Annual Formal Inspection – the very words conjur up images of white gloves, parades and door openers! And that's exactly what it used to be like, but not any more. These days, an AFI is still the chance for an Air Officer Commanding (AOC 1 Group is Air Vice Marshal Stu Atha) to get out and check his Stations, but the visit is very much more business-like, much more informative and less, well, formal than in days gone by.
A traditional start to AFI, complete with piper
That said, the AOC visiting is never a day to be taken lightly. He is a very important 2-star officer whose time we can't afford to waste so careful prep is made to make sure we give him the most valuable visit.
On blocks, door open and we're on!
Once the aircraft touches down, we only had a few hours to show our AOC some of the activities and events that are part of every day life and that are contributing to delivering success on Ops around the world. Our main themes running through this visit were 'Ops', 'Our people' and 'Education and training'. First stop for visits like this is usually some time with the Command Team of the base. At Lossiemouth this consists of all the senior military officers running the various Wings and Squadrond here, the civil servants responsible for the 200 or so civilian workers doing anything from logistics support to firefighting and the contractors who deliver our simulator training, our catering and various other services.
A meeting room with a view!
We call this mix of Service, civilian and Reserve personnel the 'Whole Force' and it reflects the fact that the RAF and the other military arms are making increasing reliance on people from all areas to deliver our capabilities.
The AOC discussing current issues with the command team
This initial meeting was held in 3 Hangar, which is already refurbished and ready for Typhoon use. The aircraft were a strong visual symbol of the future of RAF Lossiemouth and we had Officer Commanding 6 Squadron from RAF Leuchars with us to explain just how close the 2 Stations are as we both prepare for the transfer of Typhoons next year. I believe that time spent staring at computer screens and presentations isn't nearly as valuable as time spent talking to people so an aircraft hangar freed us from IT whilst the chilly October helped keep us from over-running….
The next stop was the Station gym, where the AOC was briefed by a small team of all-ranks who formed up last year to deliver on my challenge to help me improve trust and communication and to enhance recognition, reward and retention. These energetic and enthusiastic people – the '3R' committee have been at the heart of a number of initiatives like surveys, a Tweet-like messaging system, the Engineering Night of Excellence and last week's Personality of the Year event.
Members of the 3R team briefing the AOC on their work
The 3R has done a tremendous amount for RAF Lossiemouth and to see 2 of our junior ranks so positively, briefing confidently and passing key information was a great example of empowerment and made me very proud to be the Station Commander.
After the 3R, the AOC went on to hear from Zee Fletcher, who works for ISS (our catering, retail & leisure provider) and Sgt 'Woody' Wood to hear about RAF Lossiemouth's Healthy Working Lives initiative.
See and Woody outlining the Healthy Working Lives initiative
RAF Lossiemouth is the only military establishment to have reached the Gold standard and Zee not only started the programme but has been working for almost 4 years to get us there. The results are stark – a major reduction in civil service illness absences, particularly stress and a sustained 100% fitness test take rate, >96% pass rate and year-on-year reductions in medical exemptions from Op deployments. Added to that, we're all leaner, fitter and healthier!
Next up, our education and training programme was explained – we offer Lean training, junior and senior officer leadership programmes and Air Power studies. We also offer a bespoke course for airmen about to take 'acting' rank that is, promoted in situ as a response to an urgent need. This course gives immediate and valuable training to those people who need it most as they transition to new roles and responsibilities. Again, rather than talk policy, the AOC heard from people who had actually done the course to see what it had meant to them.
The AOC then had the chance to discuss welfare provision with our on-base social workers from the Soldiers Sailors and Air Force Association.
Next up, a change of venue as we lunched with 617 Squadron, who are in the midst of a mission rehearsal week.
Groundcrew tend to a simulated casualty on 617 Squadron
This important Exercise acts as a final test for the Squadron before it deploys to Afghanistan later this year. A team from the Joint Forces Air Component training cell is here at Lossiemouth, 'tormenting' 617 with rocket attacks, car crashes, ground alert scrambles and other challenges. The idea is for them to test their individual skills but more importantly, to behave and respond as a team to unexpected events.
The AOC meeting 617 Sqn personnel in the historic crew room
617 Squadron is flying day and night and with the thud of explosions in the background it was soon time to move on to the next event. The AOC wished the team well for their deployment, congratulated them on their 70th Anniversary and remarked on how he was looking forward to seeing them become the first front-line F35 Lightning II Squadron in 2016.
The next stop was a forum with the Senior Non-Comissioned Officers where this respected group of people were able to put their concerns and issues direct to their AOC. As Station Commander, I left them to this, to make sure there was absolutely no interference from me as our seniors aired their issues – it was a welcome half hour to read the paper!
By now, we were hard up against the time line and with just 5 minutes remaining, we arrived at the Officers Mess, conducted a rapid change into best blues and conducted an honours and awards ceremony. The AOC presented medals, certificates, silverware and personal commendations to about 30 people, all watched by their friends and families. After the formal part the AOC took time to chat with the recipients and their families before once again, time was up.
A short car ride back to dispersal, a sum up of the day and back on the jet with a day's paperwork to catch up on for the AOC. All this was completed in just 6 hours – how's that for a busy programme! So, if you hear any RAF friends talking about Annual Formal Inspection, now you know what it's all about!