Although the Air National Guard was not established as a separate reserve component of the U.S. Air Force until 18 September 1947, National Guard aviators have played significant roles in all of America's wars and most of its major contingencies since the First World War era. They have also aided their states in coping with natural disasters and civil unrest since the mid 1920s.
In November 1915, Captain Raynal Cawthorne Bolling organized and took command of a unit that became the 1st Aero Company, New York National Guard. It is recognized as the ANG's oldest unit and its lineage is carried by the 102d Rescue Squadron, New York ANG. On 13 July 1916, the 1st Aero Company mobilized during the border crisis with Mexico. It trained at Mineola Field, New York. Bolling's unit was joined at Mineola by the 2nd Aero Company of Buffalo and 12 Guard officers from other states. Both air units remained at Mineola during the crisis.
After the war, National Guard aviation was placed on a permanent basis over the initial opposition of the Army's General Staff. During the interwar period, 29 Guard observation squadrons were formed. Their pilots, including Captain Charles A. Lindbergh of Missouri's 110th Observation Squadron, concentrated on honing flying skills and supporting ground forces training. Guard airmen also participated in state missions. For instance, Arkansas' 154th Observation Squadron flew some 20,000 miles carrying supplies and relief workers during the floods that ravaged that state in 1927.
Bolling's experience at Mineola convinced him that aviation would never succeed in the National Guard. Probably because of his recommendations, the War Department decided that it would not mobilize Guard air units during World War I. Instead, individual Guard volunteers provided a major pool for the Army to draw aviators from. They were required to leave the Guard and enter the Signal Corps Reserve if they wished to fly in the war. Some former Guardsmen, including Colonel Bolling and Major Reuben Fleet of Washington state, occupied senior Air Service positions. Guardsmen also played prominent roles in air operations in France. On 14 April 1918, Tennessee Guardsman Reed Chambers flew with Eddie Rickenbacker and David Peterson of the 94th Pursuit Squadron from Villeneuve, France on the first combat mission ever ordered by an American commander of a U.S. squadron of American pilots. At least four Guardsmen -- Chambers, Field Kindley (Kansas), Reed Landis (Illinois), and Martinus Stenseth (Minnesota) -- became aces. 2d Lieutenant Erwin R. Bleckley of Kansas was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroism as an aerial observer.
During 1940-1941, approximately 4,800 experienced National Guard aviation personnel were mobilized from their observation squadrons. They provided a significant augmentation of the Army's rapidly expanding air arm during a critical period.
Most Guard air units were stripped of many key personnel. They were re-equipped with more modem aircraft. Some of the early-deploying squadrons maintained a degree of unit integrity and cohesion. But, most lost their character and identity as Guard organizations. Before V-J Day, the Army Air Forces disbanded or inactivated nine of those units. The surviving units were transformed from observation organizations into reconnaissance, liaison, fighter, and bombardment squadrons. They served in every major combat theater during the war. The most significant wartime contribution of National Guard aviators was to train and lead the large numbers of volunteer airmen who had entered the AAF during World War II. That role was epitomized by Lt Col Addison E. Baker, a Guardsman from Akron, Ohio. On 1 August 1943, Baker commanded the AAF's 93rd Heavy Bombardment Group on a daring but ill-fated low-level attack against enemy oil refineries at Ploesti, Rumania. Baker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic leadership.
The Korean War was a turning point for the Air Guard. Some 45,000 Air Guardsmen, 80 percent of the force, were mobilized. That callup exposed the weaknesses of all U.S. military reserve programs, including the ANG. Sixty-six of the Air Guard's ninety-two flying squadrons, along with numerous support units, were mobilized. Once in federal service, they proved to be unprepared for combat. Many key Air Guardsmen were used as fillers elsewhere in the Air Force. It took three to six months for some ANG units to become combat ready. Some never did. Eventually, they made substantial contributions to the war effort and the Air Force's global buildup. In the Far East, the ANG's 136th and 116th fighter Bomber Wings compiled excellent combat records flying F-84s. Air Guardsmen flew 39,530 combat sorties and destroyed 39 enemy aircraft. But, 101 of them were either killed or declared missing in action during the conflict. Four Air Guardsmen -- Captains Robert Love (California), Clifford Jolley (Utah), and Robinson Risner (Oklahoma), plus Major James Hagerstrom (Texas) -- became aces. Largely as a result of the Korean War experience, senior ANG and Air Force leaders became seriously committed to building the Air Guard as an effective reserve component.
On l7 April 1961, a force of Cuban exiles, trained and equipped by the Central Intelligence Agency, invaded their homeland at the Bay of Pigs. Eighty Air Guardsmen, serving as civilian volunteers, trained the exiles to fly old B-26 bombers and transports. The Guardsmen volunteered for combat missions after the exiles lost two B-26s on D-Day.
On 30 August 1961, President John F. Kennedy had ordered 148,000 Guardsmen and Reservists to active duty in response to Soviet moves to cut off allied access to Berlin. The Air Guard's share of that mobilization was 21,067 individuals. ANG units mobilized in October included 18 tactical fighter squadrons, 4 tactical reconnaissance squadrons, 6 air transport squadrons, and a tactical control group. On 1 November; the Air Force mobilized three more ANG fighter interceptor squadrons. In late October and early November, eight of the tactical fighter units flew to Europe with their 216 aircraft in operation "Stair Step," the largest jet deployment in the Air Guard's history. Because of their short range, 60 Air Guard F-104 interceptors were airlifted to Europe in late November. The United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) lacked spare parts needed for the ANG's aging F-84s and F-86s. Some units had been trained to deliver tactical nuclear weapons, not conventional bombs and bullets. They had to be retrained for conventional missions once they arrived on the continent. The majority of mobilized Air Guardsmen remained in the U.S.
The Air Guard played a limited role in the most dangerous Soviet-American confrontation of the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis October-November 1962. Although some of its units were alerted for a possible recall, none were mobilized. The air defense alert commitment of Air Guard interceptors in Puerto Rico was expanded from 14 to 24-hours a day. Volunteer aircrews from Air Guard heavy transport units flew 28 special airlift missions overseas during the crisis. Air Force bombers and interceptors were dispersed to ANG installations.
President Lyndon B. Johnson dispatched U.S. troops to the Dominican Republic on 28 April 1965 to evacuate Americans and protect their property during a civil war in that nation. The following month he announced that there were 14,000 U.S. troops on the island to prevent communists from taking over the government. Volunteers from ANG transport units and Oklahoma's "Talking Bird" flying command post participated in the operation.
On 23 January 1968, the North Koreans seized the American spy ship, U.S.S. Pueblo. President Johnson ordered a limited reserve mobilization. Next, the communists' Tet offensive in South Vietnam in February 1968 stretched American military resources thinner. The President ordered another small mobilization. In response to the first presidential order, the ANG mobilized 9,343 personnel on 25 January 1968. Within 36 hours, approximately 95 percent of the Air Guardsmen had reported to their units. Those included eight tactical fighter groups, three tactical reconnaissance groups and three wing headquarters. The fighter units, which had been beneficiaries of additional resources under the "Combat Beef" program, were rated combat ready when called into federal service. Primarily because of equipment shortages, the reconnaissance units took about a month to prepare themselves for overseas service. The President mobilized and additional 1,333 Air Guardsmen on 13 May. ANG units mobilized in May included two tactical fighter groups and a medical evacuation unit. The former, equipped with F-86Hs, were sent to Cannon AFB, New Mexico to train Air Force pilots as forward air controllers and combat crewmen. The latter transported military patients in the continental U.S. and the Caribbean
On 3 May, F-100s from the 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron (Colorado) arrived at Phan Rang Air Base. By 1 June, all of the l20th's pilots were flying combat missions. In the meantime, the 174th (Iowa), 188th (New Mexico), and the 136th (New York) had all deployed to Vietnam with their F-100s. In addition, 85 percent of the 355th Tactical Fighter Squadron -- on paper a regular Air Force unit -- were Air Guardsmen. The Air Guard units were quickly and effectively integrated into Air Force combat operations in Southeast Asia (SEA). Prior to their return home in April 1969, they flew 24,124 sortie and 38,614 combat hours. Those numbers rose to approximately 30,000 sorties and 50,000 combat hours if the predominantly Air Guard 355th was included. Two ANG fighter squadrons and their F-100Cs were dispatched to Korea in the summer of 1968 to replace the Air Force units that had been rushed there during the Pueblo crisis. The 166th (Ohio) and the 127th (Kansas) were formed into the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing. Except for the two flying squadrons, the wing consisted of individual Guardmembers and Air Force Reservists from other units. Once the Pueblo's crew was returned, the Air Guardsmen returned to the U.S. and left federal service shortly thereafter.
The 123rd TRW experienced a difficult tour of active duty. The wing and its four units -- the 123rd Tactical Reconnaissance Group (Kentucky), 189th Tactical Reconnaissance Group (TRG) (Arkansas), 152nd TRG (Reno), and the 123rd Reconnaissance Technical Squadron (RTS) (Arkansas) -- had not been rated combat-ready when mobilized on 26 January 1968 primarily due to equipment shortages. The l23rd's RF-101s began functioning as the primary Air Force tactical reconnaissance platforms in the continental U.S. Elements of its squadrons rotated temporary duty assignments in Japan and Korea from July 1968 until April 1969 providing photo reconnaissance support to American forces in those areas.
Air Guard volunteers also supported Air Force operations in Southeast Asia. The first sizable ANG airlift involvement began in 1965. They flew regularly to SEA until 1972. Between August 1965 and September, Air Guard domestic and offshore aeromedical evacuation flights freed active duty Air Force resources for such missions in SEA. In July 1970, two EC-121 "Super Constellations" from Pennsylvania's 193rd Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron departed their home station for Korat, Thailand. During the next six months, about 60 Guardsmen were rotated through the latter installation on 30 to 60 day tours in Operation "Commando Buzz," Their aircraft served as flying radar stations and airborne control platforms for U.S. air operations in SEA until January 1971.
Operation Just Cause was mounted from 20 December 1989 to 11 January 1990 to expel Manuel Noriega the dictator of Panama and to install the democratically-elected president. ANG units participated in the operation because of their regularly scheduled presence in Panama for Operations CORONET COVE and VOLANT OAK. Only Pennsylvania's 193d Special Operations Group (SOG) was part of the integral planning process by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Air Staff for the invasion of Panama. The 105th Military Airlift Group (MAG) and the 172 MAG provided airlift support for the operation. They flew 35 missions, completed 138 sorties, moved 1,911 passengers and 1,404.7 tons of cargo which expended 434.6 flying hours. ANG VOLANT OAK C-130 aircrews flew 22 missions, completed 181 sorties, moved 3,107 passengers and 551.3 tons of cargo, which expended 140.1 flying hours. The ANG CORONET COVE units, the 114th TFG and the 18Oth TFG flew 34 missions, completed 34 sorties, expended 71.7 flying hours and expended 2,715 rounds of ordnance.
On 2 August 1990, Iraq seized its tiny oil-rich neighbor Kuwait. President George Bush rushed American military forces to the region and assembled a broad international coalition against the Iraqis. Altogether, 12,404 Air Guardsmen entered federal service during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Of that number, 5,240 deployed to Southwest Asia while another 6,264 served in the continental U.S. The remaining 900 were assigned to Europe and other overseas locations. Initially, Guard volunteers had concentrated on airlifting as well as flying air refueling, reconnaissance, tactical airlift, and special operations missions. More than 8,000 Air Guardsmen entered active duty as volunteers during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Altogether, 10,456 Air Guardsmen were mobilized for active duty during the Persian Gulf crisis including 1,160 in fighter and reconnaissance units. It was the first time in the ANG's history that the majority mobilized personnel had not been members of combat flying units. Moreover, the majority of mobilized Air Guardsmen had not been members of any type of flying unit at all. Instead, they were members of mission support units.
Unlike most previous mobilizations, ANG units had not required additional training or new equipment when called upon during the Persian Gulf crisis. Although the ANG in effect had to reinvent itself through an unprecedented level of volunteerism and tailored packages as Desert Shield unfolded, its units entered federal service and were rapidly deployed where needed. ANG RF-4C aircraft flew 1,045 tactical reconnaissance missions including 350 in combat. Air Guard fighters participated in the air campaign from the first day. By the time the war ended, its F-16s had flown 3,645 missions and dropped 3,500 tons of ordnance without losing a single aircraft to enemy fire. In the special operations arena, Air Guard EC-130s had flown approximately 2,000 missions lasting some 8,000 hours. They broadcast surrender appeals and instructions to Iraqi soldiers. The Air Guard's largest contributions as gauged by the numbers of personnel involved, were concentrated in a wide range of support missions. The Guard's aerial tankers pumped over 250 million pounds of fuel into more than 18,000 aircraft. Its airlifters flew some 40,000 hours, transporting 55,000 people and 115,000 tons of cargo.
After Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the Air Guard continued to adjust to the realities of the post Cold War era and began to posture itself for the 21st century. That meant coping with a higher operations tempo using packages of volunteers to augment the active force in a series of contingency and humanitarian relief operations overseas, a continued shift from a predominant fighter force to a more balanced one that included both fighters and a significant increase in the numbers of larger aircraft. The Air Guard completed the process of taking over 1st Air Force from the active force with its air defense and air sovereignty missions on 1 October 1997. It also gained a toehold in space missions after years of effort and assumed total responsibility for airlift support of the National Science Foundation in Antarctica from the Navy. In addition, it reorganized its headquarters organization within the National Guard Bureau and the Air National Guard Readiness Center as well as units and launched an ambitious staff integration program with the active force.
At the end of fiscal year (FY) 1997, the Air Guard had 110,025 assigned military personnel. That represented a modest decrease from its FY 1994 end strength of 113,587. Of those totals, 33,422 (22,862 civil service technicians and 10,560 Active Guard/Reserve (AGR) members) were full-time support personnel as of 30 September 1997. Those numbers represented a slight increase from the 32,616 (23,304 technicians and 9,312 AGRs) full-time personnel on the ANG's rolls at the end of FY 1994. Technicians were federal civil servants, administered by the states, who were also military members of their Guard units. AGRs were Guardsmen who were full-time military members of their units.
The vast majority of the Air Guard's personnel, money, and equipment was concentrated in its flying units. They operated primarily from civilian airports and other installations outside active duty military bases as they had since the end of World War II. The Air Guard's equipment inventory included 1,162 PAA as of 30 September 1997 - a significant reduction from the 1,505 PAA in its inventory six years earlier. During that period, the composition of the ANG's aircraft inventory had changed significantly. Following a trend that had begun in 1955 when the Air Guard had acquired its first four airlift-type units, it had changed from a predominantly fighter-attack-reconnaissance (FAR) force to one whose units were almost evenly balanced between FAR and large aircraft. The latter included airlifters, tankers, and heavy bombers. The Air Guard's fighter wing equivalents (FWE) were reduced in FY 1995 from 8.5 to 6 consistent with the Defense Guidance that sized the total Air Force at 20 FWE (13 active duty, 6 ANG, and 1 Air Force Reserve). Heavy bombers entered the Air Guard's inventory for the first time in 1994 with a total of 14 B-1Bs programmed by the end of fiscal year FY 1997 for two units, the 184th Bomb Wing (BW), Kansas, and the 116th BW, Georgia. The 184th completed its conversion in FY 1996 at McConnell Air Force Base (AFB), Kansas. After a long political struggle that involved resisting the planned conversion from F-15s and an associated move from Dobbins AFB near Atlanta to Robins AFB near Macon, the 116th began its conversion on 1 April 1996. The unit completed that process in December 1998. All the bombers in both units were configured for conventional, not nuclear, missions.
In the early 1990s, the ANG's senior Pentagon leadership had begun the process of reshaping their reserve component for the post Cold War era. In a series of give-and-take discussions with senior Air Force leaders, ANG long range planners, and the states, they had developed a strategic vision for the future. It was unveiled during the fall of 1992 by senior Air Force and Air Guard leaders. In particular, Major Generals Philip G. Killey [ANG Director, November 1988 to January 1994] and Donald W. Shepperd [ANG Director, January 1994 to January 1998] stressed that the ANG could not avoid the far-reaching changes sweeping through the U.S. armed forces. While downsizing active force flying units, the Air Force wanted to try to retain all ANG (and Air Force Reserve) flying units as a cost-effective way to maintain force structure.
But, the ANG's core fighter force was bound to shrink dramatically as the USAF reduced to 22 or less tactical FWE. To preserve its flying units, the ANG would aggressively seek alternative missions for some, reduce their number of assigned aircraft, combine units at the same location, and, as a last resort, close down units. Airlift, tankers, and bombers appeared to offer some opportunities for growth in the Air Guard. Furthermore, the senior leadership would aggressively seek out new missions like space for some of the Air Guard's non-flying units. They predicted that the Guard's assigned personnel strength, which was approximately 118,000 in 1992, would shrink significantly. They doubted that it would not go below 100,000 even in a worst case scenario. During that restructuring, it was essential that the ANG maintain a high level of readiness. They also stressed that it was also essential that the Air Guard accomplish those changes in a cooperative manner with the Air Force. The ANG depended on a healthy Air Force and could not afford to get into a fight with the latter over controlling a larger share of diminishing post Cold War defense resources.
The Air Guard's continued ability to provide properly equipped units also depended heavily on equipment modernization. Although it normally relied on the fall-out from the active force, Congressional support played an important role. Due to lobbying by the Mississippi congressional delegation, the Air Force announced that it would equip the 172nd AW with C-17s. Original Air Force plans to equip 2 ANG squadrons with those aircraft had been dropped when the C-17 buy was cut back drastically in the early 1990s. Through a separately-funded Guard and Reserve Equipment Account (GREA) established by the Congress in 1982, significant numbers of new C-130s had been purchased for the ANG in recent years. With its airlift fleet increasingly called upon to operate regularly in dangerous areas around the world, the ANG supported Air Force efforts to equip those aircraft with defensive systems. Congressional initiatives had also enabled the ANG to complete the replacement of 1950s vintage C-130B models with modern C-130 H aircraft. The ANG and the Air Force were also working closely to develop unit training devices for F-15 and F-16 units. That low cost device relied upon off-the-shelf equipment that replaced existing simulators that were 20 to 30 times more expensive. For night operations, the ANG was working with ACC to test low cost, off-the-shelf equipment that would allow its A-10s, F-15s, and F-16s to be more effective night fighters. The first step was to upgrade its A-10 fleet. In 1995, the 104th Fighter Wing of Massachusetts became the first ANG to use night vision goggles in combat. During March 1995, the Air Guard also began to develop a manned tactical reconnaissance capability to replace RF-4Cs that were being retired from its aircraft inventory. The 192nd Fighter Wing in Virginia developed the concept and established an initial operational capability with four F-16s, four reconnaissance pods, and 12 trained pilots. The new equipment, based upon modern digital technology, replaced older, manpower-intensive, wet film technology.
As early as February 1988, ANG senior leaders and long range planners began discussing ways to involve the Guard in military space missions. The "1990 Air National Guard Long Range Plan" urged the Guard to actively pursue support and operational roles in space. That interest was sparked by a determination to diversify the ANG's fighter-oriented force structure and gain a foothold in emerging missions in the waning years of the Cold War. Senior leaders and planners were convinced that Air Guardsmen could bring valuable skills to the space mission but it would be very difficult to convince the active force that space provided appropriate opportunities for the ANG. That proved to be an understatement.
The Air Guard identified 11 possible space missions for further review in October 1991. Detailed concept papers were put together for each of them. But, initial discussions with Air Staff and Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) went nowhere. Congress set the stage for progress in the FY 1993 Department of Defense Appropriations Report when it directed the Air Guard to establish a Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C3I) planning office by 1 January 1993 headed by a colonel to investigate potential ANG missions in those areas including space. Consequently, the Air Guard established a three-person C3I Long Range Planning Office (LRPO) within the NGB in January 1993. That office was placed administratively under the Air Directorate's Operations, Plans, and Programs organization in October 1993. The Air Guard also added an advisor to the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) staff in early 1993 to handle space issues.
The Air Guard launched a "full-court press" to educate as many Air Force space specialists as possible about the Guard and its potential. The ANG vigorously pursued space missions. It was prepared to provide some personnel offsets but the Air Force would have to transfer the operations and maintenance funding. The Guard was especially interested in three missions. The first was a mobile command and control system which served as the CINC's "Looking Glass" in the event of a nuclear crisis because he did not have an airplane. It was a mobility mission that required a big staff and cost lots of money to maintain for war but hardly ever deployed in peacetime. The second was a space warning squadron at Holloman AFB, New Mexico that had a survival and missile warning mission in the event of a nuclear attack. The third mission involved operating two Pave Paws ballistic missile early warning radar sites.
On 30 June 1995, the Air Force publicly announced force structure changes that resulted in the creation of the Air Guard's first space unit [and would be devoted to the space warning mission]. The 138th Air Control Squadron and the 154th Air Control Group, Colorado ANG, were going to be inactivated late in the year. That involved almost 280 people. The 4th Space Warning Squadron's mission would transfer from the Air Force to the ANG. Its basic mission would be to go out in the event of a nuclear war or other crisis and keep the national command authority informed of missile activity worldwide.
The unit was activated as the 137th Space Warning Squadron, Colorado ANG, on 21 January 1996 at Greeley, Colorado after gaining federal recognition on 1 October 1995. It consisted of 6 separate flights that could survive as independent deployable units for up to 60 days. It was to be manned 45 percent with full-timers primarily because of the intense maintenance on its equipment. By the end of CY 1997, approximately 60 percent of the unit consisted of full-timers due to the high operations tempo associated with around-the-clock operations.
Maintaining the air defense and air sovereignty of the CONUS were federal missions accomplished by 1st Air Force, a numbered air force (NAF) assigned to the ACC. In 1994, the Air Guard had begun taking over 1st Air Force which provided the command and control mechanisms for providing the air defense and air sovereignty of the continental United States. The original conversations proposing that transition had taken place between Maj. Gen. Killey, then ANG Director, and Gen. Robert D. Russ, then Tactical Air Command Commander, during 1990-1991. General Russ, a strong supporter of the Air Guard, had originated the dialogue. He had noted that all the fighter interceptor squadrons defending the CONUS by that time were ANG units. Defense of the homeland had seemed a natural fit for the Guard. The Air Force had wanted to transfer responsibility for resourcing that mission to the ANG primarily for two reasons. First, it had needed to reduce its own end strength because of post Cold War downsizing. Second, it had thought that the ANG was in a better position to politically defend that mission which had been coming under increasing attack as expensive and unnecessary.
For their part, Air Guard senior leaders wanted to maintain as much of its fighter interceptor force structure as possible. Moreover, they needed to find new missions for much of its combat communications and tactical air control units which faced dramatic drawdowns in the early 1990s. The BRAC report of March 1993 gave the transfer proposal additional impetus. It directed the Air Force to either move the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) from Griffiss AFB, New York or give it to the ANG. Since ACC did not want to move it and was unable to consolidate it with another sector, transfer to the ANG appeared to be a logical choice. Following discussions between General Killey and senior Air Force leadership, agreement was reached to transfer the entire responsibility for 1st Air Force to the ANG. In September 1993, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin approved the transfer.
On 28 January 1994, General Killey, who had just stepped down as Air Guard Director, assumed command of 1st Air Force as directed by General Merrill A. McPeak Air Force Chief of Staff. With that action, the main impetus for completing the transition to Air Guard control shifted to Tyndall AFB, Florida from the NGB, the Air Staff, NORAD, and Headquarters, ACC. However, the transfer was also intended to place the Chief of the NGB and the ANG Director in partnership with the Commander, 1st Air Force to assist the transition. Throughout the conversion process, all affected units had to maintain combat ready status.
On 1 December 1994, Headquarters NEADS was redesignated Headquarters Northeast Air Defense Sector (ANG). During FY 1995, Air Force leadership directed the acceleration of the transfer process and won approval from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs to hire an additional 182 AGR personnel to help accomplish that. In October 1995, the Southeast Air Defense Squadron and the Western Air Defense Squadron were constituted and allotted to the NGB.
Command relationships for 1st Air Force were relatively complicated by traditional Air Guard standards. The NAF came under ACC. As the force provider to NORAD, ACC was responsible for providing organized, trained, and equipped units that maintained the air defense and air sovereignty for the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONAR). The NGB was responsible for ensuring that 1st Air Force was properly resourced, particularly its operations and maintenance as well as its military personnel budgets. ACC remained responsible for major systems acquisition including modernization of the NAF's sector and regional operations centers. NORAD continued as the war-fighting command that 1st Air Force was responsible to in the execution of its operational missions.
All of this was further complicated by the fact that most 1st Air Force personnel were Guardsmen who remained in state status (Title 32, U.S. Code) while organizing, training, and equipping for their federal missions. They automatically converted to federal status (Title 10, U.S. Code) when actually conducting federal missions such as doing intercepts of unidentified aircraft entering U.S. air space because air defense and air sovereignty remained federal, not National Guard, missions. Likewise, certain officers including the ROC/SOC commanders always remained in Title 10 status to insure an unbroken federal chain of command.
The size and composition of 1st Air Force's flying unit force structure continued to be a major issue during the transition. Over recent decades, the air defense interceptor force defending North America had been dramatically reduced from a high of 2,600 dedicated aircraft (including the Royal Canadian Air Force) in 1958. It had shrunk to 20 ANG fighters at 10 alert locations for CONAR by February 1996. However, 1st Air Force continued to face strong budgetary pressures to either eliminate or dramatically reduce dedicated ANG fighter interceptor units for the air defense and air sovereignty.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense rejected efforts to include language in the FY 1996 and FY 1997 Defense Program Guidance to include air sovereignty and air defense as a stated mission and to program resources for them. In 1996, the General Accounting Office (GAO) criticized the Air Guard for continuing to maintain 150 fighters in 10 dedicated air defense units to defend the United States against invading enemy bombers at a cost of nearly $500 million annually nearly a half-decade after the Soviet Union's demise.
The GAO urged that the 10 ANG units be either disbanded or given other missions. That criticism was well established in Washington, D.C. Gen. Colin Powell, while JCS Chairman, had advocated an end to dedicated continental air defense force in 1993 as had the GAO a year later. Both had suggested that general-purpose fighter forces of the Air Force, Navy and Marines -- active duty and reserve components -- could accomplish the mission.
By the end of FY 1997, the ANG had assumed total responsibility for all of 1st Air Force including its three Regional Operational Control Centers and its Sector Operations Control Center as well as its NAF headquarters. The transition to the Air Guard was officially complete. Air Guardsmen had accomplished that unprecedented transition while retaining high readiness levels throughout the process. It represented a major change in the Air Guard's historic role, executing the command and control function for a full-time Air Force mission. But, 1st Air Force faced a difficult balancing act and an uncertain future. Continuing pressures to balance the federal budget and the absence of an international peer competitor suggested that the very survival of 1st Air Force, especially its dedicated fighter-interceptor force, would remain an issue. General Killey turned over responsibility for dealing with such questions when he relinquished command of 1st Air Force to Brig Gen Larry K. Arnold upon his retirement from active duty at Tyndall AFB, Florida effective 18 December 1997.
In addition to space and 1st Air Force, another mission which the Air Guard agreed to take on was providing airlift support for the National Science Foundation's (NSF) activities in Antarctica. In early 1996, the National Guard announced that the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton ANGB in Scotia, New York was slated to assume that entire mission from the U.S. Navy in 1999. The 109th, which operated ski-equipped LC-130s, had been flying some NSF support missions to Antarctica since 1988. It had flown scientific and military missions to Greenland and the Arctic since 1975. The Antarctic operation would be fully funded by the NSF. The 109th expected to add approximately 235 full-time personnel to support that operation.
The possibility of the ANG taking over the mission had first emerged in 1988. The 109th had been notified that, almost overnight, one of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line radar sites that it supported in Greenland was going to be shut down. The other sites would soon follow and the 109th would be largely out of business because it main mission had ended. The unit had been informally keeping tabs on Navy LC-130 operations supporting the NSF in Antarctica. Because its aircraft were older than the Guard's and several of them were entering an extensive period of depot maintenance, the Navy asked if the 109th could provide a limited emergency search and rescue (SAR) capability for two years to support Operation Deep Freeze. The Air Guard accepted. At that time, it had no thought of taking over the mission. The 109th believed that it was senseless for its aircraft to deploy to the Antarctic and just wait to conduct emergency SAR missions so it asked the Navy if it could help carry cargo to the South Pole. The latter resisted at first because its procedures and cargo configurations differed from those of the Air Guard. But, eventually it relented. The main mission of the Navy and ANG C-130s was to airlift fuel and supplies to the NSF's South Pole Station so that its personnel could survive in isolation during the long Antarctic winter which lasted from February to October.
An ANG working group had been formed to study the idea in 1990. The following year, a dialogue between the ANG, the Air Staff, and the Navy began. Among other issues, it was difficult at first for the Air Guard to convince the Air Staff to commit long term resources to an area of the world that had not been declared a warfighting region because of international treaties. The Air Guard had supported military operations in Greenland and the Arctic (including classified Navy operations) since the mid-1970s with the ski-equipped C-130s of the 109th AW. It convinced Headquarters, U.S. Air Force that it was not in the nation's best interest to abandon the capability to achieve quick and reliable air access to both polar regions. In March 1993, the Navy hosted a two-day workshop with representatives of the NSF, Air Guard, and other interested parties to explore logistics support options for the operation. A draft concept of operations had been prepared by the Air Directorate of the NGB in 1993. In February 1996, a commitment was made to transfer the mission, known as "Operation Deep Freeze," and all LC-130 aircraft operated within the DoD to the ANG. In September 1996, senior officers from the 109th AW briefed the NGB on their concept of operations and the status of their preparations to implement "Operation Deep Freeze."
Under the transition plan which they had developed, the ANG would continue to augment the Navy during the October 1996-March 1997 operating season for the U.S. Antarctic Program. At the end of the October 1997-March 1998 season, the ANG would assume command of the program. During the third year of the transition program, October 1998 to March 1999, the Navy would augment the ANG before the latter took over the entire program the following year. There would be 7 LC-130s in theater. They would stage from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Traditional Guardsmen, technicians, and the cadre of AGRs specifically brought on board to support "Operation Deep Freeze" would all be involved in the mission. When fully transitioned to the ANG, the 109th would have ten LC-130s in its inventory. These would include upgrades of four LC-130 aircraft in-service with the unit plus three new aircraft and three that would be transferred from the Navy. ANG estimates of the savings to be realized by consolidating the operation in the hands of the 109th AW ranged from $5 million to $15 million a year. The actual transition to Air Guard control began in March 1996.
In conclusion, the ANG continued to adjust to the realities of life without the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet Union as a rival super power. That meant somewhat tighter budgets and marginal reductions in force structure and personnel strength while playing a relatively larger role in the total Air Force because of much more significant reductions in the active force. the Air Guard continued the long term trend toward more large aircraft units (airlift, tankers, and heavy bombers) and fewer fighter units. To retain essentially the same number of flying units while operating within budget constraints, the complement of PAA, especially in fighter-type units, was reduced significantly. The Air Guard continued to modernization its weapons systems and maintained high levels of operational readiness. All this was accomplished in a basically cooperative manner with the Air Force despite the inevitable strains produced by force structure downsizing and budget reductions of the active force while the Air Guard remained relatively stable in those categories.
To underscore its own professional competence and post Cold War relevance, the Air Guard leaned forward to participate through volunteerism in "real world" operations around the globe on a daily basis. For its part, the active duty Air Force welcomed such initiatives and often sought them out primarily to relieve the high operational tempos that its own units were experiencing. The well-established use of volunteerism in the Guard's tanker and airlift communities began to spread to the fighter and ground support communities where it had been far less common in the past. In the process, the Air Guard apparently began to change to an augmentation force where training was a byproduct of operations rather than a traditional reserve force where operational support of the active force was often accomplished as a result of training.