WASHINGTON D.C. — Officials are putting new policies and programs in place to mobilize Air Force reservists in response to national disasters and emergencies.
This is the first time Title 10, or Reserve forces from all services have been planned and funded to be mobilized, like their National Guard counterparts, to assist the state governors during a crisis in the United States.
“This is a significant change for us and a tremendous benefit for American citizens,” said Lt. Gen. James F. Jackson, chief of Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command. “Being able to mobilize our people will save lives and mitigate suffering and damage during disasters here at home.”
In the past, these Citizen Airmen have voluntarily stepped forward to assist with events such as Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill, as well as, fighting the wildfires burning in the western states today.
However, by planning mobilization call-ups, officials expect to quicken federal response times and have more capability ready for when states call for help.
Air Force Reserve Command has more than 70,000 reservists who train and are ready now for active-duty missions. They are activated to provide forces when more manpower is needed than is available in the active components. This surge capability has been used extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“For more than 20 years, Air Force reservists have been serving in combat non-stop,” said Jackson. “We’ve expanded from strategic surges to supporting daily operations for the active duty.”
“This new mobilization authority for national disasters here at home is just another example of how our military is leveraging the expertise and cost-effectiveness of the Air Force Reserve for Americans everywhere — even at home.”
The fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act changed the way the military can be used at home and now authorizes the secretary of defense to mobilize Federal Reserve forces to support major disaster relief and national emergencies.
The Department of Defense and Air Force Reserve Command have been working together to build the appropriate policies and procedures. Officials have gathered at the Pentagon and Robins Air Force Base, Ga., to develop readiness expectations and funding procedures. They are scheduled to develop call-up processes and identify personnel who have emergency support qualifications during upcoming meetings.
“In the event a disaster does occur and reservists are needed, they will be contacted by Air Force Reserve leadership and given specific reporting instructions,” said Col. Nancy C. Zbyszinski, director of Personnel, Office of Air Force Reserve, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
A key issue is how to track who is subject to mobilization. DOD has developed categories for emergency responders such as transportation, communications, firefighting, public health and medical services, search and rescue, etc. The reserve component has significant expertise in all of these fields as well as unique capabilities in aerial spray, aerial firefighting and weather reconnaissance.
Currently, Air Force reservists are slated into the Air Force’s rotation system for combat mobilization and deployments. Officials must accommodate those requirements with the challenge of quick responses to unforeseen national disasters.
“If local authorities need our assistance, we will be ready to support them,” said Col. Dawn Brotherton, special assistant for Reserve Force Integration, Office of Air Force Reserve. “As a disaster moves into the recovery phase, our reservists will step aside and let the civilian agencies and commercial partners take over, potentially as quick as 14 days or less.”
To gain federal help, state governors must request assistance and the president has to declare the situation as a national disaster. After these two critical steps, the secretary of defense is authorized to direct the mobilization of federal reservists such as Air Force Reserve’s Citizen Airmen.
For now, Air Force Reserve officials are continuing to work on a policy that will afford members to plan ahead, coordinate with their civilian employers, and prepare their families.
“We are working the last of the policy implementation issues,” said Jackson. “Once the Department of Defense and our Force Generation Center finalize their system changes we’ll get our units and reservists ready for this new opportunity to help Americans in need.”