Fort Polk inspector general improves efficiency
February 5, 2010
- IG office no longer subject to "black hat" stereotype
FORT POLK, La. -- Editor's note: This is the first in a series of three articles on resources available to commanders on Fort Polk.
Lt. Col. Edward Williams has a quite a history at Fort Polk - he has served in several capacities here, as the first commander of the 5th Aviation Battalion and Fort Polk chief of staff. His current role is inspector general for the installation.
To Army senior leadership, the title "IG" sometimes evokes fear, and bad memories. The IG gained a reputation for catching commanders in the act of breaking regulations and relieving them of command 15-20 years ago. That time period is known as "the black hat days" because they were seen as the bad guys and the negative characterization implied the IG was "out to get the commanders."
Today's IG still works to keep the Army working properly, but the focus has shifted toward a more proactive and problem-solving agenda. "The more I communicate with commanders and first sergeants, the better our relationship will be," said Williams. "Now the IG identifies the problem, establishes who will fix it and then tries to resolve the issue on the spot so the unit can get back in the fight."
The IG has four functions: investigations, command assistance, inspections and teaching and training. The Fort Polk office has a small staff for the scope of its responsibility, so it focuses on assisting commanders by keeping them informed to make good decisions.
"I have a good relationship with all of the battalion and brigade commanders here and they clearly understand that we are not out to get them," Williams said. "The Army has a lot of young commanders today because of the fast operational tempo. They usually are new captains with two or three rotations in combat. The Judge Advocate General officer, chaplain and IG need to be the commander's best friends. You can do a lot of things that are not illegal, unethical or immoral and still be incompliant with the regulations. When commanders call any of us with a question about a decision they are about to make, they will always get an honest, objective answer. The IG doesn't direct actions or establish policies - we're here to be objective."
Investigations into regulation infractions provide a constant case load for the office, but Williams ensures that they are handled in a timely and objective manner. "Fort Polk is statistically in line with the rest of the Army in terms of case load," Williams said. "Every time a person comes to the IG we try to identify what their problem is, and then teach them what the redress process is.
The majority of issues on Fort Polk are personal misconduct and non-support of Family. There are a few personnel management problems but there aren't many finance issues."
Williams explained that there are always two stories in an investigation.
"We always try to go into each investigation unbiased and remain objective," he said. "I've never seen an investigation come out the way I thought it would. Sometimes it looks so obvious and then it turns out exactly the opposite. The second you get emotionally involved, or start taking sides, the system will keep you honest. We will discover the truth. We are methodical and meticulous."
The Army has three types of inspections - command, staff and IG. Currently, because the IG staff is small, the responsibility for inspections falls mostly on commanders and battalion staffs.
Williams plans to expand his team to facilitate more IG inspections. "As Fort Polk grows, my goal is to get a full complement of IGs here and then focus on inspections," he said.
One of Williams' most important tasks is the education of Fort Polk leaders. He provides classes for each level of leadership, in the hope of helping them maintain Army standards and stay abreast of regulations. His goal is to keep commanders ready for war. "We just finished our S3/XO course, and the company commander/first sergeant course is now in progress," Williams said. "We also offer the school of standards for E-6 and below."
The IG's objective is to make the Army a more effective fighting force and a better place for its Soldiers. "My goal is to figure out why the phone is ringing and eliminate the calls," Williams said. "I want to work myself out of a job. That will never happen, but it is important for me to figure out why people are coming here and help fix the problem."