442nd Fighter Wing: Full-time force with part-time citizen Airmen

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Twenty years ago, the Air Force Reserve served the role of a strategic force held in reserve, ready to take over domestic active-duty Air Force functions in the time of a national crisis. Since the first Gulf War in 1991 however, this paradigm has changed drastically. 

Today, the Air Force Reserve, is now its own major command in the form of Air Force Reserve Command, has been transformed into an operational force that flies, fights and deploys worldwide on a daily basis - just like the regular Air Force. 

For example, here at Whiteman Air Force Base, we fly 10 to 20 A-10 sorties every day to maintain our combat capability. The days of the 442nd Fighter Wing as a part-time force are 20 years in the past. If you were to look at other AFRC units across the country, you would find the same thing - today's Air Force reservists participate far in excess than one weekend a month and two weeks a year. 

Of 1,300 reservists in the 442nd, 25 percent - or approximately 360 of us - work for the Air Force full-time as Air Reserve Technicians and on active duty. The rest of us work in communities just like your hometown as bankers, teachers, attorneys, doctors, police officers, firemen and any other occupation you can think of. 

So, how is the 442nd FW able to sustain a full-time combat capability with 75 percent of our people working for the Air Force part-time? 

The answer is summed up in one word: Experience. 

Since most of our members - 83 percent of us - have prior active-duty experience, this means we don't need to spend as much time training people to do their jobs or integrate into military life - the regular Air Force has already done that for us. 

Since we normally don't move due to a PCS, this means we have citizen Airmen who have been assigned to our unit, performing the same mission and working with the same people for any number of years - sometimes their whole careers. This builds unparalleled levels of unit cohesion and experience. It really does become like a large, extended family. 

We train to and maintain the same standards as a Regular Air Force A-10 unit - undergoing inspections and delivering the same combat capability. Coupled with our experience, our combat capability allows Air Force Reservists to integrate with and into any Air Force unit in the world. In fact, we have supported numerous operational and combat-support deployments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

There are currently seven active-duty pilots flying A-10s in the 442nd FW, so that they can benefit from our experience and take what they learn to Regular Air Force A-10 squadrons. There are even plans to form what is known as an "active associate unit" at Whiteman, with active duty pilots and maintainers working in the 442nd, flying and fixing reserve-owned A-10s alongside reservists. 

The associate concept is part of what is known as "Total Force Integration," (also known as TFI) - in other words, reservists and active-duty Airmen working side by side to accomplish the same mission. This term, TFI, does not however, define the 442nd FW's relationship with the 509th Bomb Wing, since the 442nd and 509th combat missions are not the same. That relationship is one of host and tenant, with the 442nd FW as a tenant on a base "owned" by the host 509th BW. 

This does not mean we can't integrate and work as a team, but the two flying missions are not the same. While the 442nd FW's A-10s are designed to take out a single tank on the battlefield, the 509th BW's B-2s are designed to take out the factory that makes the tanks (or the entire city where the enemy tanks are made). 

Where we can, and do, integrate with the 509th is where we have overlapping mission areas, such as civil engineers, logistics readiness, medical and other combat-support specialties that all Air Force wings have in common. 

In fact, many 442nd citizen Airmen have been mobilized to support the 509th BW right here at Whiteman AFB, taking time away from their civilian employers and their families to replace regular Airmen who have PCS'd or deployed. 

Our goal has always been that when an outside observer looks at the Airmen of Whiteman AFB, they can't tell an active-duty Airmen from a reservist or a Guardsman. What we want them to see is one seamless force, working every day to deliver unparalleled combat capability to America. 

I believe we have achieved that goal over the last 15 years since the 442nd moved from Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base near Kansas City. 

We didn't accomplish this goal on our own - we needed the support provided us by the 509th BW, as well as the local communities, for 15 years to successfully establish our wing at Whiteman AFB. In the end we are all Airmen, no matter which wing we work for - whether part-time or full-time - carrying out missions that, no matter how different, provide for our nation's security.