A proposal to combine the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard (ANG) is being circulated in the Pentagon and around Washington – and getting attention.
Although Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz says the idea is too big to tackle amid today’s other challenges, observers in Washington believe the plan will gain support on Capitol Hill, in the executive branch, and among many in uniform. National Guard Bureau boss Gen. Craig McKinley – the first four-star general in Guard history – has quietly made it known that he believes the proposal warrants further study.
In a statement for this article, McKinley said: “The National Guard, along with our sister services and components, is striving to identify efficiencies while continuing to provide a capable, experienced and cost-effective force to our governors and combatant commanders. The National Guard is an integral component of the Department of Defense that consistently accomplishes all that is asked, both within our borders and as a significant portion of the military force deployed overseas.”
Modest Changes for Guard
The proposal would change few of the characteristics that make the ANG unique. It’s essentially an idea for consolidation, simplification, and efficiency.
“This is an unsolicited, unsponsored effort by five retired general officers who understand how the reserve component works and how it can be more efficient,” said retired Maj. Gen. Richard Platt, a Guardsman and A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, in a telephone interview. “We are not trying to tell Air Force leadership how to run their organization, merely offering them a way to be more effective and efficient.”
In addition to Platt, authors of the proposal, all retired major generals, are reservists Thomas Dyches, recently assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Reserve matters, and H.H. “Bugs” Forsythe, who served as mobilization assistant to the commander of 9th Air Force; and Guardsmen John A. “Andy” Love, a one-time special assistant at U.S. Northern Command for National Guard matters and Frank Scoggins, a former ANG commander in Washington state. Air Force chief Schwartz calls them “The Gang of Five.”
In what they call their “plain English” précis of a paper that includes nine pages of technical jargon, the generals wrote:
“The two separate reserve components of the United States Air Force were created following World War II to fulfill two, different and distinct needs of the Air Force. In the ensuing decades, those needs have dramatically changed and now both organizations, requiring duplicative headquarters, provide substantially identical services and capabilities but are in fact in competition for the same missions and resources.”
The retired generals advocate three significant changes. The first is to combine the headquarters staffs of the Air Force Reserve and Air Guard – currently at different locations in the United States – into two “air reserve component” (ARC) staffs at the same location.
Secondly, they would keep the Air Reserve Personnel Center and make the Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) program, which is currently available to reservists only, available to all personnel under the new arrangement. Both the IMA program and the personnel office would cover all members of the newly formed ARC.
The generals’ third action would convert Air Force Reserve Command field units to “federally funded, dual-mission status organization[s] responsible to both a federal and state chain of command,” making all ARC personnel available to state governors in time of a natural disaster or state emergency.
Bringing Staffs Together
The “Gang of Five” point out that ANG headquarters has a staff of 1,500 and Air Force Reserve headquarters 2,500. Having two reserve forces is “wasteful and inefficient,” they suggest. They understand that change cannot happen without legislation: “A merger of the [two] components will likely require support and action by the Congress directing the Air Force to take action,” they write.
Schwartz told the trade journal Air Force Times the proposal is “something we might look at down the road, but given all the things that we’ve got to address here in the next six months, for example, I think that there are higher leverage things … that are smarter to address right now.”
Because the Guard has a dual role, reporting to a state governor and to the military chain of command while the Reserve does not, the “Gang of Five” wants to give their combined component the law enforcement authority the Guard enjoys today. “Merging the two components and converting all Air Force Reserve units to a dual mission role would provide increased capability and capacity for protecting the life, property and safety of U.S. citizens,” they write.
Streamlining the aerial part of the reserve component could save and improve U.S. security and the only serious objection to the idea seems to be that it’s simply too big an undertaking just now, particularly with the nation’s air components facing capitalization and budget challenges.
“But I think this is a time for big ideas,” said retired Col. Charles Vasiliadis, a fighter pilot who thinks the nation is ready for change. He points to a recent change made in Canada which restored the time-honored identities of that nation’s service branches, including the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“This is a plan for serious people. No one should ever reorganize for the sake of reorganizing, but if you can change the way you do things in a way that serves the nation, it wouldn’t be right to back away from the opportunity.”
The Air Force Reserve has an authorized strength of 73,651, the Air Guard 106,700. A combined ARC would have more than half as many people as the active-duty Air Force, which has 312,700.
The “Gang of Five” suggests that the nation can’t afford to have the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard competing for funds and missions. Both components, for example, operate F-16, C-17 and C-130 aircraft, yet sometimes appear to be in competition for the same resources. The proposal by the five major generals would eliminate duplication and redundancy between the two organizations.
“If the proposal has merit and saves money, can the Air Force afford not to pursue it?” said Platt.