RED HORSE looks back on ORI experience

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Sometimes you just never see the train wreck coming.

The 823d RED HORSE Squadron was subjected to an Air Combat Command Operational Readiness Inspection August 2005, and we thought we were ready.

In fact, we thought we were going to send the Inspector General back to Langley Air Force Base with their tails between their legs.

We’re RED HORSE, we deploy all the time - this is chump change. Boy, were we wrong. We had practiced processing countless tons of vehicles and equipment for air shipment and five full-blown field exercises on the Eglin Air Force Base range, but it wasn’t enough.

The ACC IG got here and picked us apart, piece by piece, hammering us on details that we though we had down pat. The result was a failed ORI and a “see you in six months” invite to try it again.

Fast forward to Feb. 2 of this year and we were once again staring down the IG barrel, but this time we knew, I mean really knew that we were ready. The preparations we went through between August and February were excruciatingly painful, but sure enough, the inspection began and we sailed through it with flying colors.

The hard work and effort paid off when RED HORSE earned an overall satisfactory rating, the highest overall rating a unit can earn on a retake.

So, what was the difference between the August ORI and the February ORI?

The difference is experts, both internal and external.

The part of the first ORI that we really fell flat on our face was the phase I portion – deployment processing. During our first round of preparations, we had a relatively inexperienced staff in our deployment cell, but we thought we had worked through our processes enough that we’d smoke the inspection. The troops in the deployment cell worked their tails off getting ready for the ORI, but their experience level just wasn’t high enough to realize that we had some serious problems.

Then, literally during the August inspection, we got two highly experienced NCOs in the squadron who made all the difference in the world.

Master Sgt. Jim Crouse and Tech. Sgt. Lisa Hodge are miracle workers, as far as I’m concerned. They basically threw all our books in the garbage and started us over from scratch. They made us unlearn everything we had learned over the summer - mostly bad habits - and trained us into a highly competent mobility unit. They went to off-station classes to make themselves smarter and brought in a lot of smart folks from outside the squadron to do quality checks on our processes. They were tough on the squadron and refused to settle for anything less than perfect.

Of course they couldn’t do everything by themselves. Failing that first ORI was a tremendous blow to our ego, and we had to drop a lot of baggage in order to approach the ORI retake with the right mindset. So my hat also goes off to all the troops in the squadron for taking a step back from the August ORI and being willing to relearn everything and dedicated to getting it right.

Now that the ORI is in our rearview mirror, I’d like to share a couple of lessons learned.

First, if you don’t have the right people in the right positions in your squadron, get them. Borrow people from other units, bring them in or get the incumbents the right training early enough to prepare you correctly for an inspection.

Second, don’t take anything for granted. If you’ve been practicing and exercising, think you’ve got it licked and are feeling nice and comfy, you’re probably wrong. Bring in experts from your major command to go through your processes and paperwork with a fine-toothed comb. If your MAJCOM experts tell you you’re okay but the IG doesn’t, then there are issues way above your pay grade that the MAJCOM needs to sort through. Failing an ORI is one of the most painful experiences a unit can go through, so think outside the box as you prepare and always get a second opinion.

Finally, I want to pass on my gratitude to the 16th Special Operations Wing for all the support they gave us as we were getting healthy again between August and February. The 16th Logistics Readiness Squadron, 16th Mission Support Squadron, 16th Medical Group, 16th Civil Engineer Squadron, 16th Communications Squadron and a host of others were very instrumental to our success. At times, these folks would drop what they were doing to help us out and we couldn’t have done it without them.