A few days ago, two members of the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force (NCSAF) took to this blog to defend the Congressionally chartered report, which calls for a variety of changes to the Air Reserve Components, including the elimination of Air Force Reserve Command, blending Reservists into Regular Air Force units, and changing the active component-reserve component mix of forces. Many of the NCSAF’s recommendations have merit, but their two recommendations to eliminate the Air Force Reserve Command headquarters, Numbered Air Forces, Wings, and Groups demonstrates that the commission members fail to understand how the Air Force Reserve recruits, organizes, trains and equips Reservists.
The NCSAF recommends “increased integration” as a logical step for this generation of airmen, many of whom have served side by side with members of other components in the Air Force’s innovative "associate" units. The Air Force Reserve has been doing that since 1968. Over the last decade, we have created many more associations across most of our mission areas.
Today’s Air Force Reserve Command is lean and efficient. It consolidates administrative responsibility for all Air Force Reservists under a single chain of command. In November 2013, the Government Accountability Office noted that Air Force Reserve Command had reduced its headquarters size by 4 percent over the past five years, the only Reserve Component headquarters to actually do so. The NCSAF stretches credulity by suggesting that breaking up Air Force Reserve Command and duplicating its functions at each of the remaining nine major commands will improve efficiency and reduce bureaucratic friction for the 70,000 airmen of the Air Force Reserve.
Not a single member of the commission even bothered to visit the Air Force Reserve Command headquarters at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. Not a single member visited any Air Force Reserve Base. What does that say about the thoroughness of their work? Not much.
While arguing that responsibility for recruiting, organizing, training and equipping Air Force Reservists should be parceled out to nine other major commands, the NCSAF reverses itself and suggests folding Reservists into single, integrated active duty chain of command at the unit level as the best way to administer the Reserve program. This proposal does not account for the additional administrative burden it will place on active duty units and poses an interesting dilemma—are active duty personnel ready and able to execute the management and personnel process of a part-time force, the vast majority of whom perform their training on weekends? Do we really think they will look after our reserve airmen as they look after their own active duty airmen? My 41 years in the U.S. Air Force tells me they will not.
Without Wing and Group leadership positions, how will we develop leaders for the Air Force Reserve? It cannot be done.
One thing the NCSAF got right— reducing risk to the nation by retaining all 507,000 active, Guard and Reserve Airmen in a “rebalanced Total Force." The Air Force’s strategic plans have for the past three years proposed moving more force structure into the Reserve Components as a less risky way forward.
The performance of the Air Force Reserve Command units over the past decade and a half should convince anyone we have it right. What mission have we been asked to do that we have not accomplished? We have deployed over and over again across the full array of our mission sets. Every Air force leader I know consistently says, “We cannot do what we do without the Air Force Reserve” (and the Air National Guard, as well.)
The modern Air Force Reserve is an integrated, flexible and combat-ready force providing accessible and sustainable capabilities as an Air Force Component supporting our national security. As an efficient, separate and complementary staff, the Air Force Reserve Command provides accountability and guarantees the readiness of Air Force Reserve forces.
Bradley served in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve for more than 41 years, and was the chief of the Air Force Reserve and Commander, Air Force Reserve Command from 2004 to 2008. He is the founder of the Lamia Afghan Foundation, which provides humanitarian aid to the children and families of Afghanistan.