RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
For the fourth time in seven years, the Complaints Resolution Division of the Air Education and Training Command Inspector General Office has earned a top Air Force award.
The division won the 2008 Lt. Gen. John P. Flynn Award, which is presented to the best MAJCOM IG Complaints Resolution Program in the Air Force.
Ron Hatfield, Complaints Resolution Division chief, attributed his office's success to his staff and the AETC unit IG offices.
"I have a superb staff," he said. "We also have 19 unit IG offices that do really good work, so it is also attributable to those men and women. We couldn't do well if our unit IGs didn't do well."
Col. Monty Brock, AETC IG, also commended the Complaints Resolution Division staff.
"We're so successful because we have a good mixture of fresh eyes and incredible experience," he said. "With that kind of a mixture you really keep life in the program, but you have a wealth of experience as well."
Colonel Brock said the division's fourth Flynn Award in seven years points to the excellence of the staff. He said their heavy workload makes the honor all the more impressive: AETC records the highest number of complaints of any MAJCOM because every Airman enters the Air Force through the command.
Mr. Hatfield, who became a military complaints resolution specialist in 2003 before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2006, said the office deals with a range of inquiries and complaints, from requests for information to the "Big 3" - resolving allegations of reprisal, restriction and improper mental health evaluation referrals.
"Reprisals are when somebody gets back at you for complaining," he said.
Mr. Hatfield said Airmen can lodge complaints without fear of retribution.
Restriction involves preventing or trying to prevent servicemembers from filing a complaint with a member of Congress or an IG.
"Nobody can intimidate you for filing a complaint," he said.
Mr. Hatfield said improper mental health evaluation referrals often are the result of actions by "commanders who act with the best of intentions but don't know the rules."
"With mental health evaluation referrals, there are certain rules and procedures that must be followed," he said.
Mr. Hatfield said the Complaints Resolution Division also handles complaints of fraud, abuse and waste.
But he said many complaints are referred to the group commander or appropriate agency or are dismissed for various reasons. Staff members may also provide Airmen with information so they can resolve issues themselves.
"We take any complaints that come through the door, but our job is to look at the complaint and get it into the right grievance channel," Mr. Hatfield said. "Only about 1 percent go to investigation. Our staff probably works 80 to 100 cases per year, and there are 800 to 1,000 in all of AETC."
Among the division's accomplishments in 2008 were completing 1,015 complaints; closing 12 complex reprisal/restriction cases with on-target analysis; reviewing 526 congressional and 15 presidential complaints, more than any other MAJCOM; serving as lead agent for IG's joint basing initiative in San Antonio and hosting a fall training workshop covering the Big 3.
In addition to Mr. Hatfield, who became chief in January, the Complaints Resolution Division consists of Lt. Col. Karen Madsen, deputy chief; Maj. Nick Avlonitis, military complaints resolution specialist; Tony Gatlin and Glenda Solomon, civilian complaints resolution specialists; Flo Vacek, Freedom of Information Act specialist; and Iva Robertson, complaints resolution assistant. Inez Williams served as chief until she retired in August.
Mr. Hatfield said that Colonel Brock never loses sight of the complaints mission.
"He is very supportive and makes the job as easy as it can be," he said.
Mr. Hatfield said an effective complaints resolution specialist should think logically, be able to research Air Force Instruction and write well. He said success for his office is based not on the outcome, but on how an issue is addressed.
"Was the complainant's issue fairly addressed and properly addressed?" he asked.
Mr. Hatfield also said the job is rewarding.
"For all of the staff, satisfaction comes from being able to help folks - pointing them in the right direction or providing some resolution so they can go back to serving the mission," he said.