Guard, full-time airmen share duties
By AUDREY McAVOY
By AUDREY McAVOY
As a commercial pilot, Mike Compton ferries passengers around the islands for Hawaiian Airlines. But when he's wearing his Hawai'i Air National Guard flight suit, Col. Mike Compton flies cargo planes to Iraq.
Air Guard crew members like Compton have long worked closely with the full-time standing Air Force, serving in places from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Now this cooperation is on the cusp of growing further on homeland bases.
Pilots from the Hawai'i Air National Guard and regular full-time airmen last Wednesday began flying C-17 cargo planes side-by-side.
And Guard maintenance crews are fixing the jets right next to their full-time counterparts.
The arrangement — one of the first like it in the nation — comes as the military strives to squeeze the most out of its defense budget by maximizing use of its Air Guard. As the Pentagon spreads the concept to other states, the way the two sides integrate in Hawai'i may serve as a template for other Guard units around the country.
"Our strengths of the active duty and the Guard complement each other," said Compton, who is helping coordinate the integration for the Guard.
Commanders — both of full-time forces and the Guard — agree that one of the chief benefits of the sharing will be the extra staff the Guard will provide the Air Force at a low cost.
Compton says Air Guard crews require about one-third the money of regular troops because they have civilian jobs and are not on a full-time military payroll.
Still, they fly and service planes for the Air Force about five to seven days per month and another two weeks each year. And when the Air Force needs them for a longer commitment, they can be summoned for duty.
To top it off, many Guard pilots and maintenance crews work for commercial airlines and so have little trouble keeping their skills up to date.
"With the Guard and Reserve, you get quite a bit of capability for a fairly cheap price," said Col. William J. Changose, the commander of the full-time 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam Air Force Base.
"Day-to-day, the U.S. taxpayer is paying almost nothing, but when I need them, we can call them up."
Maintenance crews from the two units have set up shop inside the same building at Hickam so they can work seamlessly. As the C-17s arrive, the full-time airmen and Guard will share the planes, hangars and a high-tech C-17 flight simulator.
Airmen from the regular Air Force and the Guard also have a common dining room, Compton said, "because people who eat together, drink together, work together better."
The two sides will preserve their separate chains of command, meaning Guard airmen will report to Guard commanders and full-time troops will report to their regular bosses.
In the field, however, the full-time troops will have the authority to direct Guard troops and Guard troops will give orders to full-time troops, depending on who's in charge in that particular situation.
Brig. Gen. Peter S. Pawling, commander of the Hawai'i Air National Guard's 154th Wing, said he doesn't expect his airmen to have to commit more time to their Guard duties when they join up with Changose's 15th Airlift Wing.
He noted that men and women in the Guard are juggling their military service with their regular lives as fathers and mothers and their civilian jobs as schoolteachers, firefighters, and commercial pilots.
"We have to be careful how we balance that out," Pawling said.
Other combinations of full-time and Guard troops working side by side regularly on U.S. bases have already been cropping up.
The Virginia Air National Guard began jointly flying and maintaining a fleet of F-22 Raptor fighter jets with full-time airmen late last year at Langley Air Force Base.
In Vermont, full-time military mechanics have joined a Vermont Air National Guard fighter wing.
James Carafano, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, said the setup gives the Air Force greater flexibility and would likely improve the service's readiness for contingencies.
"When you go on the battlefield, nobody asks to say, 'Hey are you active or Reserve or Guard?' or whatever," Carafano said. "You want that kind of seamless integration.
"And so the more you have that in peacetime, the more effective it is in wartime as well."