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Total force: The future is now

F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- Our new enemy, al-Qaida and other terror organizations, has brought about a change in the way we train, equip, deploy and fight wars. Perhaps the most notable change is the way in which we, the active duty, have teamed with the Guard and Reserve.

Previously, the active duty would be called upon to begin combat operations with the Guard and Reserves providing back-up or surge support. Once on the battle field there was no distinction between the reserve component and active duty members; their capabilities and missions were identical. Today, however, the Guard and Reserve forces of the U.S. military are no longer viewed as a "surge" or "stand-by" capability. Since Sept. 11, they have been continually deploying and fighting beside their active duty counterparts. If we deploy and fight together, why don't we work and train together?

The 30th Airlift Squadron is a perfect example of how the Air Force is changing its force structure to train as we fight. The 30th AS has completely integrated every facet of our operations with the guard: flying, maintaining, supporting and deploying. We now truly train like we fight ... as one team. By doing this, we have been able to capitalize on the strengths of both components: the full-time, taskable capability of the active duty and the experience, continuity and equipment of the Guard.

The 30th AS was activated July 1, 2006. It started with eight assigned members and nothing else -- we didn't even own a pencil. We needed to address everything from developing processes to approve permissive temporary duty assignments and inprocess with finance, to purchasing furniture and carving out space in fully-occupied offices. Positions had to be developed to run squadron operations and maintenance. Training had to be developed to qualify everyone on new equipment. Active duty personnel were integrated into what had traditionally been Guard-only positions.

Creation of an active-duty and guard association was something that had never been done before; there were no models or examples to follow. We used our expertise, and sometimes our ingenuity, to make sure our goals were accomplished. In just three months main-body squadron members began to arrive. The primary focus at this time was on developing relationships -- both personal and professional. The Guard prides itself on operating like a big family. As active duty members, we had to demonstrate that we could fit into this type of organization; we weren't coming to take over or change Guard culture. Only eight months after activation, there were 137 members in the 30th AS and we were deploying Airmen and equipment in support of the global war on terrorism. The challenges, successes and failures are too numerous to mention, but overall this venture has been a resounding success, providing a capability to the warfighter that has never been available before. The 30th AS integration isn't limited to the Wyoming Air National Guard in Cheyenne. The squadron was developed to augment other deployed squadrons, providing them relief from deployment requirements.

While deployed, mission comes first. We perform hub-and-spoke airlift -- our home base is the 'hub' and we distribute cargo to all outlying bases and camps in Iraq. Other missions include aeromedical evacuation, human remains repatriation, prisoner and detainee movement, night vision goggle operations, top cover radio relay coverage, special operations airlift and adverse weather precision airdrops. Every 30th AS crew is qualified to perform each of these missions. Each crew flies about 15 missions a month. Each mission lasts around 12 hours flying into three to eight different locations. Following pre-mission briefings and performing preflight requirements, the aircrew don their individual body armor, helmets and weapons and take to the not-so-friendly-skies of Iraq. These great warriors have amassed an impressive delivery and safety record. The 30th AS has integrated into the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron which has flown, since January 1, 2007, over 6,600 sorties, moved 56,025 passengers and delivered over 13,250 tons of cargo. In terms of convoy reduction, they have kept 1,632 trucks and 42,240 people off the dangerous Iraqi roads.

The 30th Airlift Squadron is the beginning of Air Force's force structure change. Three new integrated squadrons are being established in Florida, North Carolina, and Washington state. It appears that in the not-so-distant future, all guard and reserve organizations will be integrated with active duty units, providing a tremendous additional capability in our battle against terrorism.