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NEWS | Oct. 27, 2006

Air Guard Recapitalization, Training on Command Chief's Mind

By Master Sgt. Bob Oldham 189th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

BISMARCK, Ark., - The Air National Guard is committed to the Air Force’s goals of winning the war on terror, taking care of Airmen and recapitalizing the Air Force, the Air Guard’s top enlisted leader said here in an interview Oct. 21.

The biggest difference is the organization is taking a different approach for recapitalization, said Chief Master Sgt. Richard Smith, the Air National Guard command chief master sergeant. The chief was in Arkansas to talk to the state’s senior Air Guard enlisted leaders, first sergeants, select senior and junior NCOs and Airmen at the 5th annual Enlisted Symposium.

While the Air Force plans to cut 40,000 jobs to save money and invest the savings in newer weapons systems, the Air Guard will stand pat at its Congressionally authorized106,800 Airmen. Instead, the Air Guard will trim $1.8 billion – an average of $300 million a year – from its fiscal year 2008 to 2013 budgets by slashing funding from other areas, such as flying hours.

“The Guard as we know it, five to 10 years from now, will not be the same,” the chief said.

Between Total Force Initiatives and base realignment and closure decisions, the Air National Guard will look vastly different than it does today. Old weapons systems will be gone. Some will be replaced by Predator operations, space and cyberspace missions, the new Joint Cargo Aircraft or the Joint Strike Fighter.

“The bottom line on our goal is to make sure that we have a strong Guard into the future, that those young men and women who join today that are setting at the recruiter’s office this very weekend have a 20- or 30-year opportunity for the same kind of careers that we did,” the chief said.

As missions begin to change for Air Guard units, funding for training is an issue near the top of the chief’s list because more Guard Airmen are going to require retraining. Formal school slots are already at a premium, and the chief said he wants to ensure Guardsmen receive ample school quotas – and dollars – to keep the force fully trained.

“I don’t get a warm, fuzzy answer when I talk to folks on the Air Staff about school dates,” Chief Smith said. “We know it’s there, we know it is coming. My concern is that as the Air Force downsizes, we have to make sure they don’t downsize so much that they can’t accommodate the surge the Guard and Reserve is going to have as we re-mission our force.”

As an example, the chief pointed to the Michigan Air National Guard. Selfridge Air National Guard Base is losing its F-16s and C-130s, and will receive tankers from the Air Force Reserve and A-10s from Battle Creek. Battle Creek doesn’t yet have a follow-on mission, the chief said, but he knows many of those drill-status Guardsmen might not move with their planes to Selfridge because their full-time civilian jobs are in and around the Battle Creek area. He said he expects a percentage won’t commute the four-hour drive, opting instead to retire or separate from the service.

The chief said that’s just one piece of the puzzle the Air Guard faces over the next few years, and something similar to his example will play out at about 60 Air Guard wings around the country.



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