63 Years of Air Force Reserve

  • Published
  • By Col. Karl McGregor
  • 452nd Air Mobility Wing Commander
On April 14, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed legislation formally establishing the Air Force Reserve as a separate organization. He envisioned a program whereby reservists would stand ready to serve as replacements for regular Air Force members during wartime. President Truman's vision of a force in reserve was a product of the way wars were fought at that time in history and, although the role of the Reserve has evolved over the past 63 years, it continues to be crucial in our response to global conflicts.

The World War I and II experiences suggested a holding action by a small, full-time force, a steady buildup of forces and then a major offensive. The Air Force Reserve concept was to provide a measure of semi-trained Airmen who could be fully prepared in a short period of time to help with this holding action.

This prevalent vision was almost immediately tested. In 1948, while still transitioning to their new aircraft, five Reserve C-124 Globemaster II units and 5,600 reservists were mobilized for a year to prosecute the Berlin Airlift. Two years later, when the Korean War erupted, the Air Force Reserve consisted of 315,800 non-drilling and 58,500 drilling members in 20 troop carrier wings flying C-46 Commandos and C-47 Skytrains (and later C-119 Flying Boxcars), as well as five light bombardment wings flying
B-26 Marauders.

Between 1950 and 1953, we mobilized nearly 147,000 reservists from one to three years to replace or fill out active duty units for the Korean War. During the 1950s, legislative changes established Reserve categories, strengthened readiness and training requirements, refined call-up procedures, added technicians to the units and enabled the President to mobilize portions of the Ready Reserve without advanced
congressional notification.

In 1962, we were called again during the Cuban Missile Crisis, with over 14,200 reservists and 422 aircraft, mostly C-119s, participating. Three years later, we supported the Vietnam War, though this time there were few mobilizations and the support was done utilizing volunteers, especially strategic airlift flying C-124s and C-141 Starlifters.
In the 1960s, the Air Force reorganized and the gaining commands became more responsible for the training and readiness of the Reserve units they would gain during mobilization. As Vietnam wound down, Air Force leadership looked to the future and found greater efficiency could be had by training reservists to the same standards as their active duty counterparts. Desiring more augmentation from the Reserve, but unable to procure enough aircraft for stand-alone units, the Air Force initiated the "associate program" where reservists trained on active duty owned aircraft.

Through the 1970s and 80s, we grew into a larger presence in strategic airlift, tactical airlift, special operations, rescue, weather recon, air refueling, fighter and mission support roles. In 1990, the Persian Gulf War marked a defining moment when Reserve tanker and airlift crews responded within days of the invasion and nearly 23,500 reservists were mobilized and another 15,000 volunteered. This includes many of you.
Since 1990, we have been on-line for every operation in a nonstop, 24/7 capacity that now defines steady state for our operations tempo. We are no longer that force in reserve, nor are we an augmenting entity. We are the operational frontline and participation expectations have increased dramatically. We train, are inspected and go to war at unprecedented levels and we do it all as reservists.

Daily, I am amazed by the constant stream of volunteers, those members who feel it is their duty to participate, to put themselves in harm's way or into relief efforts to make the world a better place to live.

The operations tempo we sustain is possible because our reservists heed the nation's call, their families support them in this important work and their employers generously allow them to participate. Just as in the beginning of the Air Force Reserve 63 years ago, we depend on all three legs of the Reserve duty-family-employer triad to succeed as we provide the Air Force with 20 percent of their capability with only four percent of their budget.