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Commentary – Operational reservists no longer held in reserve

Col. Mark Clemons took command of the 442nd Fighter Wing Aug. 2, 2008.  He leads a fully combat-capable, Air Force Reserve A-10 wing based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

Col. Mark Clemons took command of the 442nd Fighter Wing Aug. 2, 2008. He leads a fully combat-capable, Air Force Reserve A-10 wing based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- (The following commentary is adapted from an article by Col. Mark Clemons, 442nd Fighter Wing commander.)

Twenty years ago, the Air Force Reserve served the role of a strategic force held in reserve, ready to take over domestic Regular Air Force functions in the time of a national crisis. Since the first Gulf War in 1991, however, this paradigm has changed drastically.

Today, Air Force Reserve Command has been transformed into an operational force that flies, fights and deploys worldwide on a daily basis - just like the Regular Air Force.

At Whiteman AFB, we fly 10 to 20 A-10 sorties every day to maintain our combat capability. If you look at other AFRC units across the country, you will find the same thing - today's Air Force reservists participate much more than one weekend a month and two weeks a year.

Of the 1,300 reservists in the 442nd Fighter Wing, 25 percent or about 360 of us work for the Air Force full time as air reserve technicians and on active duty. The rest of us work in communities as bankers, teachers, attorneys, doctors, police officers, fire fighters and a host of other occupations.

So, how can the 442nd FW sustain a full-time combat capability with 75 percent of its people working for the Air Force part time?

The answer can be summed up in one word: Experience.

Since 83 percent of us has prior experience on active duty, we don't need to spend as much time training our people to do their jobs or integrate into military life. The Regular Air Force has already done that for us.

Most of us don't make permanent-change-of-station moves from base to base. This means Citizen Airmen are assigned to the same unit, performing the same mission and working with the same people for any number of years. Some of them stay in one place their entire careers. This builds unparalleled levels of unit cohesion and experience. It really does become like a large, extended family.

Air Force Reserve units train to and maintain the same standards as Regular Air Force units, undergoing inspections and delivering the same combat capability. Coupled with their experience, the combat capability of Air Force reservists allows them to integrate with and into any Air Force unit in the world.

In the 442nd FW, we have supported numerous operational and combat-support deployments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

There are currently seven Regular Air Force pilots flying A-10s in the 442nd FW. They benefit from our experience and take what they learn to Regular Air Force A-10 squadrons.

We don't share this kind of relationship with the 509th Bomb Wing, since the 442nd and 509th combat missions are not the same. That relationship is one of host and tenant, with the 442nd FW as a tenant on a base "owned" by the host 509th Bomb Wing.

This does not mean we can't integrate and work as a team even though 442nd FW's A-10s are designed to take out a single tank on the battlefield and the 509th BW's B-2s are designed to take out the factory that makes the tanks or the entire city where the enemy tanks are made.

Where we can integrate with the 509th is where we have overlapping mission areas, such as civil engineers, logistics readiness, medical and other combat-support specialties that all Air Force wings have in common.

In fact, many 442nd Citizen Airmen have been mobilized to support the 509th Bomb Wing right here at Whiteman AFB, taking time away from their civilian employers and their families to replace regular Airmen who have moved to another base or deployed.

Our goal has always been that when an outside observer looks at the Airmen at Whiteman AFB, they can't tell an active-duty Airman from a reservist or an Air National Guardsman. What we want them to see is one seamless force, working every day to deliver unparalleled combat capability to America. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)