Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri --
In late 1948, Gen. Curtis LeMay took over as the second commander of Strategic Air Command (SAC). The new command was charged with stewarding the nation’s nascent nuclear capabilities and featured prominently in U.S. foreign policy at the time. However, LeMay was concerned with the command’s lack of readiness. To prove his point, he challenged the entire bomber fleet to launch a maximum effort simulated raid on Dayton, Ohio. As LeMay suspected, the results were completely unacceptable.
Bombers missed their targets by an average of two miles and LeMay would later claim that not a single bomber completed its mission as planned.
In response, LeMay instituted a highly disciplined training and inspection regimen that included the creation of the Operational Readiness Inspection. These fundamental changes transformed SAC into an efficient and highly respected warfighting organization able to deter nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War era. LeMay’s emphasis on attention to detail and excellence in training set a precedent that still benefits our nuclear bomber force today with inspections being an important component of that legacy.1
In the 509th Bomb Wing Inspector General office, our mission is to ensure compliance with Air Force guidance through implementing the 509th Bomb Wing Commander’s Inspection Program. The overall goal of this effort is the same as it was in the days of SAC: to ensure a safe, secure and reliable nuclear deterrent and an effective wartime capability. However, our methodology and mentality for inspections has evolved significantly. In SAC, the inspection culture was often summed up by the saying, “To err is human, to forgive is not SAC policy!” Today, the mantra is “Embrace the red!”
This new mentality of embracing “deficiencies” is the result of a new system of “continuous” self-inspections meant to improve processes and remove the need for long periods of inspection preparation. This system builds an understanding and a common baseline between headquarters and wing elements throughout the inspection cycle and diminishes the adversarial tone of yester-year’s inspections. While capstone events such as Whiteman’s recent Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI) still get everyone’s attention, these events are now simply the culmination of an ongoing working relationship between wing and headquarters agencies focused on readiness and lethality across the force.
With this in mind, I encourage Airmen at all levels across the 509th and 131st to view periodic inspections as an opportunity to partner with relevant subject matter experts to improve how we accomplish deterrence. As evidenced by the wing’s recent NSI, this mentality pays off when it comes time for the capstone event. More importantly, it also pays off when potential adversaries of the United States have to include the finely-honed capabilities of the 509th and 131st Bomb Wings in their strategic decision calculus!
1. Phillip S. Meilinger, Bomber: The Formation and Early Years of Strategic Air Command (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, Air Force Research Institute, 2012), 133-140.