Despite efforts to increase virtual recruiting, the director of the Air National Guard said Monday that his command will likely fall short of meeting its authorized strength of 107,700 airmen.
Earlier this summer, the Air Guard was facing a shortfall of roughly 1,000 members as it deployed members at a record rate to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and ramped up support for local law enforcement to deal with civil unrest across the country.
The Air Guard has had no problems meeting its homeland support missions, which at one point had 11,000 members deployed across the country, but the recruiting mission has suffered under pandemic restrictions, Air Guard Director Lt. Gen. Michael Loh told reporters at the Association of the Air Force's Air & Space symposium.
"The pandemic hit at probably the worst time you could imagine," Loh said, describing how most high schools did not return from spring break, which kept recruiters out of schools.
"Our recruiters didn't go into high schools and had to turn virtual," he said. "So, in a matter of months, we have been able to turn recruiting from in-person to a virtual platform."
Loh credited the "amazing" work of recruiters to reduce the projected 1,000-member shortfall and put the Air Guard "on a glidepath to actually get to about 500 short" of the 107,700 authorized strength.
"We will probably still fall short, but we could have been way, way worse," Loh said.
Loh said the shortfall has not affected the Air Guard's ability to support pandemic response operations and law enforcement dealing with civil unrest, in addition to overseas deployments.
"More than one in five Guard airmen have been on duty in the homeland and overseas this year," he said.
But the demand for the Air Guard has dropped from "more than 20% down to ... 11% in the operations," Loh said.
"So, 11% of our force is in operations, which means that 89% is still in that strategic reserve," he explained. "I do worry about [operations tempo], but right now I think we are in a good place.
"Our Guard airmen aren't tired. They are ready."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.