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THE MAGAZINE OF AIR MOBILITY COMMAND

Brig Gen Lamberth Expounds on
 Embracing the
Red:
An Update on Air Force Inspection System Implementation

By MS. KIM KNIGHT, Staff Writer

In 2014, The Mobility Forum published an article about changes to the Air Force Inspection System (AFIS) and new Unit Effectiveness Inspection (UEI) process. It pointed out the tremendous lengths wings sometimes went to when preparing for an inspection—things that correlate to painting the grass green.

That may have been a stretch—or was it? Either way, the AFIS changes were intended to shift a commander’s focus from menial, non-value-added tasks to efforts that make the Air Force as a whole more mission ready. So, is it working? Are today’s inspections more meaningful? More importantly: are units focused on big-picture items that make our organization stronger and better prepared?

Brig Gen Kevin Lamberth, who serves as Inspector General, Headquarters Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, believes so.

“It is no longer about ramping up for an Inspector General visit,” he said. “It is about continual self-assessment—commanders recognizing what they can and can’t do due to limited manpower or resources. That continual assessment helps us achieve excellence and mission readiness every single day.”

Indeed, the system can be a powerful tool for managing risks and articulating strong and weak points to headquarters, according to Col Brad Bridges, AMC Chief of Inspections.

“Wings doing that successfully find support from headquarters,” he explained. “They don’t need to be green in their metrics all the time. They just need to understand and communicate where their risks are and where they need resources. The Inspector General (IG) no longer uses a wire brush to try and uncover every one of a wing’s flaws. Instead, it is about validating the way that the wing can assess itself accurately.”

Bridges added that in 2017, there was much less spin-up when an IG was coming.

“Granted, there is always a little polishing,” he continued. “But in the past, every Airman worked overtime to get ready. Now, folks assess themselves constantly and hold themselves accountable. When the IG comes, it is almost a non-event. Today, a commander calling something red is not necessarily a bad thing. It is identifying a need for resourcing or for a risk assessment at a higher level. Commanders are embracing this process.”

Deputy Inspector General Col Lee Landis stressed that one change that helped was consolidating various inspections into a Capstone rather than preparing for and undergoing several inspections throughout the year, as was done in the past. “Units no longer need to prepare for multiple functional inspections for things like maintenance, logistics, services, ops, or air traffic control at various times of the year.”

Conducting all inspections under the AFIS saves time, and Lamberth agreed that wing commanders are increasingly more willing to admit that they simply can’t do everything.

“We work hard to come online at least once between Capstones to put boots on the ground to observe a readiness exercise that wings must do each year,” he said. “We give them honest feedback—something to work at—by communicating with them earlier and more often than before. But asking units not to chase metrics—and instead assess themselves and find areas of non-compliance—is a cultural change, which takes time. It gives wing commanders a holistic look at the wing and allows them to set priorities and apply resources accordingly,” he added. “Then we, the IG, come in and validate what unit-level inspectors find—but we don’t hammer them, especially if they have detected and are addressing deficiencies. We want to be a helping hand, not a heavy hand.”

He emphasized that determining what is red depends on priorities.

“For a high priority item like mission execution, for example, we want to be as good as we can possibly be. Mowing the grass twice a week versus once, well—a commander might want to address it but they are not likely to assign valuable resources to it. Commanders have finite resources—money, manpower, and material—so they must embrace some red items that are low on the priority list.”

Lamberth said that despite its increasing effectiveness, the AFIS still presents challenges.

“Dialogue between the wing and the functional managers gets better every year, but one hurdle now is how to include more virtual efforts so that we need fewer boots on the ground for inspections. Also, we need to help prioritize what is important for the wings and what contributes to readiness.” Even so, Lamberth believes AMC is better because, under AFIS, being mission ready equals being inspection ready every day.

“It has raised the bar for excellence across the enterprise, improving effectiveness and efficiency. When commanders and inspectors at the wing level realize this and work to improve units over time, that’s a win for the system.”

CMSgt Cody Bringham, AMC IG’s Senior Enlisted Leader, agrees with that organizational overview. “Before, people focused on their own task or area,” he said. “But with an AFIS culture, you see a wing in its entirety—how personnel accomplish the mission in totality versus individually. It is not about how something affects a certain area but how it affects the entire wing.”

AFIS has not just taken hold in the active component but the Air Reserve Component (ARC) has made major strides in implementation as well. According to Brig Gen Alan Swartzmiller, the AF Reserve Command Inspector General, “The AFIS construct has been particularly useful in the ARC. With extremely limited resources and personnel availability, commanders are more in tune today with identifying wing priorities. Through the Commander’s Inspection Program (CCIP), they can expand commander’s intent into an inspection strategy and calendar that directly supports their priorities over lesser requirements that consume Airmen’s time.”

In closing, Lamberth added that the CCIP is the cornerstone of AFIS and, along with this, is putting together a good Wing Inspection Team (WIT).

“When a commander embraces the CCIP and invests the time, personnel, and training for a highly effective WIT—the result is typically a high performing unit. The return on investment is high. If wings are chasing metrics and trying to make everything green, they are not necessarily focused on the right things. However, if a wing is able to set unit priorities, conduct exercises, and inspect and assess itself, it is probably setting a standard of excellence that we are shooting for.”