Your Air Force

Air National Guard director talks recruiting, operations tempo, deployments and more

The experts are out there, and the Air Force reserve components not only wants to find more of these civilians for career fields that require them, but also wants to push forward to find the civilians that might have with unique skill sets that benefit more than one career field, whatever the demographic. It’s something Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, the new director of the Air National Guard, believes he can help make that happenstreamline this process for the reserve components of the service

"We all, in America, have a challenge with our youth — as a metric, a third of our youth is eligible to join the military," Rice said in an interview with Air Force Times July 26. "That's a problem for us in America ... that [some] people just can't get through the barriers. My goal over the next few years is to streamline some of that process, to be easier, faster, get the best out of our communities to build on the diversity of what we have for people, as well as help those who have trouble getting in."

It’s about understanding the individual’s background and then translating that into military terms, Rice said. For example, military leaders believe that one hot career field, cyber, would benefit tremendously by finding interested civilians has everything to do how to best attract the experts and getting them into the field as quickly as possible. 

It's asking, "How do I fast track them through training to get them off to the tip of our spear to operate?" Rice said. "Those are some of the initiatives I'm working hand-in-hand with the Air Force on to develop those skill sets already resonant in our communities and in our kids to get them into service."

Air Force Times chatted with Rice about his vision for the Guard's evolution, frequent overseas rotations for more units, and budding career fields for new recruits. Comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q. Where do you expect the Guard to grow in the next few years?

A. We're looking to grow ... for some critical mission needs for the Air Force. Number one, growing some of our cyber, cyber warrior, cyber capability. Number two, capturing some of that force structure coming out of the Air Force and then growing the Guard to fulfill those needs and those requirements as well as develop some of the other areas that are important ...There are things that the U.S. Air Force really needs right now. Cyber. Space. Intelligence. As well as a little bit in special ops. Those are where the new fields are today. We still need a full spectrum of capabilities. Every mission area has [its] changes going on.

Q. Is the Guard recapitalizing its training if leaders know some recruits coming into the Guard may have more experience in a specific career already? 

A. Absolutely. And then, where can we focus the right training at the right time and not give them basic, redundant training that they already know. We don’t want to waste time on that, and yet we want to get them to the next level as fast as we can. We’re doing thing like, wWe bring in some of our professionals into the service — doctors, lawyers, chaplains — and we bring them in at a higher-grade level. And we’re providing that to some of our cyber warriors, for example. It’s actually an initiative the active duty is starting, and all three components are going to leverage it as we grow together in this business of talent management.  Right now, the cyber force is around 6,000, growing to 12,000 maybe more in the next few years. The Guard has been roughly about a third of that. And there are opportunities the active wants to leverage in saying, ‘can I grab a cyber warrior off of the street with all of their background that may be too old to join service on an active service, but how can I use and leverage our policies to get that person into part-time service?’ ... We have to evolve that policy in the right place and the right time under the direction and leadership of the Air Force, and we are talking about that right now. And also at the [Defense Department] level. 

Q. Where are you looking most to pull people into Guard status?

A. It's certainly a balance for us. The easiest, the best one, the most experienced, the ones already trained are the ones off the active force. … As well as we are going right out on the streets, looking for those young teenagers, right out of high school, and those younger people who feel a need to serve, and maybe for a thousand reasons don't want to move all over the world and they'd like to be a little more local, we'd like to capture some of that as well. Our normal recruiting numbers are — we have roughly 105,000 total in our force — and we roughly recruit about 10 percent of that a year, so between 8,000 to 10,000 a year.

Q. How is the Guard managing the unpredictability of airlines looking to lure its Air Force pilots into the private sector?

A. We are talking about and considering a financial bonus for our pilots. The other side of this, to help retain pilots and other people is understanding who they are and trying to give them a better quality of life … we have regular communications with the airlines, we're doing monthly, quarterly meetings at different levels with the airlines to find out their needs, they find out our needs, so we can have a better understanding. We're trying to balance what the real needs are for the airlines as they come and go with their requirements. There's going to be a real shortage of pilots across the country in the next five to 10 years as the airlines continue to recruit and, they outpace the military in not just the Air Force, but the military's ability to produce pilots. So the civilian system produces pilots, the military does, but there will not be enough pilots for both of those systems combined. We are trying to work with the airlines on, 'how do we produce more pilots, how do we produce them cost-effectively, and get them into the system so they can ... become an airline pilot and still serve in either the Guard or Reserve.' Our part-timers are doing well. It's the full-time** piece that we're trying to work with the airline to say, 'hey can I let them work for you for a while and then come back and work full-time for me for a while?' It's to give [the airlines and the pilots] some predictability. This is more of an informal exchange [between us and the airlines]. [Remotely piloted aircraft pilots] fit into this category as well, to retain on a full-time basis.

** Some guardsmen can serve full time with their units in an Active Guard Reserve status. They are separate from active-duty airmen. Read more about how Air Force hopes to head off the poaching of its pilots here.

Q. How has transitioning from active-duty to the Guard or Reserve changed in recent years? 

A. We used to give bonuses to separate from the service. And you’d lose your bonus if you joined the National Guard or Reserve. Over the last few years, we eliminated that as a policy. Today, they’re not getting bonuses to leave the service. When the time comes … as the Air Force grows or shrinks, if they give bonuses again to leave, they won’t lose their bonus to go from active to part-time service. Something we’re working on right now almost is leaning the other way: Incentivize people to say, if you’re going to completely sever your relationship with the service, can we give you an incentive to go to the Guard or Reserve? Consider that first. We’re working on that right now, on how to do that policy. 

Q. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is also growing. Will more Guard installations become hubs for the growing number of remotely piloted aircraft missions in the future?

A. There's a possibility. We're in a strategic pause within our RPA community across the whole Air Force and then in the sense that we've built up to a capability to provide 60 caps for the combat commands. And we're pretty stable right there. If there are dramatic changes in that, either in increases or decreases, then we have to relook at it. But as we look through the next five years ... we're pretty stable. I don't anticipate a lot of growing. I anticipate it evolving to recapitalization to the next platform ... [MQ-1] Predator units are going away, [MQ-9] Reaper units are coming in, that kind of thing.

Q. How does ops tempo for the Guard compare these days to active duty units? Are they just as busy?

A. The ops tempo is definitely up. Over the last 10 years, we’ve definitely grown in ops tempo. Just like the [active-duty]. And some career fields are under more stress than others. We’re shooting for an optimum line to have ... 1:5 deploy-to-dwell. In some career fields we’re approaching that or exceeding it. So in some areas, it’s pretty high. [The deployments] are mostly in CENTCOM. Because that’s where the level of effort is for the Department of Defense. But that said, over the last few years, we’ve evolved some of the authorities that Congress gives, the secretary and the service, to deploy guardsmen for theater security cooperation agreements. So now we are starting to fill more deployments in other theaters. …  such as ... In Europe, [through] the European Reassurance Initiative, we’ve got three-month deployments, and a number of our units are going over there to fill a six-month commitment — with two units doing three and three. 

Q. Has the State Partnership Program — the Guard's exchange-like program with the armed forces or equivalent of an overseas partner country — grown to include new countries recently?

A. The program grew in emphasis significantly over the last five to 10 years. And a lot of it is because it’s got presidential attention. Where you have somebody like President Obama announcing, like last summer oOn his trip to Kenya last summer, President Obamahe announced a partnership with Kenya. And the Massachusetts Air National Guard, where I came from, established a partnership with Kenya. And then two months later, I went over and signed an agreement. The president just made a similar announcement when he went down to Argentina. We’re working diligently to establish that. Because of that emphasis, the program is getting a lot of attention. Still, bang for the buck, it’s a very low-cost program for the big bang it produces. There are regular engagements that are really stepping up pretty significantly, and a lot of that’s fueled by the combat commands, so Europe, Pacific, Africa, Middle East are all putting in a little more effort to increase their engagements across their whole theater. At the same time, [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] is under great pressure with the budget, and they’re trying to say, how do we decrease this money, how do we get it more manageable, more efficient. So there are both ends of the program that are under great stress, and we’re looking for support from OSD and trying to increase the budget rather than decrease it. 

Q. You mentioned Southern Command just now, and we have a growing number of partnerships there even though deployments to that region aren't as frequent as they are for other theaters. Northern Command, too, operates differently from other theaters. What is your vision for the Guard in both of these hemispheres?

A. SOUTHCOM and NORTHCOM are trying to develop and engage in exercises with partner countries. One way to flow into the country and establish that very quickly is through the state partnership program. SOUTHCOM is trying to grow their exercise engagement, and they're doing it through the SPP.

Q. How is the Guard balancing taking in older aircraft into their fleet as more active duty aircraft move into their units through the ongoing Force Structure realignment?

A. I think the National Guard is balanced and concurrent in force structure with the active duty. There are some evolving into the Guard, for example, the C-130H is primarily in the Guard at this point, the C-130J is both in the Guard and active duty. As active duty moves forward, they’re at the same time upgrading and recapitalizing the fleet to J models, they’re also modernizing all the equipment that they have, in that they see great value in some of those other old programs. But talso, The active duty has definitely recognized the strength of the Guard. And they see some of the cost-effective ways we use experience and … being able to present forces and the same level of training because all of the standards are the same. They’re leveraging that, because right now they’re putting F-35s right into Hill [Air Force Base, Utah]  and they’re moving F-16s out, and they need to increase fighter pilot production, so some of those F-16s are going to the Guard, and some of them are going to active duty bases to ensure that we even expand the squadrons [elsewhere] to produce more pilots. 

Q. Officials continue to say that the Air Force may not be ready for tomorrow's wars if they were to meet that challenge today. Is there something the Guard is doing to keep up with readiness levels?

A.It’s tThe way we’re constructed that’s a little bit different. Take for example a pilot’s [being eligible to fly] based on a three-month clock. So you have to fill all the types of mission sets that you’re supposed to be current on. ... So when we deploy for three months, while you’re deployed, you only get a section of your training done. When we come back, we’re just on the edge of readiness ... and then we can quickly get people up to speed. In the active-duty model, they deploy for a six-month period of time, and then accordingly after three months their readiness decreases in certain areas. And They stay focused on the mission they’re on, but they have a lot more work when they come back. We leverage that in providing increased level of readiness for the total force by adding our highly experienced but also cost-effectively produced, level of readiness that we provide to the ... total force. It’s the, ‘what can we use the best of both of us’ to present a higher level of readiness.

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. E,mail her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.

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