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Upon the shoulders of giants

  • Published
  • By Gene Van Deventer
Within the last year, the Air Force Reserve has lost two airpower leaders who were instrumental in the development and continuance of the Reserve as it grew in mission significance in the 1970s and ’80s.

Maj. Gen. Homer I. “Pete” Lewis was the first dual-hatted chief of Air Force Reserve and commander, Headquarters Air Force Reserve, serving from 1971-1975 (he assumed the commander’s position in March 1973). It was a significant task for Lewis to successfully juggle his time and attention between his chief of Air Force Reserve strategic duties in Washington, D.C., while forging the day-to-day operational executions at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, as HQ AFRES commander.

He led AFRES in Operation Homecoming as AFRES C-141 and C-9A aircraft ferried U.S. prisoners of war to the states from their Vietnam captivity. Also, in 1973, two other historical events transpired with AFRES acquiring C-5 associate units at Charleston AFB, South Carolina, and Travis AFB, California. Additionally, AFRES C-141 associate crews flew hundreds of missions into Israel and the Middle East during the Arab-Israeli War.

Lewis was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve infantry in 1940. He was subsequently called to active duty in 1941. Through various assignments stateside, Lewis was transferred in 1944 to Douglas Army Air Field, Arizona, as commandant of cadets for the twin-engine advanced flying school, with both American and Chinese officers attending.

In late 1944, Lewis volunteered for aerial gunnery training and completed officer combat gunnery school at Laredo, Texas, with a rating of aerial observer. In early 1945, having just graduated as an aerial gunnery instructor, he went overseas and joined the Third Air Division in England and was later assigned to the 486th Bombardment Group, Eighth Air Force, as group gunnery officer. He flew multiple combat missions over Central Europe in B-17s until the war’s end.
Lewis passed away at his Texas home on Oct. 21, 2015, at the age of 96.

Maj. Gen. Alan G. Sharp served as vice commander to the chief of Air Force Reserve and commander, HQ AFRES, Maj. Gen. Roger P. Scheer, from 1986-1990. Effectively executing the commander’s strategic desires while providing the necessary airlift perspective, several accomplishments highlight this leadership duo’s time in the seats.

Through their persistence in updating the Air Force Reserve air fleet, in 1987 the 944th Fighter Group, Luke AFB, Arizona, received new F-16C and D aircraft from off the assembly lines. In 1988, AFRES airlifters transported tons of relief supplies and support equipment in response to Hurricane Hugo in the southeast portion of the United States.

And, in 1989, AFRES responded to Operation Just Cause, airlifting more than 7,500 passengers and more than 4,000 tons of military cargo in support of the Panama operation.

Sharp was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the University of Utah’s Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1953. His flying experience, both active duty and reserve, saw him piloting C-46, C-119, C-124, C-130 and C-141 aircraft. Sharp was recalled to active duty during the Cuban missile crisis in late 1962 before returning to the Air Force Reserve.

Before serving as HQ AFRES vice commander, Sharp served in numerous command positions at Hill AFB, Utah; McClellan AFB, California; Norton AFB, California; McGuire AFB, New Jersey; and Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia.

He passed away at his Utah home on August 11, 2016. He was 86 years old.

What these two generals had in common was a strong and determined sense of holding and molding the Air Force Reserve into an air power that was continually being morphed into something more than what was originally envisioned.

Lewis proved that the dual-hatted position could be an effective leadership configuration without jeopardizing control and management of the force.

Sharp, several years later in his position as vice commander, was keen on seeing first-hand how well units were prepared to meet readiness requirements as the operational mission tasks grew and the Total Force concept blossomed to what it is today.

During his stint as vice commander, he led staff visits to more than 90 unit training assemblies across the nation. The reasons for the visits were twofold: First was to see first-hand the needs of the units without all the pomp and circumstance normally provided for a visiting general officer; and second, for his staff to acquire best practices produced by Airmen and their families so that their efforts could be captured and emulated at other locations around the flying circuit.

Both Lewis and Sharp were motivated and inspired to grow the Air Force Reserve. One general was an upcoming airpower star with bomber and World War II experience and the other traversed through the years just after the Korean War into the long Cold War period as an airlifter piloting both propeller and jet-propelled cargo planes.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” How appropriate when considering the many contributions of Homer Lewis and Alan Sharp.

On the shoulders of these two airpower giants did the future chiefs of Air Force Reserve, and commanders and vice commanders of Air Force Reserve Command have the wherewithal to reach up to even greater service heights – airpower heights built by those who preceded them in the areas of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do!

(Van Deventer is a program analyst in the Directorate of Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection, Headquarters AFRC, Robins AFB, Georgia. He proudly served as Sharp’s aide-de-camp from 1986-1990.)