By Thomas RuyleDecember 2, 2019
ARLINGTON, Virginia - For 242 years - since the darkest days of the Revolutionary War - the Army Inspector General system has promoted readiness and discipline throughout the force.
The modern IG system was formally established by the Continental Congress Dec. 13, 1777. In March 1778, Maj. Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a former Prussian military officer, assumed the post and became the Army's first effective Inspector General.
About 150 military and civilian employees of the U.S. Army Inspector General Agency gathered Nov. 22 to mark the 242nd birthday of the IG system, and honor the legacy of Maj. Gen. von Steuben.
Lt. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, the 66th and current Inspector General, hosted the gathering.
The IGs were joined by Richard von Steuben, a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel, and a first cousin, six generations removed, of Maj. Gen. von Steuben.
Richard von Steuben, a former military intelligence officer, also served as a National Guard inspector general from 2004 to 2009, and was the keynote speaker at this year's birthday event.
Richard von Steuben recounted how his distant relative, after meeting Benjamin Franklin in Paris and coming to America to volunteer with the Continental Army, had to adjust to the undisciplined force he found. By working directly with poorly-trained front-line troops, Maj. Gen. von Steuben got to understand the challenges they faced.
"He converted the hard, Prussian discipline into the American way of soldiering," Richard von Steuben said. The general also taught the Americans how to organize camps by regiment and develop basic sanitation practices, such as cooking upstream from latrine facilities.
While Maj. Gen. von Steuben didn't speak fluent English, "he did learn to cuss in English," according to Richard von Steuben.
Gen. George Washington quickly came to respect and trust Maj. Gen. von Steuben, leading to von Steuben's formal appointment as the Inspector General.
Richard von Steuben noted American deaths at the Valley Forge encampment dropped rapidly after the general's arrival. "It wasn't the snow and the cold (that killed Americans), it was the malnutrition and sanitary conditions."
The birthday celebration was also joined by retired Army Lt. Gen Paul Mikolashek, the 61st Inspector General, who served in that position from 2002 to 2005.
Col. Scott Kirkpatrick, the commandant of The Inspector General School at Fort Belvoir, served as master of ceremonies.
"For nearly two and a half centuries, Inspectors General have been the combat and administrative enablers we were designed to be, providing our formations the foundations of unit discipline, regulatory understanding, and systematic analysis required to improve both individual and organizational readiness," Kirkpatrick said.
For more on the history of the Army Inspector General system, go to https://tigs-online.ignet.army.mil/History.aspx