RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – For decades, the military service of National Guard and Reserve members was characterized by the slogan, "One weekend a month, two weeks a year."
While the minimum service requirement remains 12 drill weekends and a 10- to 14-day training period annually, this is not necessarily the experience of Guard members and Reservists today. Take, for instance, the Michigan National Guard. As of March, it has had members continually aiding the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic for more than a year.
Besides domestic activations for crises like COVID-19, opportunities exist for reserve-component members to step up in a multitude of other functions.
U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Brad Seymour, a member of the Michigan Air National Guard's 110th Wing, has been activated for multiple tours at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, supporting Air Forces (AFFOR) staff functions at Headquarters U.S. Air Forces Europe – Air Forces Africa. Seymour has had the rare experience of spending nearly a decade overseas as a member of the Michigan Air National Guard.
"The nice thing about being in the Guard is the flexibility," he said. "I have the ability to work the minimum time required by my unit, or I can volunteer to serve and be employed almost full time."
Seymour is a native Michigander who enlisted on active duty in 1994 as an aeronautical repair and reclamation technician for B-1 bombers. He later served as a flight engineer on C-5 cargo planes in the Reserves before switching in 2011 to the Air National Guard in his home state. Seymour expected to spend less time in uniform as he began pursuing a civilian career as a registered nurse.
That changed when Seymour's unit, the 217th Air Operations Group, was offered an opportunity to go to Germany. The 217th AOG is a component of the 110th Wing also based at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, with a rare mission to provide reserve-component augmentation for USAFE-AFAFRICA's 603d Air Operations Center. The 603d AOC provides plans, directs and assesses operational-level command and control of integrated air, space and cyber power in support of two combatant commands: U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM).
Working within the 603d AOC operations planning staff, Seymour learned how short- and long-term plans are developed and executed at the combatant-command level. It opened his eyes to the impact one person can make when shaping big-picture outcomes.
After that first tour, he wanted to come back.
"It was great to work with people at all levels – civilian, military and our European partners," Seymour said. "Being here gave me a really good opportunity to contribute to our mission in Europe and in Africa."
Since then, Seymour's experience at USAFE-AFAFRICA has delivered beyond expectation. He has returned to Ramstein for multiple tours, sometimes serving in different capacities including high-visibility innovation projects, support for operations in Libya, and planning processes during the Ebola crisis in Africa. He now works as a technician under the chief of combat operations to integrate multiple data streams to monitor aircraft flying in Europe and Africa. He also curates the daily flying schedule for the AOC and coordinates with USAFE-AFAFRICA staff to prepare the four-star commander's daily operations and intelligence brief.
"I think it's all about having that experience and developing those relationships; that's what helps to effectively move information where it needs to go quickly," he said. "I'm comfortable with many different jobs, which allows me to contribute in many roles depending on what USAFE-AFAFRICA needs."
In between tours at Ramstein, Seymour completed a nursing degree and maintains his RN credentials on a medical-surgical unit at a Michigan hospital and hospice care home. Like many National Guard members, he brings the perspective of a completely different technical skill set when innovative solutions are needed. Seymour is quick to point out that while nursing and air operations planning may seem like divergent worlds, they are not so different in practice.
"Both jobs require creativity, communication, problem-solving and quick execution, so being here at the AOC helps me to perform better at the hospital, and vice versa," he said.
Armed with these tools, the opportunity to make a difference – and the gratification that follows – is what motivates Seymour to continue serving after nearly 30 years.
"It's been so interesting and rewarding working here," Seymour said of his experience at USAFE-AFAFRICA. "I plan to stay another two years if I'm able."