FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Dispelling misconceptions about the Inspector General Corps is one of the goals of the corps' new NCO of the year.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher J. Salles was awarded the honor of IG NCO of the year, April 19, by Lt. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, Army inspector general. The presentation followed two days of tough competition held simultaneously with the worldwide IG conference at Fort Belvoir.

"There's all sorts of misconceptions about the IG," said Salles, who serves with the U.S. Army Europe IG Office in Wiesbaden, Germany.

A common belief about IGs is that they are "out to get" those being inspected, Salles said. "But that couldn't be further from the truth. We want to help."

"We help leaders to make sure they understand so they can do the right thing," he explained.

SOLVING PROBLEMS

IGs often help unit leadership research current doctrine, Salles said. They also help Soldiers solve problems such as pay issues.

For instance, a Soldier in Europe was not getting his proper housing allowance, Salles said. Leaders told the Soldier they would take care of it, but months went by without the allowance corrected.

"I went with that Soldier to Finance," Salles said. "Within a couple of days it was processed and he was getting back-pay."

If leaders take the time, such cases can often be resolved, Salles said, but he did concede "People tend to work a little faster when the IG comes around."

Not everyone realizes that NCOs in the IG Corps do the same type of work as officers, Salles said. They go to the same three-week school at Fort Belvoir. Then they go out to serve on an IG team.

Different IG teams focus on different types of work, he said. Investigation teams look into allegations such as adultery or fraud. Assistance teams help Soldiers with complaints. Whistleblower teams help DOD civilians and Soldiers who disclose information about mismanagement. Inspection teams go out to units to ensure they are applying the proper doctrine, he said.

Salles recently went on an IG inspection team to Poland to assess the quality of life there for U.S. Soldiers. The inspection was completed on behalf of the U.S. Army Europe commander and findings are still being tabulated and typed up, he said.

Salles has also worked on assistance, but not so much on investigations, he said. He did, however, participate in at least one investigation at Fort Belvoir last week during the "mystery event" that helped him win IG NCO of the year.

TWO-DAY COMPETITION

The mystery event was an interactive computer training program in which a lieutenant colonel was interviewed on allegations of adultery and misuse of a cell phone.

Attention to detail is important in such cases, said Master Sgt. Antonio Crawley who coordinated the competition. He said not only justice, but a Soldier's future in the Army, could rely on collecting the details.

"Shortcuts could cost somebody their career," Crawley said.

The competition was very close all the way up to the physical fitness test, he said. That's where Salles excelled.

About 40 NCOs worldwide competed to be NCO of the year, Crawley said, and the top five went to the worldwide IG conference for the Army-level competition. An NCO from the XVIII Airborne Corps competed, along with one from the 1st Theater Support Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, one from I Corps, another from the Army Reserve's 412th Theater Engineer Command, and Salles from USAREUR.

Their first task was to write an essay about a new Army directive and how it might affect the IG field. Competitors also took a written exam and then were interviewed by a board of IG sergeants major.

Competitors were also awarded points for their education. Salles has a bachelor's degree in business from Columbia Southern University, Alabama, and he recently finished a master's degree online from Waldorf University in organizational leadership.

TIP OF THE SPEAR

After the competition, Salles had the opportunity to return to his hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, to spend a day with his parents and two sisters before flying back to Germany and his IG duties.

IGs are typically selected for the special duty by their branch, serve one tour and then usually return to their original military occupational specialty.

Salles came from the Signal Corps. He served a 15-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2009 with the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He was with the 17th Signal Battalion during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The "Thunder Run" through the desert to Baghdad with the 3rd Infantry Division was one of the biggest challenges so far during his 17-year Army career, Salles said. "There was a bunch of unknowns and nothing was set up," he said, adding small-arms fire at times on the convoy kept everyone alert.

Salles has been serving in Germany as an IG now for about two years and four months. What he likes best about the tour, he said, is that he's in a good position to help Soldiers and even officers.

In Europe, he and his family have had the opportunity in his off-duty time to travel to Greece, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy and other locations. He has two 3-year-old twin daughters that he and his wife take on the road. Next week, he plans to take them to Disneyland in Paris.

Even though he said it's kind of a cliché after winning a championship, he's on his way to Disneyland.

(Follow Gary Sheftick on Twitter: @SheftickARNEWS.)