Inspector General: a resource for Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Denise Nevins
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Having fulfilled his lifelong dream of serving as a pilot for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, Mark Schlichte was asked by his wing commander to consider applying for the 28th Bomb Wing inspector general position.

"It's a funny thing - besides being familiar with major command IGs [performing] inspections - I never really had a good idea about what the IG did," said Schlichte, 28th Bomb Wing inspector general.

The IG is a place Airmen can go if they do not feel comfortable using their chain of command, or if they feel as if there are no other avenues for addressing the situation, he added.

"I was not familiar with the complaints resolution aspect, which actually defined the duties of IG," Schlichte said. "After attending the installation IG training course, I quickly became aware of the vast responsibilities associated with being an IG."
He soon realized the importance of working with other base agencies to ensure Airmen have all the tools necessary to be successful. 

"Working with the judge advocate, area defense counsel, the Airman and Family Readiness Center and others is very enjoyable," Schlichte said. "Equal Opportunity is, without a doubt, one of the main factors to a strong IG program and having Mr. [Donald] Bell, [28th BW EO director], and his team of Air Force recognized experts work with us side by side is phenomenal."

Upon his retirement from active duty, Schlichte had a decision to make: to continue serving his country as a civilian in the IG or become a commercial airline pilot.

"I didn't really want to be apart from family to the extent an airline career would require," Schlichte said. "In addition, I fell in love with the IG tasking of taking care of Airmen and the mission."

Ultimately, Schlichte chose to continue doing just that. He has been at Ellsworth since 2002 and became an IG in 2006. When he retired from active duty in 2009, he rolled right back in as a civilian IG, following his passion of taking care of the Air Force's number one asset, its Airmen.

Schlichte said he was surprised to see that, after he returned as a civilian, Airmen were much more open talking to him than when while he was in uniform. That was the biggest transition piece he wasn't expecting, but it became glaringly obvious, he added.

"This is not to say that a lieutenant colonel, or any other uniformed rank, cannot effectively carry out the duties of an IG," Schlichte said. "I think I was more than effective when I was active duty - [being a civilian] just facilitates a bit more openness, which can make things easier for both sides in trying to resolve an issue."

The IG office has two main roles: the inspection side and the complaints resolution side.

"The importance at large here is getting out and talking to every group we possibly can to make sure they understand they have the right, and the obligation, to report wrongdoing," Schlichte said. "We remind everybody that, by law, everyone has the right to talk to an IG or a member of Congress, and nobody can take that right away."

Schlichte said the number one goal on the complaints resolution side is to let people know of and protect their ability to report wrongdoing. 

"This is important because, if you develop a culture inside your unit where people are afraid to report wrongdoing, that organization is going to fail at some point, almost guaranteed," he added.

However, there are times when Airmen come into the office just looking for help with an issue they may have, not necessarily to report something in their unit. Schlichte said helping Airmen with any issue is the most rewarding aspect of his job.

"When an Airman comes in with an issue that we're able to help them with, whether it's actually sitting down and talking with them or simply making a phone call for them, they're just thankful for the help," Schlichte said.

Despite changes to the IG program over the years, Schlichte has been able to stay focused on the IG mission and helping Airmen.

"IG's across the Department of Defense are doing great things behind-the-scenes to keep going and I couldn't be more proud to be a part of that team," Schlichte said. "Doing my part to strengthen the team is an everyday challenge and I never know what is going to come through my door everyday - but I love it!"