By Master Sgt. Timm Huffman, Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization
/ Published February 06, 2017
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- When Tech. Sgt. Mark Parker first enlisted in the Air Force as a security forces Airman in 2001, he already knew his long-term goal was to become a civilian law enforcement officer. After serving four years on active duty, which included a deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was ready to pursue his civilian goals but didn’t want to entirely let go of the military.
“The individual mobilization augmentee program gave me the opportunity to have both,” said Parker, who is assigned to the 673rd Security Forces Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
The IMA program provides Air Force Reservists some unique opportunities. It is actually part of a larger category called the Individual Reserve, which consists of IMAs and members of the Participating Individual Ready Reserve. The program dates back to the beginning of the Air Force Reserve. In 1947, Lt. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer, the first commander of Continental Air Command, a predecessor of today’s Air Force Reserve Command, called for establishing a category of Reservists to support the active duty during times of crisis. Stratemeyer established the mobilization assignee program, and the Individual Reserve was born.
Today, the IR program is managed by the Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization, or HQ RIO, located at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado. It consists of approximately 7,200 Reservists, representing nearly every Air Force specialty code and rank, who augment more than 50 major commands, combatant commands and government agencies.
To oversee this diverse population of individuals, HQ RIO comprises seven geographically separated detachments and eight operating locations. These locations manage assigned IRs on a daily basis to meet Air Force and combatant commander requirements.
Unlike traditional Reservists, who serve their minimum requirement of one weekend a month and two weeks a year with their assigned Reserve unit, IMAs are assigned to active- duty units and have flexible schedules. IMAs coordinate with their unit of assignment to create a training schedule that meets the needs of both them and the organization. In some cases, IMAs complete all of their annual participation requirements in consecutive days. Or, they can do so in smaller increments dispersed throughout the year, typically during the week versus weekends.
IRs support both the peacetime and wartime missions of their active-duty organization. Their primary role is to provide backfill support for their unit when needed, but they can also volunteer their services to support exercises, contingencies, deployments, and other needs throughout the Air Force and Department of Defense.
IMAs are assigned to funded positions and participate with their active-duty unit for 24 to 36 days each year, depending on their career field. They receive standard pay, benefits and points toward retirement. On the other hand, members of the PIRR are assigned to unfunded billets and participate for retirement points only. These Reservists often serve as Air Force Academy liaison officers or with the Civil Air Patrol.
One aspect of the IR program that Parker cited as being important to him is the flexibility afforded when balancing his military schedule with his civilian job. Unlike traditional Reservists, IRs work closely with their active-duty supervisors to create a customized duty schedule. Parker said the set monthly unit training assembly schedule TRs must adhere to wouldn’t work with his civilian career as a law enforcement officer.
“If it weren’t for the program, I don’t think I would be able to stay in the military,” he said.
Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Lehane, another security forces IMA, echoed Parker’s sentiments.
“I became an IMA because my state police duty schedule did not line up with the weekend drill schedule, and it was difficult getting time off,” said Lehane, a 15-year veteran of the Connecticut state police. “I continue to stay because of the flexibility, and I can still contribute to the Air Force mission.”
Of course, there are other reasons Airmen make the transition to the IR program. Col. Elizabeth Chamberlain, IMA to the intelligence director at 7th Air Force, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, has spent time on active duty and as a full-time air reserve technician. She said the IR program has helped expand the possibilities for her career.
“I became an individual mobilization augmentee to seek broader intelligence and leadership opportunities,” Chamberlain said. “The opportunity to move between the unit and IMA programs has really helped me cultivate insight into many aspects of (Air Force) Reserve Command.”
In addition to expanding her personal horizons, Chamberlain enjoys supporting the active-duty mission. She said it’s a great opportunity to influence Air Force policy and programming.
While she is currently assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command, Chamberlain previously worked for U.S. Pacific Command as the IMA to the intelligence director. In that role, she helped the Air Force prepare for future conflicts by improving advanced target development, the process of pre-determining strategic targets in the event of conflict.
During her time with PACOM, Chamberlain was also involved in planning two of the Department of Defense’s largest readiness exercises: Key Resolve and Ulchi Focus Guardian. She said the exacting and thorough nature of those exercises is what make the U.S. military such an effective fighting force. During her 20-plus years of service, the colonel has had the opportunity to work on more than 10 exercises at the tactical, operational and strategic levels.
“It is challenging and very rewarding to throw yourself into these experiences and learn as much as you can while working to improve our doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures,” Chamberlain said.
There are a wide variety of opportunities for IRs in today’s Air Force. In addition to augmenting positions around the globe, real-world missions and deployments are frequently available. Majs. Robert C. Rogers and Kyle Johnson both had opportunities to support the fight against the Ebola virus in West Africa.
In 2015, Johnson, who was serving on active-duty orders as a communications squadron detachment commander, deployed to the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia, Republic of Liberia. He led his team of more than 30 civilian and military command-and-control specialists to establish a deployed communications system to serve as the nerve center for Operation United Assistance.
He and his team set up some of the most sophisticated tactical communications equipment available, forward-deployed equipment, and provided network support and help desk functions.
Rogers played an entirely different role at the tail end of Operation United Assistance. He was serving as branch chief of the airfield pavement evaluation team at the Air Force Civil Engineering Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, when his small, elite unit of engineers was called to evaluate the tarmac at the Roberts International Airport in Liberia during the drawdown of Department of Defense operations there.
“Our mission was to document the end condition of the runway following operations,” Rogers said. “We found out that the Air Force did not cause additional damage to the air field. Our structural testing showed that the underlying layers are stronger than previously reported and don’t need a full overhaul.”
Rogers was able to present his findings directly to the U.S. ambassador to Liberia. He felt it was the most fulfilling mission of his career.
Along with the opportunity to continue serving, IRs also receive the same benefits available to traditional Reservists, including TRICARE Reserve Select, tuition assistance and the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Of course, the Air Force also gains a valuable asset in the IR, whose members bring a diverse wealth of corporate civilian knowledge to the table.
Parker, the security forces IMA at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, is a civilian police officer in Prescott, Arizona. He specializes in impaired driver enforcement and is a certified traffic crash reconstructionist. He lends these skills to the security forces Airmen at Elmendorf. During his annual training, he conducts different educational events for his Airmen, instructing them on how to utilize speed-measuring devices and identify impaired drivers. He also teaches a course that certifies Elmendorf's patrolmen to administer field sobriety tests to possibly impaired drivers.
"I really enjoy teaching and interacting with the new Airmen," Parker said. "Its very rewarding knowing that I am able to provide the Air Force with no-cost training, and the patrolmen are always so motivated to go out and apply what they have just learned. It reminds me of myself when I was on active duty."
Second Lt. Brandon J. Kyle was an enlisted intelligence analyst and traditional Reservist for five years before he heard about a commissioning opportunity in the IR. He was supporting the 24th Air Force Joint Intelligence Operations Center on active-duty orders when he responded to an all-call for the Deserving Airman Commissioning Program. He was selected and accepted into a position as an IMA with the PACOM JIOC.
With Officer Training School completed and an IMA position lined up with an active-duty unit, Kyle said he is excited about his new career path. Since the intelligence career field is critically undermanned, he anticipates many chances to serve on active duty and wear the uniform every day.
"I'm looking forward to something different. This is another stage in life, another stone unturned, and I'm excited to augment the active duty," Kyle said.
The IR program has positions available to members coming off active duty, TRs and troops from sister services. Airmen can use the Reserve Vacancy tool in AFPC (Air Force Personnel Center) Secure (available through the Air Force Portal) to find IR positions. Others who are interested in the IR program can contact an Air Force Reserve recruiter for information on current openings. Visit www.afreserve.com to find a recruiter.
Additional information about the IR program is available at www.arpc.af.mil/hqrio.aspx.