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IG works behind the scenes to maintain harmony, mission

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

When a day passes at MacDill without incident; when a unit of the 6th Air Mobility Wing is operating in harmony and all is otherwise right with the MacDill world, it might just be because the Inspector General made it happen.

It's not that the IG has the power to make things great happen but more often he does the work behind the scenes that prevent bad things from happening. Operating as a diplomat of sorts, this unique office of the Air Force is charged with resolving problems as quickly and cleanly as possible to ensure nothing interferes with the mission. In essence, Lt. Col. Judd Bean is a troubleshooter dealing with a wide range of issues from simple complaints by airmen upset that leave has been canceled all the way up to sensitive fraud and abuse cases brought to official attention via whistleblowers. On the job for just three months, already Bean has gotten a taste of the range of problems that can make their way to his office, where he is assisted by deputy Inspector General Tech. Sgt. Ann Folk.

He said much of the job is fielding questions, but admits sometimes the answers are not readily available. "I had a guy call in who said he had a chip in his head put there by the Air Force and he needed to come in and be debriefed," recalls Bean. "I wasn't quite sure what to say about that one." But like any good diplomat, Bean figured out a way.

"The goal is to solve problems as quickly as possible at the lowest possible level," he said. "That way everyone can get on with the mission, which is the first priority."

The eyes and ears of the base, Bean said he keeps MacDill Commander Tanker Snyder apprised of any and all goings on worth noting, with particular attention given to any rumblings or emerging issues that may call for proactive intervention. Putting out fires at the smoldering stage is part of the job. That often means stepping between a commander and those in his or her charge but in all cases Bean makes it clear his role is as an advisor and mediator.

"The commanders have the power," said Bean. "We use tact and diplomacy and we don't go in with guns blazing." Instead, Bean makes recommendations for solving problems. If diplomacy doesn't work, and the matter can't be resolved any other way, the base commander is the "hammer," he said.

Some of the most sensitive issues his office is charged with handing revolve around reports of waste or abuse. Anyone with a concern, be it abuse of power or wasteful expenditures of taxpayer money, can report it to the IG, said Bean. He said he hasn't had such a case since he started the job, but encourages anyone who sees such abuses to report them, as it serves every taxpayer, military and civilian.

Bean said the IG's office is important because it is autonomous, which encourages servicemembers to get involved without fear or reprisals. He notes that anyone lodging a complaint will be protected from repercussions, as guaranteed by the Whistleblowers Act. In years past such issues had to be brought to vice commanders, which Air Force officials eventually reasoned had a chilling effect on those who might not feel comfortable complaining within the direct chain of command.

Still, many may be hesitant to pipe up, which is why anonymous complaints to the IG's office always are an option, Bean said.

"It can be a touchy matter but we encourage anyone who has a question or problem to contact us," he said. "We usually can solve it with little trouble if we get it before it grows to big."

 

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