If you were in the Air Force Reserve in the late 1940s, you know how confused things were at that time. Before the Korean War, training periods were often nothing but bull sessions, and time was taken up with World War II training films. The rated personnel used the aircraft assigned to their flying units for personal cross-country trips. Few seemed to know what they were training for, and many couldn’t have cared less. There was little esprit de corps, and the mission of many units was vague.
The Air National Guard was better organized, and its members enjoyed a different status, serving under their respective governors, who had political clout and used it to the units’ advantage. Still, the Guard took the short end of the logistics stick when its supply needs ran up against those of the active-duty Air Force.
In 1947, after unification of the services (accompanied by great wrangling over roles and missions) had become a fact, the battles for funding became intense. Interservice rivalry had become so rancorous that some suggested that the Air Reserve, the Air National Guard, or both should be disestablished because their financing took funds away from the regular establishment.
But two significant events occurred in 1949—the first nuclear explosion by the Soviets and the total evacuation of Chiang Kai-shek’s government and the Nationalist Chinese forces to Formosa (now Taiwan). Despite these developments, the recommended defense budget for FY ’51 contained only enough funds for an Army of ten divisions, a forty-eight-group Air Force, and a Navy with 238 major combat ships.
Cut Fat, Not Muscle
When Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson succeeded James V. Forrestal in the late 1940s, he came into office determined to cut the “fat” out of the Defense Department. In his semiannual report for the period July 1 to December 31, 1949, Secretary Johnson said that the national military establishment “was still suffering from costly war-born spending habits. It was like a fat man—and, like a fat man, was in poor condition to run a race until the fat could be transformed into muscle.”
In a speech delivered that December, he assured the audience that the country’s military forces were strong and that no enemy could defeat the United States by a sudden “four o’clock in the morning attack.” He confidently announced that if the US were attacked, it could quickly “launch a successful counterattack spearheaded by the Air Force.”
As if to challenge Johnson’s words, a “four o’clock in the morning attack” was launched by the Communist North Korean People’s Army against the Republic of Korea. The date: Sunday, June 25, 1950. It was an attack strangely reminiscent of another Sunday morning eight and a half years earlier—the Sunday that would “live in infamy.”
The subsequent mobilization of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard for the war in Korea was badly bungled. One example was the mobilization of a Reserve light bomb wing manned by Reservists and administered by the permanent party personnel of an Air Force Reserve Training Center. The morale of the wing had been high alter summer camp in 1949, when the unit scored exceptionally well on simulated bombing missions. Its pilots had upgraded from C-45s and AT-6s to the Douglas B-26s without a single accident.
When the call came to mobilize the wing, the B-26s were quickly ferried to Langley AFB, Va., by permanent party personnel to be used for transition training of regular pilots. The Reserve wing was broken up, and many of the pilots were sent to B-29 transition schools. Few, if any, ever flew the B-26 again. Their morale was shattered, and they became bitter at the Air Force for causing their unit to disintegrate. As a result, many later resigned their Reserve commissions or opted for inactive status as soon as they could. There were many such stories around the country as Reservists and Guardsmen were called up to fight a war for which they felt ill-prepared.
The mobilization snafus that received much adverse publicity, coupled with the overt aggression by the Communists in Korea, marked the beginning of serious consideration of a new military policy for the United States. There was no longer any doubt that the Communists had been encouraged by our military weakness to resort to open warfare. As Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall said later, “The final recognition of this fact by the American people made it possible to start the rebuilding of the armed forces to the minimum strength required for the security of the United States.”
The Twining Memo
In the spring of 1951, as the Korean War escalated, Gen. Nathan F. Wining, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, was convinced that the Air Staff had to shape up and exercise more responsibility for reserve programs. He sent a memo to the Air Staff criticizing its members for failing to meet their responsibilities toward the reserves and directed that they take action to integrate reserve programs, plans, and policies with similar activities for the regular establishment. Unfortunately, his program fell short of its objectives.
According to Charles J. Gross, an Air Force historian, “The political ramifications of reserve programs were illustrated by growing congressional involvement with reserve components’ policy during the Korean War. Despite the changes that the Defense Department and the individual armed services had made in their reserve programs in 1951, Congress and the reserve components’ associations pressed for new legislation. Hearings on Capitol Hill in January 1951 were the political result of the poorly handled mobilization for the Korean War.”
As soon as President Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed office in January 1953, he prescribed a reevaluation of military strategy and requirements for the military forces in recognition that the end of the war in Korea did not necessarily mean the end of Communist aggression. It was quickly dubbed the “New Look.” In Mandate for Change, the book about his first term in office, he defined the New Look as “a reallocation of resources” that “called for a new outlook by the men concerned. This was not easy to acquire, for, as it turned out, the reallocations resulted in an increase in the Air Force, whereas the bulk of the reductions were primarily in the Army and secondarily in the Navy. This came about partly because during the Korean War the Army had expanded far beyond its necessary peacetime size.
“This change in emphasis came at a time when the Administration was exerting every effort to cut the costs of government everywhere,” Eisenhower wrote. “Protests against the planned changes came from many quarters. Numbers of people were merely prejudiced in favor of one service as against the other two; others were interested in producing, for example, equipment for the Army and Navy rather than the Air Force; still others, in political life, disliked any closing down of military installations in their respective geographical constituencies. All were ready to accuse us of endangering military security for the political plaudits we might receive for reducing the budget.”
One observer quipped, “The Democrats gave us the ‘New Deal’ and the ‘Fair Deal,’ so the Republicans have to give us a ‘New Look.” But the President explained in his State of the Union message that the new military policies were taking into account a growing stock of Soviet nuclear weapons and the effective means to deliver them. It had become increasingly clear that future wars would depend more on forces in being when the war started. Never again would this nation have time to train its reserves of manpower behind a shield provided by allies abroad. An essential feature of the New Look was, therefore, an effort to provide reserve forces that could be mobilized rapidly to fulfill a wartime role without extensive additional training.
Competition for Resources
The relationship between the regular Air Force establishment and its reserve forces (the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve) had been badly strained in the competition for resources; priority for equipment and facilities had always favored the regular units. Inadequate planning and administration of the reserve forces had been a continuing problem for the Air Force since it had become a separate service. As a history of the Air National Guard states, “Theoretically, these responsibilities had been distributed throughout the directorates of the Air Staff. In practice, however, that had seldom been the case. Reserve matters were frequently neglected or relegated to a low priority.”
The problems had not been solved as the war wound down. In July 1953, General Twining, by then Air Force Chief of Staff, appointed a top-level board to investigate continuing problems with the air reserve programs, especially the Air Force Reserve. The board was a response to the call for action voiced by the reserve component associations (including the Air Force Association), Congress, the press, high-ranking officials of the Eisenhower Administration, and the President himself.
The board was chaired by Lt. Gen. Leon W. Johnson, Medal of Honor winner and Commander of the Continental Air Command. The board’s seven members included two representatives -from the regular Air Force, three from the Air Force Reserve, and two from the Air National Guard. In a recent interview, General Johnson recalled that there were many critics who said the country couldn’t afford to have both an Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, but he personally believed both could and should be maintained. He announced at the board’s first meeting that the board should not come up with any recommendation that would call for elimination of either. “We’re going to have both,” he told them, “so let’s make them efficient.”
Recalling those days thirty-five years ago, General Johnson said, “Many people contended that there was no place for the Air National Guard,” he said, “because if you had to go to war and pulled a whole unit from one town and it was decimated, it would put all the [personnel] losses in one place.” He recalled that some communities had suffered disproportionate losses during the Korean War because members of some heavily hit ground Guard units all came from one locality.
No Cut-Rate Solutions
The Johnson Board held sessions for five weeks and heard testimony from many sources, including officials of civilian associations and representatives of the Army, Navy, and Air Staff. (Col. Arthur F Kelly and Col. James H. Straubel testified for AFA.) In its final report, the board concluded that “weakness of a reserve forces plan and program is more serious to the entire establishment than just the loss of trained reserve individuals and units. Such weakness can result in a lack of influence and support for the entire Air Force by the public and the Congress.” The report stated that “even with support at all echelons of the Air Force, including the reserves themselves, there is no quick or ‘cut-rate’ solution of all reserve problems.”
The report added that of the two components of the Air Reserve Forces, “the Air National Guard is working to greater effectiveness than the Reserve. There are certain fundamental and legal differences between the two components, and comparison can be made only in regard to Reserve wings vs. National Guard wings. The greater percentage of the Reserve personnel, both officer and airmen, because of technical qualifications and the geographical location of their domiciles, is precluded from joining these wings. Therefore, many cannot be trained except through the medium of self-training courses in voluntary units or through correspondence.
“No fundamental facts were established to show that the comparable parts of the Air National Guard and the Reserve could not be trained and developed on an equally effective basis, provided that each had the same or comparable facilities and equipment.”
Commenting on the board’s findings at the Guard’s Diamond Jubilee in October 1953, General Johnson said, “[T]he Air Reserve has so many problems which do not apply to the Guard. It also quickly became evident that the Guard was doing a better job in organized units than the Reserve. We tried to pinpoint the reason; we considered facilities, we considered budget and all of the factors we could, but the only one that seemed conclusive was pride in the existence of, and close public support for, a local unit. We concluded that there is no reason why the Air Reserve could not become as effective with proper supervision and support.”
During the board’s deliberations, it was clearly evident that the regular establishment did not understand or appreciate the Reserve program. It was essential that emphasis had to be placed on quality rather than quantity and that the regular establishment had to “realistically approach the Air Force’s present ability to equip, recruit, and train its Reservists.”
General Johnson told the author it was a matter of attitude toward the reserve forces by the regular establishment that was the root of the problem. The system could be made to work if everyone wanted it to work. Thus, the failure of the reserve program was laid directly on the active-duty establishment.
The board rejected any thought of universal military training and endorsed continued reliance on voluntary participation in Guard and Reserve training programs. The board made twenty-three recommendations that laid the groundwork for today’s reserve forces. These included:
• Establishment of an Office, Assistant Chief of Staff, Reserve Forces.
• Provision for stabilized active-duty tours of Reservists from the local areas to furnish permanent party support for Reserve wings.
• Organization of some Reserve flying wings on a detached squadron basis.
• Merging of District Headquarters and Specialist Training Centers into Air Reserve Centers.
• Increasing the number of paid drills for mobilization assignees to “at least” twenty-four per year.
• Establishing an office at USAF Headquarters to coordinate Reserve information activities and creating Air Reserve Advisory Councils composed of influential citizens “to assist in the promotion of Air Force activities.”
• Establishing procedures whereby outstanding reserve airmen could obtain commissions while on inactive status.
• Establishing policies concerning availability for training and recall of Reservists in critical industries.
• Taking a “more affirmative and conscientious approach . . . toward informing individuals in the active establishment of reserve forces programs prior to their release from active duty.”
• Taking appropriate action “to impress students in service schools of the importance of the reserve forces.”
Coming Out of the Woods
In a speech at the September 1953 AFA Convention, General Johnson reported what the board had accomplished in its five weeks of intense discussions and said, “I believe we are going to come out of the woods and get a reserve which we have to have, because as the regular establishment goes down, the reserve must go up and the country must depend on it more and more.”
Although there have been refinements and fine tuning of these recommendations over the years since 1953, time has shown that the conclusions of the board were taken seriously and the reserve forces have now become completely integrated into the Air Force’s TAC, SAC, and MAC missions.
The Air Force Reserve now consists of fifty-eight flying squadrons and 450 mission support units. Reserve pilots fly a multitude of aircraft types from HH-3 helicopters and F-4 fighters to giant C-5A transports and KC-135 tankers.
Some Air National Guard units are flying the world’s finest air-superiority fighters, the F-IS Eagle and its brother, the F-16 Fighting Falcon; others are flying C-130s, F-4s, A-7s, and A-10s. The Guard accounts for eighty-six percent of the nation’s fighter-interceptor force, fifty percent of the reconnaissance force, thirty-nine percent of tactical air support, thirty-five percent of tactical airlift, twenty-five percent of tactical fighters, eighteen percent of the air refueling capability, and seventeen percent of the rescue capability of the total Air Force.
Guard flying units had their safest year ever in FY ’87 with only five Class-A flight mishaps. Personnel strength reached an all-time high of 114,600 members in FY ’87.
The farsighted wisdom about the reserve forces demonstrated by the seven-man Johnson Board has resulted in an Air Force today that can fly and fight successfully against any of the world’s air forces. The Total Force concept was adopted in 1973, and there are some 200,000 members of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard who make it work.
Today, we have a smaller, leaner, and less expensive -regular Air Force because it is backed by citizens ready, willing, and able to mobilize when they are needed. The Air Reserve Forces are the initial and primary source of Air Force augmentation in any future emergency.
As General Johnson said, the system works now because everyone wants it to work.
|Another Honor for Gen. Leon Johnson
Gen. Leon W. Johnson, USAF (Ret.), World War II Medal of Honor winner for exploits at Ploesti (see also this month’s “Valor,” elsewhere in this issue), postwar commander of Continental Air Command, and chairman of the 1953 board to examine air reserve problems, will be honored on December 6 at the 1988 General Jimmy Doolittle salute.
The Doolittle Salute is presented annually by AFA’s affiliate, the Aerospace Education Foundation, and takes place in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D. C. The event recognizes AEF Corporate Doolittle and Eaker Fellows whose contributions help support AEF’s educational outreach programs. Recent honorees have included President and Mrs. Reagan, Mrs. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, former Sen. Barry Goldwater, and (last year) actor/aviator Brig. Gen. Jimmy Stewart, USAF (Ret.).
C. V. Glines is a regular contributor to this magazine. A retired Air Force colonel, he is a free-lance writer, a magazine editor, and the author of numerous books. His by-line most recently appeared here with the July issue feature “The Skyhook.”