NORI: Team Pittsburgh Excels

Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen participate in the Nuclear Operational Readiness Inspection at the 171st Air Refueling Wing located near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania 19 Aug., 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Brooks)

Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen participate in the Nuclear Operational Readiness Inspection at the 171st Air Refueling Wing located near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania 19 Aug., 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Brooks)

Coraopolis, Pa. --

The 171st Air Refueling Wing and Wing Inspection Team demonstrated an exceptionally high level of knowledge, skill and excellence during its Nuclear Operational Readiness Inspection.

Between Aug. 17 and Aug. 23, the 171st Air Refueling Wing underwent its routine Nuclear Operational Readiness Inspection. A NORI is a four day performance-based readiness evaluation used to assess and identify any areas for improvement while certifying a unit as a Nuclear-Support Unit. Units are required to demonstrate their nuclear operational capabilities in a time-constrained environment.  It focuses on three major graded areas comprised of generating aircraft, response to crisis, and mobilizing personnel and cargo to deployed locations.

“Nuclear Deterrence is our primary mission at the 171st,” said Lt. Col. Michele R. Papakie, Inspector General and WIT member. “It is the number one most important thing that we do.”

The way inspections are implemented has changed. Previously, outside inspectors came to an installation and evaluated a unit’s capabilities. The Air Force is moving towards a self-evaluation system, while ensuring that units are prepared and effective through a three-tiered inspection program. During the Type-II NORI, the Wing Inspection Team, or WIT, evaluated the wing’s mission readiness performance as it simultaneously received evaluation directly from Air Mobility Command’s Inspector General Team, which is the overarching authority of the 171st. This certifies the wing’s capability to provide self-analysis for future Type-III inspections.

“The Air Force Inspection Agency handed over the nuke mission to the Wing IG,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael A. Duganieri, Inspector General Superintendent. “It’s the largest exercise we have other than a mass casualty exercise. We have to exercise it every year, and it’s a base-wide effort. With that, we had to learn and teach the WIT how to be AMC IG and how they inspect.”

The 171st ARW has established itself with a history of excellent performances in past inspections. As a base that has experienced some tumultuous times and a high rate of turn over, it was challenging to get everyone properly educated, coordinated and executing proficiently.

“Between the first exercise in October through the others, I watched our unit grow,” said Papakie. “We went from a little rusty to a well-oiled machine. We made our observations, suggestions, and by the next exercise those improvements were in employment.”

Part of being a well-oiled machine was education.  Classes were facilitated so that everyone understood how they fit into the larger mission.

“When you have a clear cut idea of what needs done to execute the mission, it’s going to impact your decisions,” said Senior Airman Lauren M. Bates, IG Assistant.

Employing subject matter experts from all over the base to be members of the WIT was another key to clearly identify deficiencies and enact necessary change with outstanding results.

“We took the best and brightest away from their units for the WIT team,” said Papakie.

With a strong goal and practice, the 171st was ready for the inspection.

“Even though it felt like it was a real big pain at the time, to go through exercise after exercise, it really proved to be beneficial,” said 1st Lt. Joshua Burkert, IG Assistant and WIT member.  “When it came time for game day we executed almost flawlessly."

Through teamwork, commitment and attitude the wing performed with distinction.

“Everyone brought something to the table to make the team what it is right now,” said Duganieri. “Either adding a process or a briefing or, hey, did you look at this part of the mission set?”

“It was encouraging to see the young Airmen stepping up and being so committed, dedicated and putting in the long hours with a smile on their face,” said Papakie. “The attitudes and the teamwork was the best part for me. That defines us. That’s our character. When AMC referred to us as Team Pittsburgh I nearly cried. It was that emotional for me.”

The character of Team Pittsburgh was evident in AMC’s estimation.

“It was definitely impressive to see AMC talk about us,” said Burkert. “If we only compare ourselves to ourselves, we don’t really know how we’re doing compared to our peers, i.e. the other tanker wings. To see them happy with us, I was like, we must have done really well.”

Setting the bar, the 171st Air Refueling Wing can be proud of its effort and success.

“The biggest success story is the wing can hold their head high, and say we’re not the wing we were five years ago,” said Schenck. “The wing performed and executed the mission at the highest standard that has ever been seen across the KC-135 community. Period. Dot. Hands Down.”