Air Force Instructions are back to basics

  • Published
  • By Maj. Matthew Pollock
  • 56th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
As the 56th Fighter Wing prepares for the upcoming operational readiness inspection in May we will all review our inspection checklists to ensure compliance and mission readiness. 

One of the unstated benefits of higher headquarters inspections is getting back to basics; the inspection forces us to spend time reviewing the applicable Air Force instructions. While we should always be well versed on our AFIs, inspections allow us to put added emphasis and focus on this cornerstone of our Air Force organization. 

A common misconception is that AFIs box us in and limit our individual authority and abilities. Have you ever wondered what the Air Force would be like without AFIs? Well, I have witnessed an Air Force void of operational instructions. 

Last year I deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq, as an air advisor to the Iraqi air force. The Iraqi squadron was still in its infant stage; Saddam-era fighter pilots and maintainers were beginning to train with propeller-driven aircraft for a new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission. The U.S. air advisors quickly discovered that Iraqi airmen were completely unfamiliar with the concept of operational instructions. 

In the past, direction and decisions could only be made by officers. Normally, the officers would defer the decision making to higher headquarters rather than creating (sometimes literally) a fatal error. Unfortunately, that cultural mindset still exists and was witnessed time and time again over the six month period. Without operational instructions, simple mission impacting decisions took weeks to resolve since further up the chain, the Iraqi officers were less involved and less knowledgeable about hands-on, day-to-day operations at the squadron level. 

In our Air Force, most of these dilemmas would have been resolved at the base level and usually by our NCOs. The strength of our NCO corps is what differentiates our Air Force from all others. 

The Iraqi airmen were puzzled when we explained to them that the foundation of our Air Force are the 26-year-old staff sergeants; they are the technical experts and are given wide latitude to complete their jobs, in part because we give them operational instructions to guide their decision making. Our AFIs do not trap us in a box but rather give us a huge playing field, allowing us the freedom to make timely decisions at the lowest levels. 

It is often stated that our Air Force's top weapon is our Airmen. I heartily agree, but if our Airmen are the weapons, then AFIs are the fuses, the initiators ensuring the weapons' and ultimately our Air Force's overall success.