Air Combat Command boss makes the case for uniform, ops inspections

The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t just show up and win this year’s Super Bowl.

Tough practice sessions, hard work and coaching were required to win the game. That’s how Air Combat Command boss Gen. Kenneth Wilbach expects his airmen to gear up for their own potential fight — not on the gridiron, but across the Pacific.

“We’re going to plan on doing hard things together and we’re going to give opportunities to fail,” Wilsbach said in an online conversation with the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies on Wednesday. “Leaders are going to coach and mentor, and when you do that, just like the Kansas City Chiefs, you can win.”

Wilsbach’s comments came three weeks after he caused a stir across the force with a command-wide memo directing all ACC wings to complete inspections within a month to ensure all airmen are adhering to dress and grooming standards, and that personnel records match up with medical and religious exemptions on matters such as beards. The directive has sparked a frenzy of questions on social media about which uniforms airmen must wear for the checks and sent some scrambling to find dress blues amid limited stock at base exchanges.

He doubled down Wednesday, arguing that attention to small details forms the building blocks of success. The four-star added that he’s empowered all airmen, regardless of rank, to point out when another airman is not meeting standards.

“What I learned many years ago is … when it gets hard and you need to do something difficult, because you’ve been disciplined to pay attention to the details … you can succeed,” Wilsbach said.

The general himself was inspected Tuesday — his first time since he was a Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet — at ACC headquarters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

Wilsbach took over as the head of ACC in February, the same month that Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced a sweeping set of initiatives to prepare the service for future conflict with China and other advanced militaries. That includes an expanded role for ACC, which would take on a broader role overseeing force-wide combat readiness.

The command is also slated to shed some of its subordinate organizations, like those overseeing cyber and Middle East operations, to give them more control over their own planning.

Under that plan, Wilsbach said ACC would be the “synchronizer” for exercises that contribute to other major commands’ ability to jump into action. He added that commands in charge of assets like tankers and bombers should still be responsible for their own readiness.

“We certainly can be the synchronizer and help manage the exercises all over the world, so that their crews and our crews have the opportunity to work together,” Wilsbach said.

ACC would rely on commanders around the globe and their service components, like Air Forces Central, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa and Pacific Air Forces, to pull together forces who don’t typically collaborate, Wilsbach said.

“There’s a lot of work for Air Combat Command in the future,” he said.

And while ACC airmen face individual inspections, wings may expect to see more operational readiness inspections as well. Some of those will pop up without notice, Wilsbach said.

“We’re going to get out there and we’re going to say, ‘Hey, you’re having an inspection today. You generate, you deploy, you employ and you redeploy, and that’s what you’re gonna get inspected on,’” he said.

A combination of no-notice inspections and previously scheduled ones have already gone forward, Wilsbach said, in which the command aims to look for pain points.

“When you can assess where you are, then you can put resources in areas that tend to be weak or that you need to improve on,” he said. “These inspections have helped us.”

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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