"If Not You, Then Who?"

  • Published
  • By Col. James Powell
  • Air University Inspector General
Complaint resolution is the justification for the Inspector General. An IG spends about 60 percent of his time assisting U.S. Air Force people to connect them with the appropriate folks to deal with their problems. At a glance, what's the problem with that? Nothing!

That's what IGs do.

But, there really is a problem with it. If the airman has to bludgeon the U.S. Air Force into taking care of him, then how much of his time is that effort taking? Could that time not be better spent actually doing the Air Force mission?

As we approach the summer moving season, I am reminded of Lt. Gen. Russel Honore's comments at the University of Southern Mississippi as he addressed students who were attending an Air Force Academy Orientation Day in October 2007. The General commended them for exercising their freedom of choice to learn about a life of service to our nation. He said they enjoyed that freedom because veterans sacrificed much to ensure it for following generations. After all, freedom is not free.

He told these young men and women that while they have the right to enjoy the freedom, they also have the responsibility to ensure that freedom survives for future generations. He emphasized that with the opportunity to live free, comes the responsibility to die free. He then asked a simple question, "If not you, then who?"

General Honore's question strikes to the heart of many issues facing the U.S. Air Force as it changes size and embraces new missions. The exhortation and the response indicate the challenges we face.

For all the right reasons, our Air Force has shrunk over the last 30 years while our tasking has grown. While our leaders have the responsibility to fit the size of the service to the tasks we fulfill, they do not have the option of not answering the call for our services. Certainly, we can leverage technology as a force multiplier not only in the field of combat, but also in the field of supporting the warfighter. But technology can not, and will not, replace the human element in deciding what has to be done in many cases. That brings us back to General Honore's question: "If not you, then who?"

What things do you do that serve others? When you leave that assignment, who takes on those responsibilities? How many times have you seen manning positions go empty as the personnel system struggles to find a fill? Does it matter if the position and responsibilities go unfilled? If so, then we probably did not need a replacement anyway. The U.S. Air Force does not have spare resources to have folks doing unnecessary things. 

The things you do are important. So before a permanent change of station or deployment, pass the baton. Do not leave it to someone else to figure out that whatever you were doing is not getting done. You take the time to make sure somebody takes responsibility for the things you do. If you are fortunate enough to have overlap with your replacement, walk him through all the issues-what your taskings are, where they come from, how you process them and most importantly, how fulfilling those tasks serve others. On the other hand, if there is no fill projected before you have to leave, you take the responsibility to ensure your tasks get farmed out to the right folks.

In today's warfighting environment, combatant commanders fight the conflicts. The role of the services is to organize, train, equip and provide resources to the combatant commanders. If people really are the Air Force's number one resource, then corporately the Air Force should take care of people. But, the U.S. Air Force can not do so unless its people personally take on the responsibility for all of the Air Force's functions, including serving Airmen.

So, before you dismiss what you do as just too much trouble to pass on to somebody else, ask yourself, "If I don't do this, will it get done?" More importantly, "what's the impact on your fellow airmen?" When the complaint comes in, the IG is going to engage the folks that were responsible for doing the work in the first place. All that has happened is that more people and time are required to do what could have or should have been done right the first time.

Like General Honore said, "If not you, then who?"