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Compliance--Know your job and do it right!

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Troy Kimball
  • Air Force Recruiting Service, 337th Recruiting Squadron commander
As my tour draws to a close with the 337th Recruiting Squadron, I find myself reflecting back on the amazing ride I've been on for 24 months, and what I want to achieve in my final six months.

I think about the professional military and civilian Airmen who I've been entrust to lead. I'm excited about the thousands of enlisted and officer accessions that we have shipped to Basic Military Training and Basic Officer Training, and about the exciting careers that each one of them are embarking on. I am humbled by the opportunity to represent the Air Force Recruiting Service Inspector General as team chief for unit compliance inspections.

But most of all, I think about what I'm leaving behind. Have I made improvements to the 337th RCS? Have I left an impression on those I've served with? If I had to answer that question right now, I believe I can honestly say I have made several impacts, but none more important than in the area of compliance.

One of the most unique aspects of AFRS is our competition system. No other command in the Air Force has such a complex system to determine our top performing squadrons and individuals. I enjoy our competition because it is focused on the needs of the Air Force; the best way to succeed is to find those needs. Competition shows us how well we are doing our job.

However, if squadron leaders place too much emphasis on competition, I think it can be detrimental. Over-emphasis in one specific area can cause us to neglect other parts of our mission or our support functions. Too much competition can leave an impression on our Airmen that it is all we care about, and we don't care how it gets done, which leads to bad processes. Said differently, we may be doing our job well, but are we doing it right? Do we even know what our job is?

To be able to answer that question positively, all squadron leaders have to strictly enforce compliance. Flight chiefs have to validate recruiters' actions and hold them accountable for expectations. Likewise, production superintendents have to hold flight chiefs accountable, and squadron commanders have to hold production superintendents accountable.

I am reminded of a saying I heard regularly in the missile world ... "trust, but verify." I do everything I can to empower my leadership team to do their job, but at the same time, they know I'm watching and will want to know the job is being done right.

Squadron leadership must be proactive with compliance. Letting process owners prove compliance one to three months prior to an inspection or staff assistance visit is not a good recipe for success; it's too reactive and too late. Given that an inspection team looks at 18-36 months of data, they will easily see flaws in processes. It won't matter what you've been doing the last 90 days; prior to that, the unit was still non-compliant. As leaders, we should strive to avoid this ebb and flow in our unit's preparedness. We need to establish a sense of regular compliance.

I have made this a point of emphasis in the Nighthawk team through our squadron's self inspection program. By regulation, we are required to conduct a squadron-level inspection in years that we don't have a unit compliance inspection or staff assistance visit. However, I have mandated less formal SIP reviews quarterly. These reviews don't always require a report given to me, but I do receive a briefing on key trends from my staff. With these reviews, I try to mix up the "eyes" that I have run these checklists.

For example, one quarter, I may have individuals run their checklists, then the next quarter I have the supervisors run the checklists. I've had the senior trainer run operations checklists, the operations flight chief run training and marketing checklists, and flight chiefs with previous Military Entrance Processing Station experience run the MEPS checklists, as examples. And on occasion, I've been the one running the checklists ... a great way to ensure squadron commander accountability!

One important thing to remember is that these reviews have to be thorough. My simple rule is that I don't want to hear there are no issues or deficiencies in a program, because statistically that is not true. I regularly threaten that our local reviews will be done again if the first results yield no discrepancies or areas of improvement. The challenge to any unit needs to be a much more thorough and difficult review than any inspection by group or AFRS/IG. Yes, it will take time, but in my mind it gives a much more honest assessment and is time well spent.

The other thing I've adopted over time is that I mandate the checklists are run by individuals as they assume new responsibilities. For example, the 337th has a new operations flight commander. Part of his spin-up will be to run through the operations and MEPS checklists. It's a great way for him to learn the critical parts of his job, to review every regulation, and determine where he needs to put his focus. Plus, it's a great way for the new flight commander to meet and interact with his team and set a proper tone.
Doing frequent SIP reviews has definitely improved our squadron's processes. During our last UCI in January 2012, which was one week after change of command, our squadron did average. We had a couple of programs above average and one below average, but everything else was just plain "Satisfactory." What made this discouraging was that they put a ton of time and effort into prepping for the inspection prior to my arrival, only to get an average mark. We knew we were better than that.

Now, fast forward to our group SAV in September 2013. While we didn't get an overall score on the report or in any graded areas, I am confident we would have earned an "Excellent" rating. Our number of discrepancies were reduced nearly 40 percent, and we had multiple strengths and best practices. But the best part of this success was hearing from my leadership team that they didn't feel like they had to do any inspection preparation. Just ensuring compliance on a more routine basis was preparation enough.

Make no mistake - this system does not ensure a perfect inspection with zero deviations. I argue that such an inspection is impossible. There are too many factors that we can't control, such as budget, decreasing assets, not enough time and the human factor, that will prevent a unit from having perfect compliance.

However, this further emphasizes my rationale for regular SIPs, which is to identify up front the areas that we are deficient for reasons beyond our control. We identify these issues to our group and AFRS leadership up front, rather than waiting for the IG or SAV teams to identify them, which always makes inspection time much easier. Again, encourage your team to be proactive, not reactive.

Another of my favorite sayings is "know your job, do it right and do it well." You'll notice the order of that statement. Knowing your responsibilities and doing them right is essentially the definition of compliance, while doing them well provides success in competition. In my mind, competition becomes diminished if compliance is not achieved. No one cares how well you're doing your job if you aren't doing it right or if you don't know what you're doing!

As any commander approaches that point when it's time to hand the flag over, I think there's a strong desire to know that we made a difference or left an impact. For me, the goal has always been about compliance ... knowing that I could look in the mirror each and every day knowing that my team gave our best effort and did things right every time. We were never the top producing squadron, but I can live with that because I know that we were putting our best effort in each day to meet Air Force needs, and we were doing it legally, ethically, and with clean processes.

As leaders, that is our ultimate grade!