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Valuing 'Citizen Airmen' in space today

  • Published
  • By Col. Jeffrey Mineo
  • 310th Space Wing commander
When asked to provide commentary on a subject of my choice, it took me about 10 seconds to pick a topic - the value of the Air Force Reserve in space today. The joining of 310th Space Wing "Citizen Airmen" alongside our regular Air Force mission partners across Air Force Space Command bases strengthens an important relationship needed for combatant command warfighting capabilities. We need to build on that momentum by recognizing the Air Force Reserve values and pursuing further efficient integration of reservists in the right space missions.

In today's fiscally-constrained environment and with continuing defense budget pressures, there is a renewed emphasis to operate efficiently now more than ever; while not compromising mission capability. With Space so foundational to military operations at large, integrating the citizen Airman is critical and must be balanced proportionately with our regular Air Force partners. I can think of no catalyst more relevant or suitable in this day and age than the traditional reservist, the volunteer, part-time Airman who makes up the preponderance of our reserve forces and who remains committed to answering his or her nation's call.

The 310 SW is performing two Reserve functions in support of AFSPC missions. On one hand, we're an operational force that helps produce the higher "steady state" of space capability that today's warfighters require. The active-duty component would be hard pressed to achieve this same high level of capability without the Reserve. Most don't know that on any given day, 40 percent of 310 SW conducts AFSPC missions, with some units at even higher percentages. On the other hand, we're a strategic Reserve depended on to always be prepared to fill surge needs for defined chunks of time, whether it's a few weeks, months or longer. This is where efficiency comes in - it's a lot more efficient to have the capacity to surge whenever needed than to enlarge the full-time force. With close to half of 310 SW currently activated, AFSPC may essentially draw from the remaining 60 percent of our wing's capacity. We save precious taxpayer dollars standing up additional Reserve forces only when mobilized or voluntarily activated and placed on the full-time payroll.

With more than 130 total-force initiatives, or "TFIs" - an associated Reserve and regular Air Force unit performing one mission together - 310th SW oversees 10 of these TFIs. We partner with the 21st, 50th and 460th Space Wings, the 614th Air and Space Operations Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as both the Air Force Warfare and Space Education and Training Centers. These successful TFIs will continue to be the benchmark and the lens through which we will look at space missions. The relevance of Reserve forces in space naturally increases as we evolve into a leaner total force. In fact, there is a more compelling need today than ever before to increase the Reserve presence in space and find more of these TFI opportunities.

In comparison, our reservists typically have five more years of experience than our regular Air Force counterparts. This varies by mission and rank, but generally holds true in all our associations. The value of our experience is not the incremental increase in pay for time in service that one sees in the salary tables; rather, our value is inherent in a continuum of time spent learning lessons, honing mission skills and providing continuity in the space mission. The youth and vibrancy of the regular Air Force member coupled with the chiseled and grizzled reservist makes for a powerful total force punch. We can't ignore that. Nor can we ignore the fact that so many of our reservists bring instant leadership, management and technical skills from their civilian sector space industry jobs. Taxpayers don't pay a cent for this civilian work experience, yet it translates into a deep bench of Reserve space operators with a much wider perspective of military operations and space expertise.

By nature, TFIs and Air Force reservists in space demand a paradox of familiarity with change. As the Air Force reacts to budgetary pressures and further evolves, it naturally becomes more dependent on the reservists skills and vast experience of. The demand signal for both a strategic and operational Reserve presence in space is rock solid and will continue to be valuable well into the Air Force's future.