Commander provides guidance for instruction conflicts

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Remember Air Force Regulations? I do, and there are days I miss them.

Several years ago, the Air Force moved away from massive, multi-volume, tree-killing regulations that controlled almost every detail of the working day for all Airmen. In an effort to be more efficient, we elected to change our culture from Air Force Regulations to Air Force Instructions. The intent was to allow our highly educated workforce more flexibility to accomplish their mission within specific parameters specified in newly constructed instructions.

Interpreting our Air Force Instructions can sometimes be a task unto itself. This has never been made clearer to me than in the past few weeks as new AFIs impacting our 52nd Munitions Maintenance Group mission have hit the electronic highway. For instance, when an AFI says a "unit" commander will do something, does it refer to the squadron, group or wing commander, or all of them?

In another area of an AFI, we are tasked with naming a verifying officer from outside the "organization." There are several organizations within our Air Force; elements, flights, squadrons, groups, wings, numbered Air Forces, major commands and headquarters. Which organization are we talking about?

There was a recent event where someone had to look to a few AFIs for guidance and found what seemed to be conflicting advice. As we began to dive into the problem, we found that our Airmen had to look at several guides, to include AFIs, Air Force Manuals, Department of Defense Manuals and automated systems supposedly built by standards and guidance. It is understandable that some find the system frustrating.

So, what are we to do?

First, read and reread the guidance you have. Interpret the guidance and bounce it off your peers, supervisors and co-workers. Confusion due to misinterpretation of language in any guidance can be worked out at this level. Often, those with experience in specific areas understand exactly what the AFI means, even if the words mean something different to someone reading it for the first time.

If there is still confusion, follow your chain of command. The higher the issue rises in our chain, the more likely it is to be resolved by experienced personnel with a better understanding of the instructions. Senior NCOs and senior officers are considered subject-matter experts for a reason - they are the purveyors of knowledge, and it is their responsibility to share their knowledge with subordinates. I have always been told the backbones of the Air Force are the master sergeants and the majors, and I believe that to this day. They are the ones we rely on to push the production or workload of our squadrons.

There are some instances, especially with new and changing guidance, that confuse our technical experts when an AFI is revised or there is conflicting guidance between AFIs or within an AFI. It is our responsibility as commanders - squadron, group or wing - to make sure our Airmen have the proper tools to get the mission done. Part of those tools includes clear and proper guidance. We should never leave an Airman hanging when it comes to performing our various missions.

Commanders will contact appropriate personnel in our headquarters and work on eliminating conflict or confusion. That is what we get paid to do. As a group commander, I rarely go one day without speaking to our NAF or MAJCOM about an issue.

We continually hear about taking care of our Airmen, but that is often taken in the context of quality of life and family support. It is every leader's duty to also take care of our Airmen by giving them the correct guidance when needed.

Now, I am not in favor of going back to the volumes of regulations of the past, but I am ready for the happy medium between AFIs and old regulations. With all the electrons we now use, we can provide a bit of guidance without killing a single tree.