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High Roller Q&A with AMC IG: ‘This is not your father’s inspection system’

Brig. Gen. James A. Jacobson, Inspector General, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., meets with Col. Karl Stark, commander of the 152nd Airlift Wing, on Thursday at the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno. Jacobson was in Reno for the 152nd’s first-ever Unit Effectiveness Inspection since the new Air Force Inspection System rolled out in 2013.

Brig. Gen. James A. Jacobson, Inspector General, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., meets with Col. Karl Stark, commander of the 152nd Airlift Wing, on Thursday at the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno. Jacobson was in Reno for the 152nd’s first-ever Unit Effectiveness Inspection since the new Air Force Inspection System rolled out in 2013.

Brig. Gen. James A. Jacobson, Inspector General, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., meets with members of the 152nd Airlift Wing on Thursday at the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno. Jacobson was in Reno for the 152nd’s first-ever Unit Effectiveness Inspection since the new Air Force Inspection System rolled out in 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Emerson Marcus

Brig. Gen. James A. Jacobson, Inspector General, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., meets with members of the 152nd Airlift Wing on Thursday at the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno. Jacobson was in Reno for the 152nd’s first-ever Unit Effectiveness Inspection since the new Air Force Inspection System rolled out in 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Emerson Marcus

Brig. Gen. James A. Jacobson, Inspector General, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois meets with members of the 152nd Airlift Wing on Thursday at the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno. Jacobson was in Reno for the 152nd’s first-ever Unit Effectiveness Inspection since the new Air Force Inspection System rolled out in 2013.

Brig. Gen. James A. Jacobson, Inspector General, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois meets with members of the 152nd Airlift Wing on Thursday at the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno. Jacobson was in Reno for the 152nd’s first-ever Unit Effectiveness Inspection since the new Air Force Inspection System rolled out in 2013.

RENO -- The 152nd Airlift Wing began its first-ever Unit Effectiveness Inspection capstone event on Friday at the Nevada Air National Guard Base here.

In 2013, the Air Force rolled out its new Air Force Inspection System, which differs from the previously implemented operational readiness and unit compliance inspections, also known as ORI and UCI. Instead of being conducted at an off-base location or as a snapshot of the unit's compliance, the UEI evaluates National Guard units over the course of four or five years; every two years for active duty units.

On day two of the inspection, Saturday, the 152nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office interviewed Brig. Gen. James A. Jacobson, Inspector General, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

The following is a transcript of that interview:

152ND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Good afternoon, Sir. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. What can you tell us about what goes into a typical inspection week?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES A. JACOBSON: "Inspection week consists of a training day, usually on the front end before the inspection starts. No matter what, just like any Air Force unit, the IG team has people who are new to the business. We have changeover just like any other unit does. We conduct front-end training to make sure the inspectors know what we need of them, what is required of them; but we also give them homework for the unit they are about to inspect to make sure we've looked at what you've inspected of yourself, what's been written by the wing as well as the functional leads back in higher headquarters. The first day is spent aligning everyone on the same sheet of music and reviewing the inspection plan. For a Guard unit, the next three to four days has the functional inspectors visiting their respective units or areas and using the list of questions or concerns or directions from the inspection plan.  The inspectors look for data, pulling strings, so to speak, on processes to make sure we understand the unit is following their governing regulations and that they are effective and efficient in how they execute their mission.  After completing the inspection plan -- inspecting the units, asking questions, confirming data, validating and verifying what had been done by the unit itself -- the team then spends two days writing the report. On the last day, which is typically about a week after the team arrived, the AMC IG team chief provides an out-brief to wing leadership.  So overall, it's about seven days, but only four of which are actually 'inspection' days."

152 PA: What are some of the biggest hurdles for AMC wings in the new Air Force Inspection System?

JACOBSON: "We're almost three years into this, so while this is first opportunity for the High Rollers to demonstrate their readiness, it is not new to the Air Force. In fact, because of the differences in frequency, Air Mobility Command has two active duty units who have completed two capstone events. To answer your question, I would say the largest or the biggest issue is acceptance. There's a reticence sometimes from those who have grown up in a different era to make a change. Like any organization, if you're going to shift the foundation on which people grew up, they tend to want to stay in that old foundation. As I said, in a couple of different discussions here with the wing, it's driven by the wing commander. If the wing commander sees the value in his or her inspection plan, in how it can help the wing understand where it is doing things well or where it needs to improve, the wing accepts the inspection regimen. There will be pockets of resistance along the way, just like there is anywhere. I would say, by and large, it's understanding that this is not your father's inspection system, and that we are not here to make it painful. It's not about the five days or six days that we are on the ground, it's the preceding two years for an active duty or up to five years for an Air National Guard unit. What has transpired in that time frame? And when you flip that to the other side going forward, is the wing in a position where it can be a learning organization?  One where it knows where it does well and knows what it doesn't do well so it can prioritize how and what it fixes."

152 PA: How large is your staff on the base this week? Does your staff consist of all AMC staff or is it composed of people from other bases?

JACOBSON: "The inspection team here this week is somewhere between 70 and 75. It's a little larger than a normal team that we visit for Air National Guard units. But that's because we have a fair number of new personnel. If we have a new inspector on our core team, or augmenting inspector, we bring in a trained inspector to watch them during the inspection process.  We do this because we don't want an inspector out unobserved, unwatched, so to speak, and not inspecting the correct areas, asking the right questions or interacting with the unit in the right way. If the team this week was fully trained, we'd probably see 50 or 55 people for a Guard unit. The team itself, typically, is about 40 percent AMC IG staff, and 60 percent comes from AMC Headquarters, Air National Guard Readiness Center or wings -- active duty wings or Air National Guard wings. The Augmenting Inspectors are those that have previously inspected with us or new volunteers.  We select augmentees based on their expertise.  They often volunteer to improve their own job knowledge or they want to help their own unit. By participating as an inspector, they can see how other wings operate through a different lens than what they see at their home station.

152 PA: Is there a tour of duty for inspectors?

JACOBSON: "If you are a regular Air Force member assigned to the AMC IG staff, the minimum tour length is two years; most stay no more than three years and then return to a line unit. For the augmenting inspectors that are with us today, some of them have been doing this for much longer than that. Some are on their first inspection. So, not everyone who makes the team the first time gets invited back because we seek those who are professionally competent, but they must also possess the right demeanor. They interact with Airmen all over the Air Force, and they need to do it in a way that supports the Airmen, the unit, and the Air Force. Everybody can come out with us once, but not everybody gets to come out with us twice. It's got to be a good match."

152 PA: One thing you've said in the past is that you don't like inspections (given the new Air Force Inspection System is focused more a long-term evaluation). Can you elaborate or explain what you mean by that?

JACOBSON: So, the whole point of the inspection process is to ensure the readiness of any wing. The readiness is the ability to execute your assigned mission: either the mission from the state or the mission from a combatant command or the Air Force at large. Day in and day out, you never know when one of them will ask the High Rollers to deploy a UTC, deploy some or all of your C-130s or some expeditionary capability somewhere in the world. We don't get to control the timing of world events; but we have to be ready to accomplish a state's or the nation's bidding. The inspection sees where you are at one spot in time. But what really matters to the commander of Air Mobility Command and the Director of the Air National Guard is that the High Rollers are ready in between inspection dates, because that's when the world is going to ask for your help. They typically aren't going to ask the day the IG is on the ground. They are going to ask you some point in between there. If the unit has let its readiness slip because it knows the IG is not scheduled to visit for another three years, then we, the Air Force, are not ready to support the nation. As the IG, I'm more concerned about what happens in between inspections than I am the actual inspection itself. Our goal this week is to tell the wing where it is non-compliant, less efficient, or less effective than it should be - to help it improve its readiness in the days, months, and years ahead.  For it is almost a certainty that you will be asked to do something between now and 2021 when the AMC IG is expected to return.  The question is: Will the High Rollers be ready?

152 PA: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

JACOBSON: Everything you do under the Air Force Inspection System should be about what you need to do to be ready -- nothing more. If you're putting extra signs up or purchasing new items, signs, or other things to make the unit look great for the IG, then you've missed the point of the Air Force Inspection System. The intent is for the unit to focus on its mission readiness, its management of resources, its leadership and self-improvement -- solely to be ready when the nation calls.  So as the High Rollers look forward, they must make the most efficient use of your Airmen's time and the wing's resources to make sure whatever you are doing, you're doing to be mission ready (on-station or deployed). Anything beyond that -- that's window dressing -- is not worth the Airmen's time or the precious resources the nation gives us. Focus on being mission-ready and what it takes to sustain that between inspections.

152 PA: Have you enjoyed Reno so far?

JACOBSON: "Reno is a great city. I've been here many times before. I've lived at Travis Air Force Base, which is just over those gorgeous mountains to the West. But as a result of that, I've been through here many times -- either on my weekends skiing, just visiting in Reno for fun or driving I-80 back and forth on my two PCS moves. It's good to be back in Reno under the watchful eye of the Sierra and to observe the High Rollers demonstrate how well they do things."