By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Vance Air Force Base is about to go under the microscope.
From April 8-12, the base will undergo a biennial Consolidated Unit Inspection.
The CUI inspector general team will focus on whether or not Vance has been following Air Force Instructions, or AFIs, and local guidance, since the last inspection in 2011.
“It’s just a complete look at our compliance with all our government directives,” said Col. Darren James, 71st Flying Training Wing commander.
“We have nearly two years of documentation that we are responsible for to show compliance with the AFIs,” said Lt. Col. William Maher, chief of wing plans and programs, and Vance’s project officer for the CUI.
During the 2011 CUI, Vance received an overall grade of “satisfactory,” the middle grade in the five-point rating system including outstanding, excellent, satisfactory, marginal and unsatisfactory. Vance likewise received a satisfactory in 2009.
But James says he has his sights set higher this time.
“We’re proud of what we do, and it’s our opportunity to show the inspector general that we’re an excellent organization,” James said. “That’s what we continue to message to the folks on this base, is to show them how excellent we are.”
Like many other things in the military these days, Vance’s upcoming CUI has been impacted by the defense spending cuts brought on by the sequestration process.
“It’s shortened slightly due to sequestration and the uncertainties of our budgeting cycle, the resources available,” Maher said. “It was found so important by Gen. (Edward A.) Rice (commander of Air Education and Training Command) that he wanted a good look at all his flying wings, in particular.”
A team of some 125-150 inspectors will examine every squadron on base.
“The majority of the graded areas will continue to be looked at,” Maher said. “Probably 125 actual graded areas will be in the inspection report, down maybe 10 percent from previous inspections.”
Unlike previous instances, inspectors will not witness an actual on-base exercise during their visit to Vance.
“That was a major savings of their time,” he said. “The exercise typically takes a full day to accomplish.”
However, Vance continues to conduct exercises, Maher said, “to generally prepare our contingency operations here at Vance.”
Those exercises often involve first responders from Enid, such as police, fire and emergency medical technicians.
“One thing we’re very proud of in our preparations for it (the inspection) is our partnership with the local community,” Maher said, “with our first responders from the fire department, to the hospitals downtown and even to LIFE ambulance service. We’ve significantly increased our working with those organizations over the last nine months to a year. It’s really strengthened the relationship and both of our capabilities.”
In recent years, the Air Force has emphasized creating a culture of compliance with regulations. That means making sure everything is done by the book, day in and day out.
“It’s assumed that the wing is in compliance with the governing Air Force Instructions, or AFIs, on a daily basis,” Maher said. “In theory, the inspector general should be able to roll in at any time and be able to interview the appropriate folks and we should be able to demonstrate our compliance.”
But in reality, he said, the CUI is a necessary tool to assess how closely the rules are being followed.
“It is a motivating mark for all the commanders and all the personnel out here, to ensure that their programs are fully functioning and meeting the AFI requirements,” Maher said.
Maher has been leading the effort to ramp up for the inspection for about the past year, working with a team of some 50 people from across the base. They went from meeting monthly, to every two weeks, to weekly as the inspection date drew nearer.
As part of the preparation, Vance has conducted self-assessments using the Management Internal Control Toolset (MICT). In a self-assessment conducted in October, the base’s compliance ranged from units posting 91.2 percent to one achieving 100 percent. Overall, the wing posted a 97.6 percent compliance mark.
“In preparation this last year, we ran almost 1,000 checklists and we accomplished 50,000 checklist items,” Maher said.
The self-assessment reveals deficiencies which then are dealt with. The same process will take place during the CUI.
“There may be things we need to improve, and that’s great,” James said. “We’ll get that feedback, and we’ll formulate a game plan and make sure we improve in the areas we need to, but my expectation is that we’ll be told that we’re doing a great job.”
Unlike the last inspection, contractors will not be inspected separately, Maher said.
“The contractor will be evaluated, embedded into the Air Force mission or group they are in,” he said. “The plan is for all of it to go into one report, and Vance will receive an overall grade as a team for both contractor performance and for the military members performance.”
An Environmental, Safety, Occupational Health, Compliance Assessment and Management Program inspection also will be conducted, and air crew standardization evaluation testing will take place at the same time. The air crew testing especially is important to a pilot training base like Vance.
“It’s an outside look at all of our instructor corps,” Maher said. “They’ll be testing all the IPs (instructor pilots).”
The wing as a whole will receive an overall mark, but individual organizations on base likewise will be graded, Maher said.
A wing receiving a grade of outstanding is rare, he said: “It’s been over 15 to 20 years since any wing has received an outstanding mark.”
Excellents are given on occasion, though. “An excellent mark means an organization has clearly exceeded the intent of the instruction,” Maher said. Satisfactory means meeting all requirements.
“That’s typically what a commander can expect, just based on the resources we have available to accomplish the mission,” Maher said. “It’s a pretty big challenge to exceed satisfactory in many areas, because the requirements are quite stringent.”
However, he said an excellent remains the goal.
“Col. (John) Wilson (vice commander) and Col. James think we have the people and processes in place to achieve that mark,” Maher said.
Vance is expected to learn its grade the week following the inspection, he said.