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Reserve, Guard senior leaders discuss capabilities, challenges at AFA

  • Published
  • By Jaimi Chafin
  • Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command

Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard senior leaders came together to discuss capabilities and challenges during the Air Force Association’s Warfare Symposium in Orlando on March 4.

Maj. Gen. John P. Healy, deputy to the chief of the Air Force Reserve, Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh, director of the Air National Guard, and Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, Nebraska National Guard adjutant general, participated in a roundtable discussion led by Heather Penny, senior resident fellow at the AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Healy highlighted the Reserve’s support of Operations Allies Refuge and Allies Welcome to demonstrate how Reserve Citizen Airmen are always ready and willing to answer their nation’s call.

“We had 13 volunteer crews ready to go in 24 hours,” Healy said. “And, in 72 hours – the benchmark for making sure we get out the door – we had 80 crews and 36 tails (supporting Operation Allies Refuge). By the end of August, we ended up executing 37 missions where we brought Afghans in need out of the country.”

Healy said the Reserve then deployed more than 500 Airmen to support Operation Allies Welcome to ensure Afghans in need had the proper supplies and infrastructure to settle and feel welcomed into the United States.

The general went on to highlight the Reserve’s ongoing support of COVID-19 operations, pointing out that Reserve Citizen Airmen are currently augmenting hospital staff in both New York and California. Many of these Airmen are on their second deployment since the pandemic started.

In the realm of space, Healy said that the Reserve has 1,500 Airmen working space missions at 11 locations around the world and that Reserve Citizen Airmen make up nearly 25% of the current Space Force.

Healy said that Reserve Citizen Airmen are a tremendous value for America’s taxpayers, noting that the Reserve accomplishes 25% of the Air Force mission for 3% of the cost. From enlistment or commission through retirement, Reservists cost 28 cents on the dollar compared to the lifecycle cost of active-duty service members, he said.

When asked about challenges currently facing the Reserve, Healy mentioned the command’s aging fleet of aircraft.

“What is constantly on my mind is the relevance of maintaining our fleet,” he said. “The (Air Force) secretary said yesterday the average age of their fleet is 30 years old. Well, ours is a touch more mature at 33 years of age. And, 44% of our aircraft are over their initial life expectancy.”

Healy said “hiccups in the last couple of years” with National Guard and Reserve Equipment funding and ongoing continuing resolutions have made it difficult for the Reserve to update its legacy systems, but he is optimistic about the future.
“We’re looking forward to the future and working hard to maintain mission modernization to the best of our ability and provide realistic training to meet our combatant commander’s needs,” he said.

Loh praised Guard Airmen for their exemplary performance over the past few years.

“When you look at where we’ve been over three decades of continuous mobilizations, but especially the last two years which have brought the longest and largest mobilizations in our history since World War II, it’s pretty impressive,” he said. “On average, more than 14,000 Guard Airmen were on duty over the last two years, supporting combatant commanders overseas, defending the homeland and providing support to a broad range of missions, including COVID-19, natural disasters and civil unrest operations.”

Like Healy, Loh pointed to maintaining an aging fleet of aircraft as one of the Guard’s biggest challenges.

“How ready and willing are 60-year-old aircraft?” he asked. “Modernization recapitalization keeps me up at night.”

He went on to talk about shifting defense priorities following a two-decades-long war in Afghanistan.

“We heard Secretary Kendall talk yesterday and last year at this AFA of his top three priorities – China, China and China,” he said. “So, how are we going to modernize the force to get after China? And then, of course, this year, Russia is here also.”

Loh pointed to several examples of how the Guard is preparing to meet the challenges of the future, including fully operational F-35s in Vermont, conversions happening in Alabama, Wisconsin and Florida, bringing the F-15EX on line, standing up formal training units, welcoming new C-130Js, and establishing a cyber warfare wing in Ohio.

The general highlighted the Guard’s economic value to today’s Air Force.

“With 20% of the aircraft, we conduct 94% of the homeland defense day-to-day mission, and we perform all mission sets the active duty does with only 7% of the budget,” Loh said. “We are the foundation for national defense, and we need help and advocacy to continue to make us a strong partner in this Total Force.”

The Guard’s “response to the events following January 6 was pretty amazing,” Bohac said. “We put 25,000 boots on the ground in our national capital within a week because the National Guard rallied on a moment’s notice.”

He said relationships are critical for Guard responses like this and countless others.

“It’s the relationships with our employers, our communities and most importantly, the families that enable us to do what we do for our nation and state,” he said. “Whether it’s Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard, without those relationships, without care and nurturing of those, we put the mission at risk.”