In 1778, recognizing the need to quickly improve the capability and discipline of the Continental Army, Gen. George Washington appointed a young Prussian volunteer, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, to serve as inspector general of the Army. Von Steuben’s mission was to develop and oversee a program that would increase readiness.
Under Washington’s authority, von Steuben built a corps of expertly trained soldiers who assisted unit commanders in identifying problems, establishing standards and developing training programs that improved the readiness and discipline of the Continental Army.
This was the beginning of the Army inspector general system and establishment of the IG’s role of assisting unit commanders in generating Army and unit readiness.
Lt. Gen. Leslie C. “Les” Smith, the current and 66th inspector general of the Army, is a strong proponent of the von Steuben model. He believes the best IGs are extensions of their commanders and act as proponents for improving readiness, just as they did under von Steuben some 240 years ago. Smith acknowledges that IGs have taken on many roles over the years, but today’s IGs focus on helping commanders improve readiness. He stresses that an IG’s first responsibility to their commander is as a teacher and trainer who uncovers issues that impact unit readiness and assists the commander in addressing them.
Relationship to Readiness
As a young company commander in the 82nd Airborne Division, Smith said he learned the importance of IGs and their relationship to readiness.
“The IG noncommissioned officers were very skilled and knowledgeable about Army systems and processes,” Smith said. “They were well-respected professionals who were completely focused on building and maintaining units that were ready to fight at a moment’s notice.”
When asked to describe the modern IG’s role in generating unit and Army readiness, Smith stressed key parts of the U.S. Army Inspector General Agency’s long-standing mission statement—particularly the mission to advise and assist Army leaders, maintain readiness and effectiveness, and promote well-being, good order and discipline.
Although the IG’s focus on readiness is not new, guidance from the military’s most senior leaders reinforces this idea. The first example of guidance in support of readiness is the DoD-wide memorandum, issued by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in October 2017, that lays out the department’s top priorities. The first priority in the memo is to “restore military readiness as we build a more lethal force.”
The guidance continues from Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley. Milley has asserted that readiness “is, and will remain, the U.S. Army’s No. 1 priority.”
“These are the words of my immediate superiors,” Smith said, “so it should come as no surprise that I have made readiness the No. 1 priority for inspectors general under my command, and that commanders in the field are making it the No. 1 priority of their assigned inspectors general as well.”
Reinforcing those priorities, Maj. Gen. Ed Jackson, deputy inspector general, regularly communicates to IGs that the key to increasing effectiveness within a command is to first build a relationship of trust and confidence with their directing authorities, the commanding generals who provide an IG the authority to execute missions.
IGs must also ensure they are visible, accessible and responsive to the commands they serve, Jackson said.
Building Positive Relationships
He reminds leaders that to be effective, IGs must be continuously engaged. Sitting in an office awaiting complaints or showing up just to conduct investigations or inspections reduces effectiveness, trust and confidence and leads to cultivation of a poor stereotype of the IG enterprise.
Building positive relationships enables an IG to better execute missions of assistance, inspections, investigations, and teaching and training—all of which enable a command to function more efficiently and effectively, which in turn improves the readiness of units, soldiers and their families.
Jackson said he believes Undersecretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy said it best in a recent address to IGs from across the country.
“[McCarthy] emphasized how inspectors general are an invaluable asset to provide independent and impartial assessments on the health of the force,” Jackson said. “And to be able to do that, they must be fully engaged as the commander’s second set of eyes and ears and must help the commander understand the issues [impacting readiness] and, more importantly, provide insight on how to resolve them.
“Readiness—the act of gaining and maintaining the ability to marshal, deploy and execute a unit’s wartime mission—is a mix of logistics, personnel availability, equipment availability, training levels, morale and at least a dozen other factors,” Jackson said. “In other words, readiness is a very complex system—perhaps the most complex system in the Army. Inspectors general are trained to be the Army’s subject-matter experts in assessing the efficient and effective functioning of Army systems. So why should they not be intimately involved in assisting the commander in determining readiness and identifying impediments to achieving that goal?”
Smith went further, saying he believes IGs must work to change soldiers’ and leaders’ perceptions. The challenge, he said, will be “to lead a generation of soldiers and leaders to understand that inspectors general are there to help, to serve as an asset in identifying systemic issues inhibiting readiness, and that they will work with units to come up with solutions to fix them.”
“In fact, I encourage command IGs to sit down with their battalion and brigade commanders to describe the capabilities of the IG and the goals of an IG-sponsored ‘readiness assistance visit,’ ” Smith said. “If they do, I am confident that commanders will walk away with new perspectives about how inspectors general can assist their readiness-building efforts.”
Key to this is to communicate to the force that when an IG is assisting a commander to assess readiness, the goal is not to single out deficiencies in a specific unit. To illustrate this point, Smith uses a hypothetical example of an infantry division commander. The division commander is not concerned with “fixing” each company’s or battalion’s readiness challenges—that is the unit commander’s responsibility. However, the division commander is interested in the common systemic issues within the division that slow or inhibit all or most of the companies and battalions as they try to build readiness.
“This is where our inspectors general must operate and provide situational awareness to their commanders,” Smith said. “They must be the ones telling the commander what systemic readiness issues are holding back his or her subordinate commanders and suggesting possible solutions. This is how the IG system will generate readiness for our Army.”
Proving Their Worth
Since February, when Smith was sworn in as inspector general, the Army’s IGs have continually proven themselves among the most competent professionals in the Army, he said. He is confident they will continue to do the job they have always done, and their role in strengthening Army readiness will only become more prominent as the Army continues to evolve and adapt.
“When I see the work our inspectors general are doing, and the level of care and detail that goes into their operations, and their commitment to finding systemic issues and then working to find the root cause and fix the problem, I know the IG system is moving in the right direction and enabling unit commanders’ efforts to improve Army readiness,” Smith said.
This directional shift, he said, will help the Army IG corps meet the goal of its motto: “Droit Et Avant,” a French phrase that means “Be Right—Then Forward.”