Called to Serve
By John D. Turner
16 July 2001

This may be my last column for a couple of weeks or so. I leave on Friday to do my two week annual tour as a member of the Air Force Reserve up in Ohio. Although I will be taking my computer with me, I am not sure whether I will be able to establish the connectivity necessary to upload new files to my domain. If I am, fine, if not, you won't see anything else until August 6th or so.

As of this week, I have had the pleasure of serving this nation as a member of the armed forces for 21 years. Twelve of those years were on active duty, the remainder in the reserve. I hope to be able to serve another nine years for a total of thirty, and would continue to serve past that if it were not prohibited by statute.

Let me take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about reserve service, and your Air Force Reserve.

When I first came on active duty back in 1980, reservists were viewed as "weekend warriors" who sat around, drank coffee, and read the paper. They were there in case we got into a large-scale war or something. If we on active duty thought about them at all, it was in the context of part-time, wanna-be warriors. Every once in a while, one would come in to do their two-week annual tour, and we'd have to find something for them to do. As this was perceived as more trouble than it was worth, many times they did pretty much nothing; at least nothing of great value. I'm speaking of IMA's here; Individual Mobilization Augmentees. IMAs are reservists assigned to an active duty unit for the purpose of augmenting end strength, or back filling an active duty position when the active duty member is deployed.

The unit reserves were just as bad, typically equipped with obsolete aircraft the active force had cast off when they got the newest toys to fly. To all appearances, a second-rate force of part-timers with hand-me-down equipment, to be used in time of dire need.

Then came the force draw-down. And the Reserve changed.

Today, the Air Force calls it the "Total Force" -- the active duty force and the reserve, which comprises the Unit Reserves, IMAs, and the Air National Guard. Today the Reserve is a Major Air Command within the active force structure. And with good reason; today's Air Force cannot function without its reserve component. Without the reserves, the Air Force cannot meet its peacetime requirements, much less its wartime missions.

We used to be called weekend warriors, known for the "one weekend a month, two weeks per year". This remains the minimum commitment, but the number of reservists who do only the minimum is shrinking fast. A mere decade ago, the reserve forces contributed slightly more than one million man-days towards active force operations each year. Today, that number has risen to nearly 14 million man-days per year; this despite the fact that there are 20 percent fewer reservists now than ten years ago. We have had a force draw down as well.

Today's Air Force Reserve flies the same aircraft the active force flies. A large portion of the Air Force transport and refueling mission is flown by reservists. The reserve flies virtually every aircraft the active force flies, including the B1 and B52. Some career fields are now almost entirely manned by reservists. Many times, a reservist's civilian job and military job coincide. Thus, many reserve military police are cops in civilian life. Many Air Force Reserve pilots fly for airlines. There are now even reserve pilots who are assigned to active duty flying units and fly active duty aircraft. Reservists have been placed in command of active duty units, and active duty officers have been placed in command of reserve units. The two are becoming interchangeable.

The people in the reserve have changed as well. Many who separated from active duty in the 1990's went into the reserve. The result is a high-level of experience in the reserve force, in many cases surpassing the experience levels on the active duty side. Whereas having a reservist come in for a couple of weeks was a hassle, 20 years ago, now that reservist is looked at as a valuable asset in an armed force that is chronically undermanned both in terms of experience, and sheer numbers of warm bodies. Two weeks is a minimum; many units will take them for as long as they can get them.

The mission has changed too. Instead of spending their time training for their "wartime mission", they are performing their wartime mission. The change has been abrupt, and the bureaucracy has yet to completely catch up with the changes. Even though they are still called "drill periods", they are no longer drills. In my case, the work I do during my "drills" is the same work I would be doing on active duty. I am not "practicing", but rather making a real world contribution to my unit's mission. If I were not there to do the work, at the best it would eventually get done when someone had the extra time. At worst, it wouldn't get done at all. The unit I am assigned to uses its reservists to augment its every day mission. The "two weekends a month and two weeks a year" add up to 36 working days - about 8 calendar weeks of effort. This means that, depending on the job, six reserve analysts putting in their minimum time can do about the same amount of work as one full-time active duty analyst. My directorate has over 60 reservists assigned. In the entire unit there are more than 160. Most are technical analysts, some are experts in a very narrow, highly esoteric fields of study, and the only people the Air Force has in those particular areas. If they were not in the reserve, organic Air Force expertise in that arena would be zero.

And that is just my assigned unit. I also provide man-day support to two other units as well. Last year I worked an additional 235 man-days in support of these two units, including a period of active duty from 1 January through 16 July. This year I will pull an additional 107 man-days above the minimum, for the most part, worked on weekends and holidays. Figuring 20 - 22 working days per month, this equates to around 5 calendar months of effort for a full-time active duty person.

In fact, manning levels in the active force are such that reservists can pretty much stay permanently on active duty if they wish. There are plenty of units that need augmentation. Of course, since most reservists have a regular job, this isn't all that practical an idea. And truth be known, most don't put in as many days as I do. However, deployments beyond the traditional two weeks are becoming more and more commonplace. Reservists are being routinely deployed around the world in relief efforts, anti-narcotic operations, and peacekeeping roles. The Army, for example, has almost completely turned over its responsibility for peacekeeping in Bosnia to National Guard units on 6-month rotations. The Air Force is following suit, integrating reservists into its Aerospace Expeditionary Forces, which rotate on similar overseas assignments.

These lengthier deployments, with no end in sight, are causing problems for reservists, particularly with their civilian employers. It's one thing to be gone for two weeks. It's quite another to be gone for months. Particularly if the reservist works for a small business, or is self-employed. Federal law says that the employer's have to let the reservist off, and can't penalize them for their military service. Real life says otherwise however; an employer who wants to get rid of someone can usually find some excuse, or simply not hire a reservist in the first place.

Archaic regulations, dating back from the days when the reserve was an "in case of emergency, break glass" sort of force, rather than an integral part of the total force, also work to the detriment of the reservist. For example, full medical benefits for reservists family members do not kick in unless the reservist has been on duty for over 30 consecutive days. Likewise, a reservist only gets leave (at a rate of 2.5 days per month) for each consecutive 30 day period served. Thus, a reservist on duty for 29 days gets no leave time, and no family medical benefits. A reservist on duty for 59 days would still only accrue 2.5 days of leave. Since leave can only be taken in full-day increments, the half-day, in most cases, is lost. Likewise, a reservist only gets full pay and allowances if they are on duty 180 consecutive days or more. Since most reservists are on tour for 179 days or less, most never get paid the same as their active duty counterparts.

This means that as far as the military is concerned, reservists are much cheaper to deploy than active duty forces. The combination of less pay and an aggressive deployment schedule has resulted in many people bailing out of the reserve as well. Recruitment is also down. For the past three years, only the Marine Corps Reserve has met their recruiting goals. The reserve has performed well to this point, but we are burning our candle at both ends and the strain is beginning to show.

So the next time you hear someone sneer at a reservist or guardsman as being "inferior", a "weekend warrior", or somehow "less" than his or her active duty counterpart, keep this in mind. A large chunk of the military force that safeguards your freedoms is comprised of Guard and Reserve. We serve in every location overseas that the active force does. This is not the reserve of yesteryear. We are fast approaching 50% of the entire Air Force peacetime mission. The days of coffee and doughnuts are long gone, and going reserve or guard certainly does not guarantee that you will not be put in harm's way. When the call to action comes, it will be answered; by the active force, the guard, and the reserve. Together, we are today's Air Force.