Defense Media Network

“Serious People” Are Looking at New Plan to Merge Air Force Reserve, Air Guard

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.”

ANG Eagle at Elmendorf

An F-15 Eagle from the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing about to be refueled Aug. 3, 2011, while deployed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, for training. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Anthony M. Mutti

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.

Hercules firebomber

A C-130H Hercules from the 302nd Airlift Wing, Colorado Springs Air Force Reserve, equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) prepares to drop a line of fire retardant in West Texas, April 27, 2011. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Harris

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.


Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-11042">

    My background is Navy, but USAF and the Air National Guard seem to have done a good job over the past 20 years in utilizing air crew where needed. If, as seems the case here, the respective staffs are the problem I don’t think Congress is going to fix it; they’ll just make it worse.

    Toward the end of WWII, if one of the growing Pacific Fleets had a flyer in command, it was decreed that a ‘black shoe’ serve as his CofS and vice versa, so Halsey had Arleigh Burke (I think) and Spruance, a black shoe, had a brown shoe as his CofS. We won that war, although not many since. It might be a cheap way to start.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-11365">

    The GUARD and the RESERVE are two different organizations Each serving different missions Do they think that the reserve is to be eliminated?? The GUARD has been and always will be STATE MILITIA Much of their funding comes from their STATE This move would mean that the STATES are going to be supporting the AF RESERVE which is the resposibility of the USAF Each have a variety of missions to fulfill inorder to become ready reserve troops Why would the STATES want to take on the financal burden Since after WWII and before the GUARD has maintained a trained force to supplment the REGULARS and also been able to provide state help during disasters without difficulty Why do the BRASS want to change and fix something that is NOT BROKE

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-11367">

    In February, 1940, National Guard units were federalized and served out WWII as such. State militias were pretty much gone by then; my father had gone to the Mexican Border in 1916 as a member of the Vermont State Militia in the hunt for Pancho Villa, but states could not afford the weaponry needed for their militias to be much more than a local police force.

    The operative question here is: Who pays the bills? And the answer is almost always the Feds. The primacy of federally-financed armed forces over state financed armed forces was set long before the end of the 20th Century. Have we forgotten so soon?

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-11369">

    Mr Boenig… the difference between the Reserves and the Guard is not who pays the bills… the difference is single tasking (Title 10 of the USC) vrs dual tasking (Title 10 and Title 32 of the USC). On a day to day basis the Reserves can only be used for a federal mission (Title 10)… when there is a natural disaster or terrorist attack, they cannot respond to the needs of the citizens or governors unless authorized by the President. On the other hand, because of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 the National Guard can respond immediately to either a federal mission (Title 10) or a state governor directed mission (Title 32)… It is understandable why the founders of our nation do not want title 10 troops policing our streets, but why would you not want to give that capability to the Reserves in a title 32 state status under the control and expense of the governor?

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-11388">

    As pointed out in the article, the whole issue is highly unlikely to be addressed any time soon, with all the other problems on the table that need to be addressed.

    But at a time when budgets are going to get very tight, consolidating and simplifying headquarters staff, at least, could have its attractions.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-11424">
    Ted Mallory, Mag Gen (r)

    2 points I would make…
    Mr. Boening… the Guard and the Reserves have moved from being a “strategic force in reserve” to being an “operational force” used in everyday military operations. They are equipped with the same equipment and train to the same missions and standards as the active component forces. That journey began with the “Total Force” policy coined by Melvin Laird in the 1970s. The paper the article speaks to is posted on the Defense News magazine web site:
    USAF Nixes Guard-Reserve Merger Proposal – Defense News (
    Mr. Oldham… the question is not, “Should the AF do this?” but the real question, as you point out about budgets, is “Can the AF afford not to do this?” The lack of funding and pressure from taxpayers will push them there sooner than they may want to go… yes, they are busy, but do we as a nation have the luxury to not implement smart, money saving initiatives any more?

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-11431">

    Seems that the question here is the BUDGET Well the AF is not toally burdened by the GUARD They are for the RESERVE Is the intention to save by elimination of the RESERVE and combining it with the GUARD?? Yes it eliminates a HQ but now how does the RESERVE get their funding _FROM THE STATE__ All this is doing is putting a burden on the STATES If the AF is still going to supply the funds there is NO SAVINGS Granting the RESERVE the authority to help in DISASTERS (an act of Congress) would make the better move not combining forces All these moves to so call save the budget are just moving money from one hand to the other

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-11432">
    Ted Mallory, Mag Gen (r)

    Mr Boening… just a suggestion but a look at the paper these guys wrote (I provided you a link to a web site that has posted their paper) would provide a much better understanding of how the 3 Air Force components interface. These guys suggest it can be improved in terms of efficiency to include eliminating costly redundancies and redistributing force structure to be more responsive to citizens needs. Funding for both the National Guard and the Reserves comes mainly from the Federal Government… the state pays 25% of facility costs and the Feds pick up 75% which is cheap to provide emergency response capability… no community can afford to maintain their own emergency response force that has the capability of our military… equipment and personnel costs for training comes 100% from the Federal Govt, unless the governor activates the guard for a state mission at which point the state pays (and then the states go back to the Feds for reimbursement under numerous provisions for disaster relief) The Air National Guard is only about 9% and the Air Force Reserve only about 5% of the AF total budget… so this is not about balancing the budget… it’s about achieving increased efficiency and effectiveness… if you ran a corporation you would not structure it like the AF has it right now… the Guard and Reserves have the same equipment and capability and in fact today they compete with each other for the same missions and resources… that is costly and wasteful. Hope this helps explain the relationship between budget, efficiency and capability.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-26122">

    I have never understood the need for the states to have aircraft other then transports or helos. Why does the ANG have to base their units at civilian airports when some states have an AFB or AF Reserve base in there state? Why does a state need a fighter wing for the governor to call up? How would the reserve assocate program work? I think the ANG is fighting for their survival at the expense of the AF Reserve. It’s very sad that it is coming down to this.