. "Developing relationships with Wing Inspection Team members at Little Rock, ensuring they understood the new system and ensuring they were comfortable asking questions represented keys to the assessment's success" he added.

The successes seen at the Little Rock inspection gives General Arquiette great confidence that AMC, and the Air Force as a whole, is on the right path, the general said. As all major commands implement the new process, his team says they intend to keep moving forward aggressively and share their developed techniques and best practices to help shape the new system for the rest of the Air Force.

For example, the team's newly developed SharePoint-based Planning and Evaluation Tool, used to gather inspector observations of the wing's performance, greatly increased the speed and accuracy of unit effectiveness inspection information flow.

The general is telling his team "let's innovate, take this framework, apply it to AMC, tweak it to make sure it also works for our Guard and Reserve partners, and in the end we're all going to be much better off," Arquiette said.

"Leading through the uncertainly of significant change brings its share of headaches and growing pains, but it's worth it. Providing commanders the ability to ensure their mission readiness will benefit Total Force Airmen and families everywhere," he said.

Looking forward, the inspector general team must smartly tailor the new system to work for the many different types of wings and unit constructs in AMC, he said. Throughout the upcoming year, the IG team has scheduled one of each unique mission set--for each wing, joint base, joint partner, and Reserve and Guard partners.

In December, AMC will partner with the Air Force Reserve to conduct a Unit Effectiveness Inspection at Joint Base Charleston followed next by teaming with the Air National Guard to inspect the classic-association at Fairchild AFB, WA in February.

Learning as they go from the unit-level inspectors is something AMC plans to continue through future inspections, officials said.

The goal is to accomplish "precision inspections," General Arquiette said. By analyzing and applying the data they've gathered, inspectors know exactly where to look and can make informed decisions on how to conduct smarter inspections, he said.

The vision is that ultimately, leaders will be able to make data-driven decisions to change policy, resourcing and guidance that bolster wings' mission effectiveness.

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