WASHINGTON -- President Harry S. Truman signed legislation on April 14, 1948, establishing the modern-day Air Force Reserve. The new organization reaffirmed the "Citizen Airmen" concept that reaches back to the Army Air Service reservists of the First World War.
This came seven months after Truman established the fledgling U.S. Air Force as a separate service from the Army in the aftermath of World War II. Truman envisioned a new Reserve Component to continue the tradition of service -- "being ready when called upon."
Today, Citizen Airmen perform leading roles in military operations, humanitarian crisis and disaster relief around the globe. The Air Force Reserve consists of officers, enlisted and civil servants who are tasked by law to fill the needs of the armed forces whenever more units and people are required than are in the Regular Air Force.
More than 860,000 people make up the Ready, Standby, Retired and Active Duty Retired Reserve. This includes more than 70,000 Selected Reservists who are ready-now and participate in every job specialty and on the front lines of daily military operations around the globe. The earliest roots of the Air Force go back to the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army's Office of the Chief Signal Officer which took charge of military balloons and air machines in 1907. This division grew into the Army Air Service, authorized by Congress and the National Defense Act of 1916.
Later, the first two air reserve units were mobilized, and one of them, the First Aero Reserve Squadron from Mineola, N.Y., deployed to France as the United States entered World War I in 1917. The new "Air Service" reserve program provided the war effort about 10,000 pilots who had graduated from civilian and military flying schools. Also, reservists played a critical role in World War II when 1,500 reserve pilots along with 1,300 non-rated officers and 400 enlisted Airmen augmented the Army Air Corps in the war's early days. This included the legendary Jimmy Doolittle who was ordered to active duty to work in Detroit to convert automobile manufacturing plants into aircraft factories and later went on to lead "Doolittle's Raiders," the first American bombing attack on the Japanese mainland. After World War II ended, the young Air Force Reserve was barely two years old when it mobilized nearly 147,000 reservists for the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.
In the 1960s, five Air Force Reserve C-124 aircraft units along with 5,613 reservists were mobilized for a year to support the Berlin Crisis. By 1962, an additional mobilization of 14,220 reservists and 422 aircraft were supporting operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During the Vietnam War, the Air Force Reserve provided strategic airlift as well as counterinsurgency, close air support, tactical mobility, interdiction, rescue and recovery, intelligence, medical, maintenance, aerial port and air superiority until U.S. involvement ended in 1973.
For the most part, the nation was at peace for the next few years with the Air Force Reserve periodically engaged in emergency-response missions. This included the rescue and return of American students from Grenada in 1983, aerial-refueling of F-111 bombers during the El Dorado Canyon raid on Libyan-sponsored terrorists in 1986 and Operation Just Cause which ousted Panama's General Noriega in 1989-1990.
Also, Air Force Reservists supported humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, including resupply and evacuation missions in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo.
More than twenty years of continual combat operations began with Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In the aftermath of coalition victory, Air Force reservists continued to serve and were heavily involved in enforcing the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq as well as in humanitarian relief missions to assist the uprooted Iraqi Kurds. In 1993, Air Force Reserve tanker, mobility and fighter units began operations in Bosnia and in 1999 were also supporting Operation Allied Force over Serbia and Kosovo. When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Air Force reservists responded in full measure. Air Force Reserve F-16 fighter aircraft flew combat air patrols to protect American cities while KC-135 tankers and AWACS aircraft supported security efforts.
In October 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom began as U.S. military forces entered Afghanistan to combat the Taliban and terrorist sanctuaries. In March 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom began in order to end Saddam Hussein's regime. Air Force Reserve units and reservists played key roles in all combat operations as Air Force Reserve MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft became the first fixed-wing aircraft to penetrate Afghan airspace while Air Force Reserve F-16 crews performed the first combat missions. In recent years, Citizen Airmen have supported every Air Force core function and every Combatant Commander around the world. Air Force reservists were engaged in surge operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They supported combat and humanitarian missions in Haiti, Libya, Japan, Mali and the Horn of Africa. Also, they've provided national disaster relief at home in the U.S. after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the gulf oil spill and the wildfires in the western states. Throughout their history, Citizen Airmen have volunteered continually, allaying concerns that reservists would not be available when really needed. Since its inception in 1948, the Air Force Reserve has evolved from a unit-mobilization-only force into an operational reserve that participates daily in missions around the globe. Today, Air Force reservists safeguard nuclear weapons and guide Global Positioning Satellites. From bases in the United States, reservists fly remotely piloted aircraft in combat half a world away. They track hurricanes out at sea and bring medical supplies and food into disaster areas to save lives around the world. Spanning six and a half decades - with the last two decades of continuous combat - the Air Force Reserve has fulfilled the legacy of early air pioneers and exceeded the potential seen by the visionaries who created it in 1948. Congratulations to all Citizen Airmen, past and present, on the 65th Anniversary of the Air Force Reserve on April 14, 2013. For more information on the history of the Air Force Reserve, go to: www.afrc.af.mil/library/history/.
The AFRC History Office and Ms. Pamela N. Thompson, formerly with Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs, contributed to this article.