Traditional-Fulltime Relationship in the Guard Directly Affects our Combat Capability

SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. -- Our legislators are rediscovering the value of the National Guard. In these fiscally constrained times, our cost-effective way of doing business is one of the primary reasons we were able to beat back the proposed cuts that would have eliminated A-10s at Selfridge. What makes us valuable is that we bring combat effectiveness equal to or greater than our active duty counterparts at a fraction of their cost. The only way this model works is to have a limited fulltime Guard cadre to maintain core responsibilities at the base, combined with willing and able traditional status Guard members to fill in the ranks when called to duty. On the surface it seems simple, but it takes a great effort and commitment from both fulltime and traditional guard members to make it work.

Over the last 20 years, I have had the pleasure to serve at Selfridge in the statuses of Technician, AGR (active Guard) and traditional Guard member, and for several years in each status. None of these roles are easy and there advantages and disadvantages to each. Because each status is different, we sometimes can experience an 'us versus them' feeling toward one another, which of course can degrade the morale, performance and combat effectiveness of our unit. If we can keep the mission at the forefront of our priorities, while recognizing the value of people and the roles they fill, we make our organization even more valuable to the tax payers of our State and Nation.

What are roles of the Fulltime and Traditional Status Guard members?

Our full time staff keeps up on the latest tactics, technical orders, instructions and policies. They have the arduous task of maintaining all the paperwork, reports and records that is unappreciated drudgery. The reporting, record keeping and general paperwork requirements typically come out of the active duty model which has many more full time Airmen to complete these tasks. Our full-timers can sometimes make this work more efficient and reduce the time required with the wisdom that comes from our experience, but sometimes they cannot. The work can also be relentless and thankless.

The tactics, technical orders, instructions and policies have to be absorbed, digested and the presented to the entire workforce. The training our full-time staff present traditional status Guardsmen must be highly efficient, as we have limited resources (pay days) for the traditional staff to be present.

Traditional status guardsmen must be mentally and physically prepared to receive instruction, or training, from the full-time staff. This may require reading instructional articles and e-mails from home even when we have a full time job and family pressing us for our time. It demands that we maintain a physical fitness level that allows us to quickly spin up and go to war. It mandates we commit more time to training when we receive new equipment or new mission requirements arise.

What is probably the most important attribute of our Traditional Guard members is a willingness to stand up when called to duty and then stand down when the mission is complete. A case in point was the Air Sovereignty Alert mission we maintained at Selfridge from September 11, 2001, until September 30, 2008. In that case, the clarity of purpose which came with attacks on our sovereign territory made it obvious that we needed to stand up and report for duty. We had recall rosters, but we didn't need them much as most knew their presence was needed at Selfridge. After seven years of working as a temporary AGR, however, many of us became accustomed to having full time jobs in the Air Sovereignty Alert business. Going back to our civilian jobs was not easy. It required retraining, if the company we left still existed, and lifestyle changes inducing very stressful times in our lives. We can't forget that one of the primary roles of the traditional Guard member is to stand down when the mission is complete, and that is not always easy.

Standing up is not always easy either. After deployments to two Northern Watch Operations, two trips to Iraq, two trips to Pakistan and a deployment to Afghanistan, my wife and civilian employers have largely had enough. But if I want to remain a viable Traditional Guard member, I have to be committed to volunteering to go again.

Neither the full-time nor the traditional status Guardsman role is easy. The full-timer maintains the stewardship of the castle, and must be humble, approachable and credible when bringing traditional guardsmen up to speed during training. The traditional status Airmen must effectively change gears from civilian to military, be ready to receive the knowledge and be willing to stand up when called. Both roles take a tremendous amount of work and commitment.

The National Guard is a tremendous value to our state and nation. We are not the active duty, and we don't want to be. We provide far more value. I've seen it in Kirkuk (Iraq) when we covered sorties the active duty couldn't, even though they weren't receiving incoming rockets almost daily like we were. I saw it in Balad (Iraq) when our older airframes and pilots had better bomb hit rates than two newer, younger active duty units flying side-by-side with us. I saw it in Kandahar (Afghanistan) when of a mixed bag of Air Guard, Reserve and Active Duty A-10 pilots all wanted to fly the 127th jets. It wasn't surprising though.

The bottom line is this: We fly them better, we fix them better, and everyone knows it. It only happens because of the experience and skills brought together by our effective fulltime / traditional status Guardsmen relationships.