Air Force Reserve Birthday
A Brief History Of An Ever-Changing Force
April 14, 2015 by Mark Dye
For years, America fought its wars with a mix of career military members and those who joined or were conscripted into service. But with the passage of the Preparedness Movement and the National Defense Act of 1916, our nation began to build up an Organized Reserve Corps that would be ready whenever they were needed.
Since its creation on April 14, 1948, the Air Force Reserve (AFR) has taken on many different roles.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the AFR was made up of more than 315,800 non-drilling and nearly 58,500 drilling Reservists. Some 147,000 of those were mobilized to active service that ranged from one to three years. These units were very effective and a key part of the effort—reservists received numerous unit citations and a number of them became certified combat aces.
The Vietnam War came to dominate the decade, but reservists were also involved in both the Berlin and Cuban Missile crises. This included transporting equipment and supplies in preparation for any outbreak of hostilities. When the Vietnam War began, reservists took on a large role, with many of them spending part of their inactive duty and annual two-week training flying supply planes. It was a lack of one type of plane in particular (the C-141) that led to “the associate concept”—basically, Air Force Reserve personnel would team up with an active duty unit equipped with the new C-141s (and even C-9s), and then fly and perform maintenance together.
With the Vietnam War winding down and the Cold War heating up, the Department of Defense created the “Total Force Policy” so that it could deal with various threats with the right mix of forces. This change took the associate concept developed during Vietnam to a new level and turned the AFR into a “multi-mission” force that was more integrated with the active-duty component, including having the same standards for everything from inspections to readiness.
While the decade didn’t see any large scale conflicts, that didn’t stop the AFR from upgrading and modernizing its equipment. This included obtaining more modern aircraft such as A-10 Thunderbolts, F-4 Phantoms, and eventually F-16 Fighting Falcons. The decade also saw the AFR perform a number of humanitarian missions around the globe, such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo.
It didn’t take long after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait before AFR personnel were in action, flying airlift and refueling missions in support of targeted air strikes. In fact, it was a reservist who scored the first ever air-to-air kill in an A-10 (which was built for strafing ground positions and taking out tanks, not dogfighting). By the time it was over, the “Total Force Policy” put into effect in the 1970s had been proven a success: the AFR had become indistinguishable from the active force in capability, with no difference between personnel in any capacity. Thus, in February 1997, the Air Force Reserve officially became the Air Force Reserve Command, the Air Force's ninth major command.
After a period of relative peace, the AFR once again stepped up to help fight our nation’s enemies—this time after the attacks of Sept. 11. From flying combat patrols over American cities in the days immediately afterward, to flying strike operations in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to assisting with civil engineering, members of the AFR have been instrumental in fighting global terrorism.
Over the past 67 years, the Air Force reserve has been a key to American military dominance, changing from a part-time force to one that is fully integrated into the Air Force itself. No matter the mission, they’ll be ready “to provide combat-ready forces to fly, fight and win.”