Editor’s Note: This post is part of the FTGN Army Broadening Series that we are running from March 15-30, 2021. Each day, we will publish new insights into the Army’s various broadening assignments, starting March 15th, 2021 with an overview of AIM 2.0 and a discussion on how to educate others on assignment selection criteria.
By Phil Stofanak
For many people, the Inspector General is viewed as a bad staff agency or a bunch of hall monitors who are out to get commanders in trouble. The goal of this article is to dispel that notion and maybe even convince some of you to pursue IG as a broadening opportunity. For me, IG was a rewarding broadening experience that taught me skills I will take with me into my next command of a Security Force Assistance Company and in other future assignments. In this article, I will explain what the school is like, what I learned and did in my two plus years as an IG, and why it was such a great broadening experience for me. I will also go over some of the benefits to the job and why it makes sense for someone to seek out the IG positions as a broadening experience.
IG was not even on my list when branch offered me a position as a Deputy Inspector General. However, it was the duty station I wanted and I figured it would be something different. The fact that I knew nothing of the IG system before I took the job is why I am so eager to speak about such a great broadening experience.
Once you’re selected for an IG assignment, you have to attend The Army Inspector General School (TIGS). I had to wait a few months before I got to go but once I arrived, it was definitely a great learning experience. The class itself was one of the tougher classes I have had in my career thus far. It is not physically hard, but mentally tough and you do have to study. There were one or two people that did end up failing out on the last day, just because they did not focus enough on school work. It is serious and it will not look good going back to your command without being trained.
The class is taught at Fort Belvoir, VA which makes it a decent destination to see many historical sights and take a break from school work if needed. You will also learn many new things and start to build your “IG Technical channels,” the personnel you go to school with that will help with cases or inspections you need to conduct. Your classmates will assist you past the proverbial Day 16, or when you finally start to work cases at your duty station. They can be a wealth of knowledge and can also help you not “re-invent the wheel” on certain Inspections if they have conducted them before. TIGS not only teaches you enough to be dangerous as an inspector general, but also how to be a better non-commissioned officer or officer in general. After TIGS, you begin the real work.
When I finally arrived at my new position, unit inspections were the hottest priority. An inspector’s job is to inspect a unit’s processes and procedures and give actionable feedback to help the unit improve their efficiency and effectiveness. In my experience, the IG has evolved immensely from some of the “black hat” IG days of the past many of you have probably heard about. We do not throw units or command teams under the bus to their supervisors. We only collect the data and feed it to higher in a completely redacted manner, so even the command does not necessarily know who is in the wrong. Our job is to keep it confidential and assist commands with their issues, not work against them and hurt our relationship for the future. We never had issues with the redaction and results of Inspections. For the most part, commands from company to brigade were all happy with the results and eager to fix the issues we found.
Although I primarily focused on Inspections, I also worked a few cases in my time as an Inspector General. Some of the cases I reviewed made me question why leaders made the decision they made or treated people a certain way. Over time, the training I received and my experiences changed my thinking and behavior in regard to how I treat people to get a mission accomplished.
I also found that my prior experience as a commander was helpful in this assignment, particularly in assisting the NCO’s working a case. There were multiple times an assistant IG would ask me “What would you do in this situation” or “Is this right?” Using my background as a former commander coupled with the knowledge gained from TIGS and Army regulations, we would have candid, and sometimes interesting, conversations to get to the right answer. However, I also realized there were some things I wish I had known while I was in command that could have helped me provide better assistance to Soldiers.
The second eye opener of this assignment was how much of an asset the IG can be for commanders, if they’re willing to use the IG more. The IG is another set of eyes and can assist a commander in interpreting a regulation or, in certain cases, can search out the regulation for them and provide guidance for how to handle difficult situations. The IG staff has more resources and time than a command team to dig into regulations and find the answers to help Soldiers. Commanders must do their due diligence, but IGs are there to support commanders while still supporting the Soldier.
Amidst all of this work with inspections and cases, this assignment was still a relief from other positions I’ve held. The hours we kept were predictable and it was a relaxed atmosphere compared to company command where everything was on fire. It is a great position to “take the proverbial knee.” I had great family time that helped me reconnect with my son who we had while I was in command. It was also a great chance to have another child. I was able to spend time with them and really see them grow up. In my shop, the only person who had the “Army Blackberry” was my boss, the command IG. Even then, he rarely received phone calls after work hours or on weekends. It really was a great 9-5 position for me. The personnel I worked with were all professional. I worked with great senior NCO’s, officers, and civilians who all wanted to see the cases completed and done to standard to assist the complainant.
The last benefit of this position is that it allowed me to see the higher echelons of command at work. I had only worked at the Brigade Combat Team level prior to this position. I gained new skills in working with GS-15 civilians who run departments and 2-star level command groups. The position was a primer on how to work at the operational level and to understand what is needed and how to get information where it needs to go succinctly and effectively.
The skills I learned in my two and a half years as an Inspector General will serve me a lifetime and I will continue using them as I take command again after my service as an Inspector General. I would highly suggest this type of position to any officer looking to gain knowledge and experience in a field that they may never have thought of before.
CPT Phil Stofanak is currently a company commander in an SFAB Brigade. He served as a Deputy Inspector General from 2018 to 2020 as his post-command broadening experience.