Reserve and Guard on Afterburner

Nov. 1, 1997

Last March, the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing did something it had not done since the Korean War era: It deployed overseas to participate in a real world contingency operation. The unit—recently upgraded to F-16Cs—sent several aircraft and nearly 100 of its members from home at Kelly AFB, Texas, to Kuwait. They served a 45-day tour patrolling Gulf skies as part of Operation Southern Watch.

It was not the only 1997 first for members of the part-time Air Force. The year also saw the initial Middle East deployment of a “rainbow team” of Guard and Air Force Reserve Command units. Pilots from the Guard’s 115th FW, based in Wisconsin, and AFRC’s 419th FW, from Hill AFB, Utah, shared 12 F-16s as they helped enforce a no-fly zone over northern Iraq throughout the spring.

As these examples show, the phrase “weekend warriors” no longer does justice—if it ever did—to the roles played by the Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard. More and more, these military organizations are taking part in missions all over the globe.

The redistribution of the workload has helped the two air reserve components fulfill their Total Force mandate and has made them a big help to their hard-pressed active duty counterparts. But it may also bring the Reserve and Guard operations tempo problems of their own.

Greater Stress

“There has not been a significant increase in separations, so far,” said an August statement by the Air Force Reserve. “This may become an issue future leaders must address. Most will agree that reservists are under greater stress now than at any other time in their careers.”

If experienced reservists leave, they may be hard to replace. Maj. Gen. Robert A. McIntosh, the AFRC commander, noted in a report that his command already faces “challenges” in recruiting. “Historically, we’ve been dependent on recruiting prior service personnel, who have proven an excellent pretrained resource,” he said, but since the early 1990s the annual number of eligible personnel leaving active duty has dropped from about 40,000 to 13,500.

“The nonprior service market is much more difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to successfully compete within,” McIntosh said, adding that this fact “will make meeting end strength … more difficult.”

Things could be worse. The Air Force’s Reserve and Guard have largely escaped the internal turmoil and conflict, caused by attempted personnel cuts and other issues, that have affected their ground force counterparts this year.

The Air Force’s Reserve and Guard officials must still navigate turbulent waters left by the Pentagon’s recently completed Quadrennial Defense Review. And they take no comfort in the Army Guard and Reserve problems. “They are our brothers and sisters,” said Brig. Gen. Paul E. Weaver Jr., the new director of the Air National Guard. “We are in this together.”

Under the Defense Department’s Total Force policy, service Reserve and Guard units are supposed to be formally integrated with active duty units and planning in an effort to meet national security objectives. The need to use resources efficiently is one big reason for the policy. An ANG flying unit, for instance, is said by some to cost about 60 percent as much as an active duty counterpart.

Air Force leaders have devoted significant resources, in terms of both airplanes and funding, to Reserve and Guard forces almost since the service was born. The result has been the smoothest combination of part-time and active duty units among all the services.

“The Air Force has the most integrated total force on a day-to-day basis,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Requirements Edward L. Warner told Congress. “This is especially true of its mobility force associate units, where reserve tanker and airlift personnel often work side-by-side with their active counterparts, even sharing the same aircraft.”

Together, Reserve and Guard forces now have some 1,900 airplanes, about 40 percent of the active service’s level of some 4,500 aircraft. No longer are most of them hand-me-down Vietnam–era fighters. The last F-4 is gone, phased out of the Air Guard inventory at the end of 1995. Current inventory ranges from F-15 and F-16 fighters through modern C-130 models and 14 B-1B bombers.

The Reserve provides 67 percent of the Air Force’s total medical crews, along with 62 percent of its special operations “Talon 1” capability and 50 percent of KC-10 tanker crews and maintenance personnel. The Guard has 70 percent of Air Force wartime deployable communications capability.

Changing Traditions

Airlift, tankers, air defense, special operations, and weather reconnaissance are among the traditional Reserve and Guard missions. But “traditional” does not necessarily mean “unchanging.” Take the case of air defense.

As part of the QDR process, Air Force and ANG leaders discussed whether it made sense to maintain 10 fighter squadrons devoted solely to the protection of continental US airspace. They decided it didn’t and hatched the idea to take late model F-16s out of the active force, give them to the Guard, and convert some ANG squadrons to a general purpose mission. The active force will transfer 60 older fighters to the Guard, which would retire 60 of its own.

“It makes those forces more relevant to the world we see ourselves living in,” said Lt. Gen. David J. McCloud, the force structure director for the Joint Staff, in testimony to Congress this summer.

In sum, the Air Force came through the QDR with a force structure of 20 fighter wings, but the active/reserve split has changed. Where previously the Air Force had 13 active and seven reserve wings, it will now have 12 active and eight reserve.

The changing world security situation means that the part-time Air Force is expanding into whole new mission areas. Last year AFRC entered the field of airborne warning and control, for instance, with the standup of the 513th Air Control Group. The 513th is an associate unit that employs Reserve aircrews flying active duty E-3 AWACs aircraft. Its initiation marks the first time this approach has been used for the mission, and it provides some much needed relief for active duty crews who fly one of the busiest weapon systems in the US inventory.

AFRC last year also entered the arena of battle-staff augmentation with the creation of the 701st Combat Operations Squadron, which provides support to US Pacific Command. Also, Air Education and Training Command moved to take advantage of the reserve components’ traditional pool of flying experience. The new AETC/Air Force Reserve Instructor Pilot Program will provide two 25-person units for use at active duty pilot training bases.

McIntosh recently reported, “Our readiness has never been higher, and we are part of nearly every mission area. … Air Force Reserve Command units maintain readiness levels on par with active duty units. More than 95 percent of Air Reserve units are currently combat ready, closely paralleling our active force.”

The Air National Guard has in recent years taken on a long-range combat role with the addition to the Guard inventory of B-1B bombers. The ANG’s first B-1 unit, based at McConnell AFB, Kan., now has 10 aircraft and will soon face its first operational readiness inspection. A second Guard B-1 unit, at Robins AFB, Ga., is scheduled to receive its final four airplanes and complete its conversion process during the first quarter of 1998. For its part, AFRC maintains a squadron of long-range, heavy B-52 bombers at Barksdale AFB, La.

Ideal Mission

The bomber mission requires experienced crews, yet has a relatively low operations tempo. It is thus ideal for the ANG and AFRC, say USAF officials. ANG crews recently demonstrated their prowess with the bomber during a deployment to Indonesia.

“Combat capability of our bomber units will be improved within the next year when necessary hardware delivery and training are complete for cluster bomb munition capability,” Maj. Gen. Donald W. Shepperd, the Air Guard director at the time, told Congress this summer, shortly before his retirement.

The ANG’s 109th Airlift Wing, based in Schenectady, N.Y., will soon take over one of the Navy’s more exotic workloads. The 109th has the only snow-ski–capable aircraft in the USAF inventory—and starting in 1999 it will use them to support National Science Foundation activity in Antarctica.

Recent months have seen an ANG transition of its fighter–reconnaissance inventory from old RF-4Cs to multirole F-16s. A Richmond, Va., Guard unit added recon pods to its F-16s last April. In a subsequent deployment to Europe in support of Bosnian operations, the squadron flew 124 sorties in 45 days without a mission cancellation caused by equipment problems.

“Based on this success, the ANG is procuring pods and processing stations for four additional units,” Shepperd reported to Congress. The program should be completed in early 1999.

It is a foregone conclusion in the Pentagon that today’s diminished military establishment will have to wring all it can out of Reserve and Guard units if they are to meet operational requirements. In the Air Force, “Total Force” has never been a mere buzzword. However, the profusion of missions such as those in Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, Haiti, and elsewhere are making the concept even more important.

In February 1995, then–Secretary of Defense William Perry launched a pilot program explicitly designed to lessen the burden of the overworked active force by leaning on part-timers for help during major exercises and real-world contingencies. Proposed projects under the so-called “Increased Use Initiative” must both provide meaningful training and measurably reduce active force operations tempo and personnel tempo. The cost of these approved projects are split between the services and the relevant unified theater command.

Pentagon officials claim that, so far, this experiment has been highly successful. The number of approved projects rose from 97 in Fiscal 1995, to 163 in Fiscal 1996, and to more than 200 for Fiscal 1997. “Support for further integration of Reserve component personnel into Joint operations and exercises continues to grow,” Defense Secretary William Cohen told Congress earlier this year.

Reserve and Guard members say that they enjoy the additional challenge and sense of worth these days. After all, deploying to Aviano AB, Italy, as they have done, and other foreign locales presents a welcome change of pace from the usual flying around home-state airspace. Overall, increased reliance on the reserve components has so far actually helped recruiting and retention, according to Pentagon officials.

DoD officials are uncertain, however, whether that will remain the case in coming years. As the Air Force’s Reserve and Guard units are increasingly deployed to lessen active duty optempo, they themselves may begin to suffer from the ill effects of frequent usage.

Running Hard

Make no mistake: Air Force Reserve and Guard units are already running quite hard. In a report to Congress earlier this year, Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, then the USAF Chief of Staff, warned, “Air Guard and Reservist man-days per year today are almost equal to the level of effort you had during the height of the Gulf War.”

Maintenance of high-performance aircraft requires constant effort—27 percent of the ANG, for instance, is composed of full-time maintenance personnel.

Fogleman and other officials said that the Air Force’s projected continued reliance on the Reserve and Guard will make the weekend warrior tag virtually obsolete. In many cases the traditional one weekend per month and two weekends training per year will no longer be applicable, as the Department of Defense asks reservists to come on active duty for longer and longer periods of time.

In 1997, USAF’s Reservists and Guardsmen have taken part in every major Air Force operation and exercise, from Northern and Southern Watch in the Middle East to the interception and identification of suspected drug traffic aircraft moving across the US border.

On any given day, there are upwards of 1,400 Air Force reservists deployed somewhere in the world. Reserve and Guard duty-days per year now range from 120 for F-16 and C-130 crews to 165 for B-52 personnel and upwards of 180 for C-17 associate crews.

Some Reserve and Guard representatives warn that the Defense Department’s theory of compensating leverage has already been stretched as far as possible. They say that there is little more that the reserve components can do to help lessen the full-timer’s burden.

Those in Air Force Reserve flying units feel they are coming close to their maximum output. “Further increases in [Air Force Reserve] operations tempo will likely reach the limits of what a volunteer force can do,” Fred Becker, an official of the Reserve Officers Association, recently told Congress.

So Far, Only Rumors

An August AFRC message to Reservists addressed what it called “rumors about Reservists opting to leave AFRC rather than be part of an increased optempo.” The rumors are just that, said the message—unsubstantiated gossip. Separations have not increased, though recruiting and retention of top-notch people is becoming more of a challenge, according to AFRC.

Reduction of personnel stress will help ease the optempo burden for Reserve and Guard members, say officials. That means providing as much planning and notification time prior to deployments as possible. It means maintaining incentives for government employees who are Reserve and Guard members.

“We can do much through volunteerism, but we need to keep employers and families on our team and supportive of our participation,” warned Shepperd.

It may also mean addressing the problem of a financial safety net for military part-timers. A special Reserve and Guard insurance plan set up by the Pentagon to help ease any money problems caused by deployments is on the verge of cancellation. It has become embroiled in financial problems and has attracted light participation so far.

Overall, said Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard officials, the recently completed QDR dealt fairly with their concerns. Combined Reserve and Guard strength of roughly 265,000 would be reduced by only about 700 spaces over the next five years, compared with a reduction of 26,900 in the active duty force. By contrast, the Army was targeted to lose 45,000 Guard and Reserve members—a plan that has touched off ferocious conflicts between the Army’s Active and Guard components. [See box, p. 31.]

This does not mean that the Air Force reserve components have no resource problems. Like their active duty counterparts, Reserve and Guard officers worry about modernization money. Night operations capability is a top Guard priority, for instance; to get it, the ANG is testing low-cost, off-the-shelf equipment for its A-10s, F-16s, and F-15s.

Some Guardsmen and Reservists further worry about the future of many units beyond 2003. Will the costs associated with the purchase of the F-22 and other new aircraft cause service leaders to swing more funds toward the active force and downsize or eliminate reserve force units with older airplanes

On the other hand, the on-call components could become more important to the military in decades ahead as new missions come on line and some traditional ones increase in importance. The Reserve and Guard, for instance, might play an ever-bigger role in space operations. “Satellite and space system management, the ultimate in telecommuting, is a natural for National Guard professionals,” maintained Lt. Gen. Edward W. Baca, chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington.

Remote weapons systems and unmanned aerial vehicles could also become reservist missions. Theoretically, a next-generation UAV taking pictures over places such as Bosnia or Zaire could be controlled by a trained officer sitting outside of Boston or some other American city. National missile defense could offer similar opportunities.

“These and other similar future mission areas, highly technical and predominantly home-based, offer win–win opportunities to satisfy national security cost-effectively while providing many dedicated Americans whose occupations would otherwise prohibit it a chance to contribute to their nation’s defense,” said Baca.

Proposal Would Put Guard Chief on Joint Chiefs of Staff

By voice vote, the Senate passed in July a bill that would elevate the head of the National Guard Bureau to four-star rank and give him a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sen. Ted Stevens (R–Alaska) is the chief sponsor of the proposal, which took the form of a rider to the Fiscal 1998 defense authorization bill. Stevens recruited 49 cosponsors, but Sen. Strom Thurmond (R–S.C.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was not among them. There is no companion bill working in the House, where the chairman of the House National Security Committee, Rep. Floyd Spence (R–S.C.), is also opposed to the idea.

The proposal was brought on mainly by long-standing troubles between the Army and the Army National Guard. Unlike the Air Force, the Army has never worked that well with its reserve components. The problems worsened in the Gulf War, when the Army rejected—unjustifiably, Guard sources said—a National Guard round-out brigade as unfit to fight. The alienation has deepened since then.

The dam broke in May when the Quadrennial Defense Review projected a reduction of 45,000 Army Guardsmen and Reservists but only 15,000 active duty Army troops. (By contrast, the QDR cut Air Force strength by 26,900 active duty and 700 in the reserve components.) Guard supporters, including strong backers in Congress, raised a row, and the Department of Defense sent the Army and the National Guard away to an “off-site” conference to settle their differences. The meeting determined that 25,000 of the Army Guard and Reserve cuts would be postponed until after the year 2000 and adopted 11 principles, such as that “Army Guard forces will be fully missioned, resourced, and relevant.”

However, that did not put a stop to activism by Guard enthusiasts. The National Guard Association of the United States is enthusiastically pushing for inclusion of the National Guard Bureau chief on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs, and the services oppose the move, saying that it would politicize the defense program, undercut federal control of the armed forces, and make states, governors, and communities active competitors for defense resources and budgets.

The JCS presently consists of the chairman, the vice chairman, and the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The National Guard Bureau chief was a two-star office until the post was raised to three-star status in 1979.

Cohen Orders Full Active–Reserve “Integration”

Defense Secretary William Cohen issued a policy statement that evidently expands the role—and voice—of National Guard and Reserve forces in war and peace.

In a Sept. 4 memorandum, Cohen ordered DoD leaders to remove “all residual barriers—structural and cultural”—blocking “full integration” of active and reserve components. Cohen’s goal: a “seamless Total Force.”

He said the American military “can no longer achieve [its] operational goals as separate active and reserve components.”

DoD, in a Sept. 11 statement, defined “integration” as “the conditions of readiness and trust needed for the leadership of all levels to have well-justified confidence that reserve component units are trained and equipped to serve as an effective part of the joint and combined force within whatever timelines are set for the unit—in peace and war.”

Four principles will guide the integration effort, according to the Cohen memo. The Pentagon said they are:

Clearly understood responsibility for and ownership of the Total Force by the senior leaders throughout the Total Force;

Clear and mutual understanding of the mission of each unit—Active, Guard, and Reserve—during peace and war;

Commitment to provide the resources needed to accomplish assigned missions;

Leadership by senior commanders—Active, Guard, and Reserve—to ensure the readiness of the Total Force.

“This memorandum … sets the tone for how we must work as a Total Force as we move into the 21st century,” said Cohen. “It recognizes that in the post–Cold War world, we are having to rely on our reserves more and more.”

Peter Grier, the Washington bureau chief of the Christian Science Monitor, is a longtime defense correspondent and regular contributor to Air Force Magazine. His most recent article, “The Materiel World,” appeared in the October 1997 issue.