An Air Guard for the Future

Sept. 1, 2006

Lt. Gen. Craig R. McKinley, vice chief-air of the National Guard Bureau, is the Air National Guard’s top uniformed leader. He was confirmed for that post in May. On July 11, he met with Air Force Magazine to discuss a broad range of topics. What follows are excerpts of his remarks.

Troop Cut Question

“We want to be a team player in efforts of our Air Force to right-size [with a planned cut of 40,000 personnel over five years]. We would like to take a look at our organization to make sure we are able to [absorb cuts], if we have to do that. … We’re trying to hold the line on manpower right now, because we feel we have a capacity to accept many of the active duty component members who may be displaced during their downsizing. … This will revitalize our Air National Guard, and this will allow members of our active component to continue serving.”

Current Mission Load

“We have 16 sites on air sovereignty alert here in the United States [at which] the duty is being performed by Air National Guard men and women, in both maintenance and operations. … Those units are continuing to serve in the Air and Space Expeditionary Force overseas, while maintaining 24-hour-a-day alert here in the [continental United States]. It hasn’t overstretched the units.”

Meeting the Optempo Test

“Our members have been called to duty since the late ’80s with the war on drugs, where our units were involved in Central and South America. … We were fully engaged in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. We’ve been fully engaged in the Balkans. We’ve been fully engaged in the no-fly-zone efforts. We’ve been fully engaged in the efforts since Sept. 11, 2001, in the defense of our homeland. I have not had one member come to me and say they can’t do it, or do more.”

Soaring Retention

“The [high operational] tempo, which I know is being discussed in the press and elsewhere, has not manifested itself in large numbers of people leaving us. In fact, our retention rates are very high.”

Dip in Recruiting

“Our recruiting numbers this year are not as good as I would like to see. I attribute much of that to the resulting outflow from [the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure round]. … Units don’t know what their future missions are going to be. Once we again define for those units what they will be doing, I’m confident that our recruiting numbers will come back.”

Angst in the Air Guard

“We’re in the middle of a very transformational era. There’s no doubt. And there’s a lot of angst in the field about what’s going to happen. Throughout that angst, the adjutants general and the chief of the National Guard Bureau [Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum] are deeply concerned about communicating directly to those members … that their service is of value to us and that we will look at all avenues to continue their service.”

Light at Tunnel’s End

“We challenge all our members to understand that, … through technology, through transformation, through efficiency, we are going to undergo change. … We have had exceptionally good support from the Air Force in looking for future missions that are tailored for members of the National Guard.”

Route to Survival

“In the case of North Dakota, what was a tremendous fighter unit at Fargo—the 119th FW— … will [be replaced by] a Predator unit being stood up at Hector Field in Fargo. Other Air National Guard members are moving to Grand Forks to help with a Global Hawk mission. We see that the units that are able to understand and adapt to the changes can find that they not only have missions in their traditional hometowns but they also are expanding into missions in new areas.”

ANG Operational Prowess

“[Force] integration has resulted in success stories such as the recent success with the Zarqawi bombing [i.e., the June 7 F-16 attack that killed al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq]. That was a Total Force effort. Everybody played. We all were part of that operation. Much of it is still classified, but I will just say that, once that comes to the light of day, you will find how integrated our Air Force is.”

Deeper Integration

“In terms of planes, in terms of people, in terms of mission, [integration] should only get stronger [because of] further constraints on our budget … and [because] the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve have such a strong ability to contribute to this effort in the Global War on Terror.”

Faith in the Air Force

“If we have a strong Air Force, we’ll have a strong Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. I’m confident that, as we look at recapitalization of our Air Force, our Air Force will meet the needs of its reserve components.”

C-130 Traffic Jam

“In the C-130 community, … we need to do a better job of providing assets for the Global War on Terror [while] retaining enough force at home so that the governors and the adjutants general can use them in times of crisis. … I don’t deny that there are weapons systems and platforms that are stressed, but … we will continue to look at ways to make sure we don’t disadvantage certain units or people.”

Wary Adjutants General

“I had a great meeting with [the Guard adjutants general] in Williamsburg [Va.]. … I spoke directly to them and we put our issues on the table. One of them was a concern that the adjutants general felt they had been somewhat left out of the recent BRAC process.”

Closer Consultation

“We have [proposed] to integrate one of the directorate staffs in the Air Force [headquarters] with Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, and active duty personnel. I chose A-8, strategic plans and programs, because that’s where all decisions get started and where funding is attached to decisions that are approved by the Chief. If we can fully integrate in that one directorate—and I mean to bring in ANG members to be full-time members of [the A-8] staff—we can get in early in the decision-making process. … I think that’s a great place to start. … We’re going to do that immediately.”

Air Defense Requirements

“There are new and more sophisticated methods of [enemy] attack that we have to stay on top of, and we’ll need fighters with very sophisticated radars to do that, but our Air Force understands that need, and Air Combat Command, working closely with our A-3 here at the National Guard Bureau, has a roadmap by which we should be successful in fielding the right types of equipment prior to those threats manifesting themselves. … The evolution of the fighter force structure that is supporting Noble Eagle … is on track and we should meet the demands and challenges that may present themselves at the end of this decade and the beginning of the next. By that, I mean cruise missile threats, small-size targets, low observables, things like that.”

Adjusting the Laws

“Senior leadership in the Guard, the Reserve, and OSD are tackling … tough issues of Title 10 and Title 32 in a way which should make it far more easy to operate in a command and control environment in the future with leadership of active duty members and Guard members in the same unit. And it will also let us do missions that are federal missions in state status when we provide those members the protections of Title 10 when they’re needed to perform a federal mission. It’s not complete, it’s not done, but we’re making progress.”