Demolishing barriers, building superhighways; total force at Hill AFB

  • Published
  • By Col. Buck Sams
  • 419th Fighter Wing vice commander
I have followed Hill Air Force Base's Total Force Integration transition since the beginning. Arriving from the Fighter Associate Program at Langley Air Force Base, Va., I have had some exposure to these types of arrangements. But if you think I come here with all the solutions to our challenges, you are mistaken.

No single person has all the answers; however, those answers exist in all of us! Collectively, the secret to making this a success is with the great people in these two tremendous wings. And before I even meet you, I already know we will find the solutions.

Americans used their independent nature to overcome the tyranny of British rule some 240 years ago, their pioneering spirit to overcome the vast distances from Missouri to Utah 160 years ago, and free spirit and innovations to overcome Germany and Japan 63 years ago.

Because of America's past performance, I have absolutely no doubt we will overcome the oppression of the radical groups we are at war with today, and I am equally confident we will find the right path to make this integration as efficient and effective as possible. Why am I so confident? Because we are Americans, and that's what we do.

My agenda is simple -- find the solution to this association, train our Airmen to be the best in the world, and get about the business of taking the fight to the enemy in this Global War on Terrorism.

So, how do we accomplish this? We first must tear down the cultural barriers between the Air Force Reserve and regular Air Force, and use that rubble to build a superhighway of warfighting capability.

Let's start with the first half of this premise. It is true there are different cultures between the two components. We should not try to eliminate these differences; instead we should understand and embrace them so we can work through issues instead of stonewalling them.

There are many differences I could discuss, but in the interest of brevity, I will pick only one -- priorities.

A Reservist prioritizes his or her life slightly different than a regular Air Force member. In general, that priority is: Creator/family, civilian employment and military mission.

You will often hear Reservists speaking of balancing the priority triad listed above. Although foreign to the regular Air Force mindset, we must prioritize our civilian employment over the military because that is the primary source of supporting our home life.

However, we realize the military mission is incredibly important, and we must be trained at the highest level possible. In fact, now that our senior leaders have declared this an 'Operational Reserve' versus the Cold War term of 'Strategic Reserve,' we must maintain the same proficiency as our regular Air Force counterparts. This fact makes balancing the triad even more critical.

Our regular Air Force friends often say, "So why are we doing this ... why operationalize the Reserve ... why don't we keep things divided like it was in the old days?"

The short answer is this -- because of the shrinking defense budget and the need to recapitalize our aging fleet, our senior leaders have chosen to make manpower cuts to pay bills. The experienced workforce from the Reserve is needed to fill those manpower shortfalls. In fact, it is the intent at the highest level of the Air Force to create associate arrangements at every CONUS-based fighter location. Hill AFB, along with Langley and Elmendorf AFBs (Alaska), is on the leading edge.

These associations have no doubt caused changes on the regular Air Force side as well. No longer does a regular Air Force unit have all the needed workforce available at a moment's notice. Training and manpower have to be managed further in advance to accommodate Reservists who can only give two to six military days a month. This is a huge paradigm shift and must be given the attention it deserves.

Exercises will be planned to cover weekends and training TDYs will be scrutinized to make sure Reserve personnel are available. There are many other issues yet to be discovered. I understand this may cause frustration with regular Air Force commanders and schedulers. When those moments of tension arise, they must be met with a positive attitude and a willingness to accomplish the mission, while at the same time not compromising the priority triad mentioned earlier.

Now, moving to the second half of my premise, superhighways are the most effective, efficient and versatile means of surface transportation on the planet. At any moment, one can see anything from a hybrid to an 18 wheeler to a huge RV effortlessly moving from place to place. The sovereign military options we provide our nation parallel this idea.

Our warfighting capability must be versatile and flexible, and we must be efficient in the way we train so we can be effective in the battlespace. Having regular Air Force and Reserve train side-by-side and using the same equipment gives us the diverse background and experiences to provide the needed firepower ... and by crumbling cultural barriers, we can pave the way to sustain the most effective Air Force the world has ever seen.