Transforming “inspection preparation”

  • Published
  • By Commentary by Lt. Col. Kenneth Speidel
  • 701st Munitions Support Squadron commander
Throughout the course of my career, I've always been fascinated by the term, "inspection prep." This rather vague term has many different meanings for different people.

With recent changes in our Air Force inspection system, it's clear the term "inspection prep" has and will continue to dramatically change and I believe we must take a different approach toward inspections in order to be consistently successful.

The 52nd Fighter Wing recently completed a phenomenal unit compliance inspection, and in my own squadron, we achieved unprecedented success during our inspection. Our squadron was also blessed with numerous major command and Air Force-level team and individual awards for 2008. All these kudos might lead one to believe we've reached the finish line and we can take a much-deserved rest from the day-to-day grind. But the Air Force has dramatically changed the way it does the inspection business.

As a young lieutenant, I remember massive eight-month "prep plans" that would be painfully tracked and reported. By the time the inspection arrived, we couldn't wait to get it over with, but we were also tired from all the special "prep" during such a long period. Unfortunately, as soon as the inspection was done, the "prep" stopped, and the plans and activities were shelved until the next inspection. This sprint and coast style was agonizing with mixed results, and was also highly dependent upon the inspector general showing up at defined intervals.

Inspection readiness has now become synonymous with mission readiness. Just as you must be ready to execute the mission at any time, we must now be ready at any time for a visit from the inspectors. Being constantly inspection-ready will require a profound cultural change in the Air Force. Depending on your career field and your permanent change of station cycle, it has been possible to go years without seeing any inspectors. This has now changed with the advent of the no-notice inspection by the Air Force IG.

How do we make this cultural change? It starts with leadership at all levels setting the tone by their example and by expecting their subordinates to do the right thing all the time, with the ultimate goal of achieving a culture of consistency. When this is successfully achieved, Airmen will view an inspection as an opportunity to demonstrate their skill, rather than an event to be dreaded and feared. During our recent inspection, one of our security forces Airmen hit a home run during a critical exercise. Afterward, when I thanked him for his service, he said, "Sir, it was just another day." While this response may surprise some and appear cavalier, it was exactly what I wanted to hear. He did the same procedures that day he had been trained to perform and had executed consistently since his arrival. Although he knew the stakes were higher, he realized what he had to do was no different than what he was accustomed to doing.

In our host nation of Belgium, bicycling is a way of life and locals use bikes not only for recreation, but some also use them as a primary means of transportation. I love using a bicycle analogy with my squadron to encourage them to be consistent in terms of inspection readiness. Bicycles take significant effort to achieve a steady speed. But once this speed is achieved, it's relatively easy to sustain. However, it's always tempting to stop pedaling because coasting is much easier. Inspection prep is just like bicycling--it's best to just put in consistent effort throughout the entire year. It's too hard to coast and strain to get where you are going.

This constant effort now means prep plans become secondary through effective self-inspection programs, internal reviews, a consistent exercise program and most importantly from leadership setting the right tone through their words and their actions. If the mission is done right on a daily basis, then there really isn't any need for any special "inspection prep."

Although we've all had great success recently, we cannot bask in it. Inspection results are only valid for the period of time the inspectors are in your squadron. The day the inspectors leave, inspection results become history and have no bearing on your present mission readiness. But through cultural change and constant attention, you'll be able to be confident in the prospect of any upcoming inspection, whether announced or unannounced.