They engaged in air-to-air combat again Hitler’s Nazi forces, flew dangerous missions over fortified enemy territory against North Korea in the 1950s, and mobilized for the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. We’re talking about the members of the Air Force Reserve, a long-time element of the U.S. armed forces now reaching its 70th anniversary.
The Air Force Reserve recently commemorated their 1948 transition from Reserve Air Power to Air Force Reserve Command; reserve units began serving as far back as 1916 when a National Defense Act created Reserve Air Power.
In 1917, the first Reserve unit deployed to France, and by 1939 reserve forces had grown to 1,500 members when Hitler’s military invaded Poland. Called “Citizen Airmen,” more than 3,000 reservists were fighting by 1941. Once World War II ended, the Air Force didn’t want to lose such an imposing force, especially as the Cold War emerged.
“The Air Reserve fell under the signal corps and it remained under the umbrella of the Army. In 1948, Truman made the Air Force Reserve a separate component,” Dr. Donald Boyd, Air Force Reserve Command historian, told Military.com in an interview.
The famous aviator Charles Lindbergh was himself a reservist in 1927 when he flew across the Atlantic, Boyd added.
The Air Force Reserve has had some major impacts on the history of the Air Force as a whole, including when they used their jungle flying skills to deliver supplies in humanitarian missions in South America in the 1950s. Their missions wound up laying the foundation for the highly revered AC-130 gunship used for close-air warfare during the Vietnam War – an attack aircraft which came to be affectionately known by soldiers as “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
“Following these missions in South America, the military came up with the idea of a gunship with fixed gunnery, inspiring deadly weapons used in Vietnam,” Boyd said.
Today, AFRC deploys thousands on a range of missions across the globe, including recent work by the 39th Aerial Port Squadron and the 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron to deliver winter clothes to forces in Afghanistan.
“On any given day, nearly 6,000 Air Force Reservists are serving on active duty worldwide in support of combatant commanders and other agencies and major commands,” Col. Bruce Bender, Air Force Reserve Command, told Military.com.
The Afghan winter clothes mission, for instance, delivered more than 13,000 pounds of donated winter weather clothes, according to the Air Force.
According to Air Force Reserve Command 2018 data, the force consists of 69,800 command structures, 35 wings, and 10 independent groups and mission support units at 9 Reserve based and 54 active duty units.
Training, according to Bender, is a heavily emphasized dimension for reserve members, given that the spend the majority of their time working in the civilian workforce. “Training is essentially is the same for the reservists as it is for the active duty,” he says. “A good percentage of the Air Force reservists come from the active duty side. They have not only gotten the same training but as a component they are typically among the more experienced folks. The rigors of the training are the same.”
Earlier this year, for example, reserve citizen Airmen joined a Special Operations joint training event called Emerald Warrior. The reservists conducted airborne missions from a C-130J provided by a distinct unit known as the 815th “Flying Jennies.”
“We had special operations people flying with us to perform different types of jumps out of aircraft, like high-altitude low-opening (HALO) and high-altitude high-opening (HAHO),” Master Sgt. Chris Sentilles, 815th loadmaster, said in an Air Force statement.