MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
We have heard the term “weekend warrior”. Many people love to poke fun at things they don’t understand. When I joined the Air National Guard back in 1993, we were a “strategic reserve”. Following the events of 9/11, that term couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Air National Guard is an “operational reserve”. Over the last 17 years, the 169th Fighter Wing has deployed more than 6,000 Swamp Foxes across the globe in support of contingency operations, multi-lateral exercises, State Partnership Program and various other efforts to support the National Defense Strategy. Recently, General Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, recognized, in an article for National Guard magazine, that 39 days a year is no longer the standard model.
General Lengyel’s words have been true here at McEntire JNGB for some years. In just seven years as a Swamp Fox, I have been able to witness first-hand what it takes to maintain the motto Semper Primus! If the Wing is not headed out to an AEF deployment, then the Agile Combat Support package is getting ready to deploy, and if neither of those is happening, we are participating in exercises in Poland or Sweden, or getting ready to support our state’s citizens during times of need, floods, hurricanes, etc. The men and women of this wing continue to find ways to execute this mission. Full-time employees, drill- status Guardsmen, AGRs, technicians, Title 5 and state employees, it doesn’t matter the flavor or color, they all come together to serve this great nation.
Let’s circle back to how some view the National Guard. As a young Airman, sometimes I felt under-utilized. Perhaps the full-time staff would let us play with their equipment but that was not always the case. As a staff sergeant, I was extremely close to separating. Several months in a row, I literally broke computers for turn-in to depot. Fortunately, I had great leadership who allowed me the opportunity to present a plan to my squadron commander on how we could be better utilized. Leadership bought in and provided the resources to make that plan a reality.
Fast forward to today. Even in this wing of Semper Primus Airmen, we can see elements where we as leaders do not take full advantage of our drill-status workforce. However, we can also see opportunities where these Airmen are hesitant to step forward. No matter the reason, we will not truly realize our potential as a critical component of the Department of Defense as long as this remains in the Air National Guard.
There are too many requirements placed on the units to believe that the full-time workforce alone will be able to complete them. As an “operational reserve” we are working extremely hard to accomplish everything our brothers and sisters in arms are completing on the active-duty side of the house. If one accounts for weekends, holidays and pass days; an active-duty Airman has approximately 250 work days per year. My basic math combining an approximate 40% full-time force along with a 60% DSG force equates to just over 132 work days per year for the Air National Guard. How do we close this gap? How do we move forward as a unit and continue the growth necessary to be even more lethal while still supporting our domestic operations missions at home? We do it as a team. All statuses working to find solutions that perhaps have not been attempted before; maybe because it was always a ‘full-time thing’.
The purpose of the full-time force is to support the part-time force. It is to ensure the resources are ready and available so that when training opportunities present themselves, our Airmen are ready to tackle the challenge. Our team in the 169th Force Support Squadron is working hard to give ownership of programs to drill-status Airmen. We are asking our Airmen to identify a broken process or a forgotten program and work over a period of time to create a better process or bring a program back to good health. Will it take longer? Perhaps, but will it make us a better force? In my opinion, ABSOLUTELY!
The sense of accomplishment and commitment to my unit that I felt upon being able to implement a plan sticks with me today. It’s hard to think of all that I would have missed out on if I would have walked away. Seek out and create opportunities, take ownership of your piece of McEntire JNGB, and help leave it better than you found it. Semper Primus!