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Guard, Reserve leaders testify on Capitol Hill

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (April 21, 2005) -- The directors of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve testified April 20 on readiness and management support before the Senate Armed Services Committee subcommittee.

Lt. Gen. Daniel James III, Air National Guard director, told senators he sees positive benefits to the community basing concept.

Lt. Gen. Daniel James III, Air National Guard director, answers questions during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee on April 20. The subcommittee heard testimony to examine proposed budget estimates for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve fiscal 2006 budget. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi.

"I look forward to a day when we will have community basing and we will have members coming to (a Guard base) and living in the community and flying there," he said. "That would impact the community in a positive way."

Community basing is currently being tested in Burlington, Vt. There, active-duty Airmen live among the local community, on the economy, and report daily to work with Airmen of the Vermont Air National Guard's 158th Fighter Wing.

General James said he believes community basing can help the active-duty component of the Air Force by pairing younger troops with those who have more experience.

"Community basing is a way of balancing the needs of the Air Force in terms of their skill levels," he said. "(Guard units) have very experienced people. About 62 percent of our people are at a 7 skill level or higher. The majority of (active-duty maintainers) are 3-levels."

One concern of Air National Guard officials is ensuring their units continue to have missions to perform after the next round of base realignment and closure and after new airplanes have worked their way into the fleet and pushed out older aircraft. Some Guard units have older versions of F-16 Falcons. Those planes will eventually be retired from the Air Force, leaving those units looking for something to do.

"We want to make sure after the BRAC that if we don't have new airplanes to replace those that (are retired), that we have new missions to replace those that (are eliminated)," the general said. "Otherwise we can get in a situation where units would be uncovered -- they wouldn't have a Federal mission. We are going to work hard to get missions to those units that lose aircraft."

General James also told senators that Guard units need Congress' continued support to fund their activities. He said that while their primary mission is to defend America, Guard units also have another role -- responding to the needs of their states.

"Homeland defense is our primary mission," General James said. "But we also want to make sure we have the capabilities when our governors call on us to respond to natural disasters or man-made emergencies."

Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, Air Force Reserve commander, said that while re-enlistment bonuses are good, he believes there is another reason for good retention numbers in the Reserves.

"On the issue of bonuses, they work, certainly, but I do believe there is an element of service that is keeping our people in," he said. "They are very proud of what they are doing. They enjoy their jobs and units, and they believe they are contributing to something that is very good."

The pay parity issue between active duty and reserve component Airmen was raised by some senators. Sometimes guardsmen or reservists, when called from their civilian jobs, will take less pay while serving than when they are working for their civilian employer. Many civilian employers will make up that pay difference out of pocket. The federal government, however, does not make up the pay difference for federal employees who also serve as part of a reserve service component. There is legislation on Capitol Hill to change that.

"On the pay parity, it is an issue, but I believe the best quality of life is keeping somebody alive," General Bradley told senators.

"I think the inequities it brings on between folks who are mobilized and active component folks is not helpful," he said. "I would rather spend money that we could get for the continued equipment improvements you have given us in the past, and continuing to do those unfunded items to give us greater combat capability. I think that's where we should put the money, to properly equip our people."