Self Inspections: Key to success

  • Published
  • By Col. Shawn Harrison
  • 82nd Training Group commander
If you've been in the Air Force at least 18 months, being inspected is nothing new. However, the ground rules seem to be constantly changing: more frequent inspections, revised instructions and checklists, and new information technology tools for managing training, equipment, and facilities that require determination to both figure out and operate (e.g., TBA).

On Sept. 8, Air Education and Training Command notified the 82d Training Wing to expect a visit from the Logistics Compliance and Assessment Program inspection team on Nov. 1 (they will inspect the 80th Flying Training Wing the week before). The inspection focus areas will be: nuclear surety; workforce qualifications and proficiency; compliance with technical data, instructions, manuals, and directives; safety programs; facility and equipment condition; and asset accountability.

While this inspection won't be like Jimmy Stewart's 1955 movie in which the Strategic Air Command Inspector General radioed the tower on final approach, it is a limited-notice inspection. As such, we have less time to prepare--so making every day in October count is imperative.

What can you do to prepare? First, know, understand, and follow all applicable guidance. Second, if you manage a program, make sure your continuity book, appointment letter, inventories, and logs are up to date. Third, if you manage equipment or facilities, put your eyes on them and make sure that all discrepancies are corrected or at least documented. You've heard it said that it's a lot easier to maintain a good program through "steady plodding" than to try to create one quickly before an inspection...rarely does the quality match a sustained effort, and often the "wet ink" is an instant red flag to the inspectors.
A healthy self-inspection program is the heart of sustained compliance. Growing up in a shipbuilding town, I obtained a copy of a booklet entitled Naval Leadership With Some Hints for Junior Officers and Others published by the US Naval Institute in 1939. Here are some of the things it says about self-inspections:
  • "A division that is never inspected becomes merely an undisciplined group; a ship that is never inspected becomes a thing of filth and license"
  • "The rigid and exacting inspection made by the division officers attains and maintains the standards of perfection for which the captain likes to compliment the responsible party on Saturday morning"
  • "Some officers readily master the art; others seem to miss those very things that should be of gravest concern--they will manifest great interest in a poorly shined dog [hatch handle] but overlook the fact that the rubber gasket on the same door is so covered with paint that it is not watertight"
  • "When you inspect and find things, don't fight the symptoms, seek out the cause, and develop a way to remove it"
  • "The great value of inspections lies in their regularity"
  • "Don't pass the buck--it is to you whom the captain looks for good organization and discipline"

AFI 90-201, AFI 21-101, and AETCI 36-2201 describe self-inspection and quality assurance programs at length. Be familiar with your applicable checklists and conduct an honest assessment of compliance--"YES" or "NO." Don't hide or whitewash the no's...fix them or upchannel them--bad news doesn't improve with age, and your supervision can most likely help you resolve your issue.

Having recently been through a HQ AETC/IG Unit Compliance Inspection, the vast majority of our programs are solid and will do well in this inspection. However, I challenge you to find the handful that need attention, bring them up to standard, and keep them that way until you pass the baton to your successor.

You may recall seeing a television commercial years ago where an auto mechanic warned, "You can pay me now or pay me later." A small investment now doing a thorough self-inspection might save you trouble in the future conducting a root cause analysis for what would have been an easy fix. Shine the dog, yes, but make sure the hatch closes--your captain and crew will thank you.