The Air National Guard as we know it today -- a separate reserve component of the United States Air Force -- was a product of the politics of postwar planning and interservice rivalry during World War II. The men who planned and maneuvered for an independent postwar Air Force during World War II didn't place much faith in the reserves, especially the state-dominated National Guard. On the contrary, they were determined to build the largest and most modern standing force possible. They assumed that future wars would be short and highly destructive affairs decided by the ability of one side to deliver massive aerial firepower on an enemy's heartland. They were convinced that reserves could not operate complex modern weapons without extensive post-mobilization training. Reserves did not play a prominent role in their vision of the postwar Air Force. For its part, the Guard had a well-established stake in aviation. It had formed 29 observation squadrons between World War I and World War II.
But, domestic politics and American history forced them to significantly alter their plans. Determined not to be excluded from the post-war U.S. military establishment, the National Guard flexed its considerable political muscle during World War II. It forced the War Department (including the Army Air Forces) to retain it as the nation's primary reserve force once the war was over. Dramatic military budget cuts by President Harry S. Truman after V-J Day and his determination to split defense dollars evenly among the Army, Navy, and Air Force compelled the latter to plan for a far smaller active duty force than it had envisaged during World War II. The reserve components had to help fill the gap.
Consequently, in the late 1940s, the Air Force found itself stuck with the Air Guard against its best professional judgement. The ANG would be manned by some 58,000 personnel. Its primary units would be 84 flying squadrons, mostly fighters. Air defense of the continental U.S. was its main mission. A separate National Guard aviation program began to emerge in 1946 as individual units obtained federal recognition. But, the Air Guard's official birth date was 18 September 1947, the same day the Air Force became a separate service.
There was little trust and understanding between the active duty USAF and the ANG. Although it looked good on paper, one Air Force general referred to it as "flyable storage." Other observers called its units state-sponsored flying clubs. The Air Force and the National Guard Bureau (NGB) spent the late 1940s fighting over who was in charge. Essentially, that question was resolved in 1950 when the Army and Air Force strengthened the power of the ANG and Army National Guard division chiefs to administer their organizations in response to the directives of their respective services.
The Korean War was a turning point for the U.S. military establishment including the Air Guard. Some 45,000 Air Guardsmen, 80 percent of the force, were mobilized. That callup exposed the glaring weaknesses of the ANG. Units and individuals lacked specific wartime missions. Their equipment, especially aircraft, was obsolete. Their training was usually deplorable. Once mobilized, they proved to be almost totally unprepared for combat. Guard units were assigned almost at random to active duty, regardless of their previous training and equipment. Many key Air Guardsmen were stripped away from their units and used as fillers elsewhere in the Air Force. It took months and months for them to become combat ready. Some units never did. Eventually, the mess was sorted out. The recalled Guardsmen contributed substantially to the air war in Korea and to the USAF's global buildup for the expected military confrontation with the Soviet Union. However, the initial fiasco forced the Air Force to achieve an accommodation with the Air Guard and to thoroughly revamp its entire reserve system.
Despite their poor initial showing, Air Guardsmen flew 39,530 combat sorties and destroyed 39 enemy aircraft during the Korean War. But, the ANG paid a high price in Korea as 101 of its members were either killed or declared missing in action during the conflict. The Air Guard's 136th and the 116th Fighter Bomber Wings compiled excellent combat records. The 136th -- composed of the 111th (Texas), 154th (Arkansas) and the 182nd (Texas) Fighter-Bomber Squadrons -- flew its first combat mission in the Far East on 24 May 1951 in F-84E "Thunderjets." On 26 June 1951, while escorting B-29s near "Mig Alley," First Lieutenant Arthur E. Olinger and Captain Harry Underwood of the 182nd shared credit for the Air Guard's first jet kill. They destroyed one of five Mig-15s that attacked their formation. The 116th arrived in Japan in late July 1951. Its fighter-bomber squadrons included the 158th (Georgia), 159th (Florida) and the 196th (California).
During the Korean War, as in previous conflicts, Air Guardsmen made their most dramatic contributions as individuals rather than members of Guard units. They demonstrated their combat skills with four Air Guardsmen achieving the coveted status of ace. Captains Robert J. Love and Clifford D. Jolley of the 196th transferred to the USAF's 4th Interceptor Wing. While flying F-86 "Sabrejets," they became the Air Guard's first jet aces. Love destroyed six enemy aircraft while Jolley downed seven.
Major James P. Hagerstrom became an ace in two different wars. During World War II, he joined the Army Air Force (AAF) and flew 170 combat missions and was credited with destroying six enemy aircraft. After the conflict ended, he left active duty and joined the 111th Fighter-Bomber Squadron of the Texas Air Guard. In October 1950, Hagerstrom was mobilized with the 111th which was equipped with F-51s . Subsequently, he transferred to an active duty Air Force squadron. Flying an F-86 Sabre jet in the skies over North Korea, Hagerstrom was credited with 8.5 kills.
Robinson Risner had joined the AAF during World War II and served in obscurity as a fighter pilot in Panama. After the war, he had left service, went into business in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and married. Because he was determined to remain involved with aviation, Risner joined the Oklahoma National Guard and began flying F-51s in its 185th Fighter Squadron. His squadron was mobilized for the Korean War and transitioned to the F-80, the Air Force's first operational jet fighter. When it became clear that the 185th was not going to the Far East, Risner arranged a series of transfers that ultimately landed him in the Air Force's 4th Fighter Wing in Korea. After learning to fly the F-86, he was credited with destroying eight enemy aircraft. Risner completed 108 combat missions and returned to the U.S. having decided to remain on active duty with the Air Force. Years later Risner was given command of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Korat, Thailand. While flying against a heavily-defended target in North Vietnam, his F-105 was shot down in 1965. Risner was captured and imprisoned in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." Despite torture, filth, and isolation, Risner took charge and played a key role in creating a disciplined military organization among his fellow American prisoners of war. He was released from his horrible ordeal in 1972. Risner's captivity in Hanoi epitomized the courage, professionalism, and patriotism of Air Force and Navy pilots during the Vietnam War.
In the 1950s, Congress played a key role in placing reserve programs on a sound footing because of the political uproar that the poorly managed reserve mobilizations during 1950-51 created. The Congress was much more willing than either the Department of Defense or the military services to fund the reserves properly. Moreover, beginning with the passage of the Armed Forces Reserve Act of 1952, a series of key laws eliminated most of the old inequities and fostered the development of more effective reserve components. It also permitted the use of Guard and Reserve volunteers to support the active duty forces.
The ANG led the way in developing new approaches to reserve training and management during the 1950s. Blessed with innovative leaders like Maj Gen Winston P. "Wimpy" Wilson and a strong political base in the states, the ANG traded some of its autonomy as a state-federal force for closer integration with the active duty Air Force. Wilson was probably the single most important officer in the ANG's history. He was mobilized from Arkansas in 1950 for Korean War expecting to be in Washington, D.C. for 21 months. Instead, he remained for 21 years. Wilson served as head of ANG from 1954 to 1962 and then became the first Air Guardsmen to be Chief of the National Guard Bureau from 1963 to 1971. Wilson was "a one man gang who really did his homework. He never delegated authority and chains-of-command were meaningless. He was a quick thinker and a guy of action."
Wilson recognized that the Air Guard faced a dim future unless it acquired definite wartime missions, integrated into Air Force missions on a daily basis, and met the same tough training standards as the active force. The Air Guard also needed more full-time manning. It had to be ready for combat the moment it was called into federal service. Finally, Wilson and other Guard leaders fought hard to acquire modern aircraft and facilities. Wilson was able to sell these concepts to the ANG, the USAF, Congress and the states. Under his leadership, the ANG was transformed from a flying club to a valued reserve component of the USAF.
Pushed by its reserve components and their political supporters, (primarily the ANG), the Air Force adopted several management and training innovations after the Korean War that promoted the evolution of combat-ready reserve forces. The four most significant policy innovations were:(1) including the air reserve forces in war plans, (2) the ANG's participation in the air defense runway alert program, (3) the gaining command concept of reserve forces management, and (4) the selected reserve force program.
Beginning in 1951, the Air Force established specific mobilization requirements for the Air Guard in its war plans for the first time. The ANG would train against those requirements and plans for the first time. ANG leaders proposed the air defense runway alert program as a way to combine realistic training and support of a significant combat mission in peacetime. Beginning on an experimental basis in 1953, it involved two fighter squadrons at Hayward, California and Hancock Field at Syracuse, New York. They stood alert from one hour before daylight until one hour after sundown. Despite Air Staff doubts and initial resistance, the experiment was a great success. By 1961, it had expanded into a permanent, round-the-clock program that included 25 ANG fighter squadrons. Today, the ANG provides 100 percent of the Air Force's continental-United States-based air defense interceptor force. The runway alert program was the first broad effort to integrate reserve units into the regular peacetime operating structure of the American armed forces on a continuing basis. It was the precursor of the total force approach to reserve components training and utilization.
The third major innovation -- the gaining command concept of reserve forces management -- meant that the major air command responsible for using a Guard or Reserve unit in wartime would actually train it during peacetime. ANG leaders had pressed for that arrangement for years. However, the active duty Air Force had strongly resisted the change. The concept was grudgingly adopted in 1960 because of budget cuts and public criticism of the air reserve programs by General Curtis E. LeMay, then Air Force Vice Chief of Staff. It improved the effectiveness of ANG units by giving Air Force commanders direct personal incentives for improving the performance of those reserve organizations. It also established firm precedents for the total force policy by integrating the Air Guard into the daily operations of the active force.
The fourth major policy innovation -- the selected reserve force program -- reflected Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara's determination to build an elite force of highly capable reserve units to support the Kennedy administration's flexible response policy. He wanted America's military forces, including its reserve components, prepared to respond immediately to a spectrum of conflicts including guerilla and limited conventional war. To support flexible response and improve readiness, McNamara acted to shrink America's large reserve establishment and merge the National Guard with the purely federal reserve components. Efforts at merger had been tried several times since World War II, always failing. It failed again in the early 1960s. McNamara then created a selected reserve force in each of the military services. They had priority access to equipment, could recruit to full wartime strength, and were allowed to conduct additional training each year. They would provide most of the nation's strategic military reserve in the United States while a growing share of the active force was engaged in the Vietnam War.
Through the 1950s, the Air Guard evolved into a force that was increasingly integrated with the planning and operations of the Air Force. By the end of the decade, the Air Guard had become a larger, more capable, and increasingly diverse organization. By the end of Fiscal Year 1960, its personnel strength had grown to 71,000 including 13,200 technicians. The ANG's force structure included tactical fighter and reconnaissance, troop carrier, heavy airlift, and aeromedical evacuation units. But, while it continued to modernize its weapons systems, its aircraft were still obsolescent by active duty Air Force standards. For example, in 1960 its fighter inventory consisted entirely of jets including F-100s, F-104s, F-84s, and F-89Js.
During the 1960s, the air reserve components began to demonstrate the fruits of those four policy innovations. In 1961, President Kennedy activated a limited number of Reserve and Guard units during the Berlin crisis. In a show of American resolve, the President dispatched 11 ANG fighter squadrons to Europe. Although they required significant additional training after they were ordered into federal service, all of those Guard units were in place overseas within one month of mobilization. By contrast, mobilization and overseas deployment during the Korean War had taken ANG units at least seven months. Some 21,000 Air Guardsmen were mobilized during the Berlin crisis. During the Berlin callups, reliance on second-rate equipment continued to plague the Air Guard.
Although publicly lauded for their performance, the Berlin mobilization revealed serious shortcomings in the ANG. Basically, it had not been trained and equipped as a highly ready force capable of immediate deployment and integration with the active duty Air Force in a broad spectrum of scenarios ranging from a general war with the Soviet Union to low level counterinsurgencies or "brush fire wars" as they were called in the early 1960s. Instead, the Air Guard was still a "Mobilization Day" force that required substantial training, personnel augmentation, and additional equipment after it was called into federal service. Despite adoption of the gaining command concept of reserve forces management, the Air Force lacked plans and adequate stocks of spare parts to integrate Air Guard units in situations short of a general war with the Soviet Union.
Guard units had been limited by DoD policy to 83 percent of their wartime organizational strength. The gap had to be filled by mobilizing approximately 3,000 AFRES individual "fillers." Air Guard pilots, although considered excellent individual flyers, had to be trained on a crash basis for transoceanic flight, crash landings at sea, and aerial refueling. During the summer and fall of 1961, the Air Guard had to respond to frequent changes in personnel manning documents by the Air Force.
For all these and other reasons, Air Guard units mobilized in 1961, required extensive training, re-equipment, and reorganization once they were called into federal service. The United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) lacked spare parts needed to support their aging F-84s and F-86s. ANG units had been trained to deliver tactical nuclear weapons, not conventional bombs and bullets. They had to be retrained for conventional missions once they arrived on the continent. Altogether, it took an enormous effort to make those units operational in Europe, the majority of mobilized Air Guardsmen remained in the continental United States.
Privately, the Air Force concluded that the Air Guard units sent to USAFE had achieved an extremely limited operational capability before they returned home in 1962 after the crisis abated. They were skeptical about the military value of the entire deployment. Senior officers noted that it had required a major diversion of USAFE's resources and doubted the effectiveness of ANG units in the opening stages of a general war.
A vast gulf separated the conclusions of Air Force and Air Guard leaders about the lessons of the Berlin mobilization. The former failed to recognize immediately the constraints which obsolescent aircraft, inadequate funding and incomplete manning as well as poor planning had placed on the Air Guard's development. Many of them still viewed the Air Guard as amateurs who had not improved significantly since the Korean War. But, the Berlin mobilization stimulated the Air Force to make significant improvements in the air reserve components. Those changes were reflected in Air Force Regulation 45-60, published in February 1963. It shifted the objectives of its reserve programs away from providing mobilization-day units and individuals that required extensive post call-up preparations before they were ready for combat. Instead, the new goal was "to provide operationally ready units and trained individuals that are immediately ready to augment the active duty establishment. "
Driven by the Kennedy administration's adoption of the "flexible response" strategy and the large American military buildup during the 1960s, the Air Guard continued to modernize and diversify its aircraft inventory. It had entered the tanker business in FY 1962 with the acquisition of KC-97s. In 1963, Air Guard tactical flying units began to routinely deploy outside the continental United States on their annual active duty training tours for the first time. The ANG's total aircraft inventory shrank from 2,269 in 1960 to 1,425 by 1965. Following the end of active American military involvement in the Vietnam War in 1973, there was a substantial reduction in the active duty Air Force enabling the ANG to acquire another infusion of modern aircraft and equipment. These included A-7s, A-10As, F-105s, OA-37s and some brand new C-130Hs. But, its principal fighter aircraft such as F-4s had logged many flying hours including combat operations in Vietnam before they came to the Guard. The Air Guard's personnel strength stood at over 90,300 by the end of FY 1973 when active American military involvement in the Vietnam War ended.
The Vietnam War illustrated a central paradox facing the USAF's reserve components. In January 1968, President Johnson mobilized naval and air reservists following the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo. More reservists were called into federal service following the February 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam. Altogether, approximately 10,600 Air Guardsmen were called into federal service in 1968. Although most of the reservists were used to strengthen America's depleted strategic reserve force, four ANG fighter squadrons were dispatched to Vietnam. On 3 May, F-100s from the 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron (Colorado) arrived at Phan Rang Air Base. By 1 June, all of the 120th's pilots were flying combat missions. In the meantime, the 174th (Iowa), 188th (New Mexico), and the 136th (New York) had all deployed to Vietnam with their F-100s. In addition, 85 percent of the 355th Tactical Fighter Squadron -- on paper a regular Air Force unit -- were Air Guardsmen. They performed superbly according to Gen George S. Brown, the Air Force Commander in Vietnam. But, two ANG units deployed to South Korea in 1968 -- the 166th (Ohio) and the 127th (Kansas) -- had a spotty record. Their own support organizations had been stripped from them in the U.S. and there was no logistical structure in place to support their F-100s when they arrived in South Korea. The wing's readiness rate fell below Air Force minimum's in December 1968. The wing lost four aircraft and had one pilot killed in early 1969. It also failed an operational readiness inspection (ORI). In the meantime, the Air Force had belatedly rediscovered that the F-100C was poorly-suited to its announced air defense mission. The 354th's mission was then shifted to supporting the ground forces in Korea. Once the Pueblo's crew was returned, the Air Guardsmen prepared to return home from Korea. The unit passed an ORI and both of its fighter squadrons were rated combat-ready. They returned to the United States and left federal service in May and June of 1969.
The 123rd TRW also experienced a rocky tour of active duty. The wing had not been rated combat-ready when mobilized on 26 January 1968 primarily due to equipment shortages. It was not part of Secretary McNamara's selected reserve force. The unit was given an unsatisfactory ORI rating in October 1968. Despite those problems, the 123rd made a significant contribution to active force operations. It began functioning as the primary Air Force tactical reconnaissance unit in the continental U.S. Elements of its squadrons rotated temporary duty assignments in Japan and Korea from July 1968 until April 1969 providing photo reconnaissance support to American forces in those areas. The wing's units were returned to state status between December 1968 and June 1969.
Vietnam revealed a negative aspect of relying on reservists. For largely domestic political reasons, President Johnson chose not to mobilize most of the nation's reserve forces. The 1968 callups were only token affairs. Johnson's decision to avoid a major reserve mobilization was opposed by the senior leadership of both the active duty military establishment and the reserve forces, but to no avail. The Reserves and the Guard acquired reputations as draft havens for relatively affluent young white men. Military leaders questioned the wisdom of depending on reserve forces that might not be available except in dire emergencies.
Race had emerged as another major issue with flowering of the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. For over a decade after the active duty military establishment had begun to integrate its ranks during the Korean War, the National Guard had remained an almost exclusively white organization. Discrimination varied, but ten states with large black populations and understaffed Guard units still had no black Guardsmen in their ranks as late as 1961. Secretary of Defense McNamara had tried to encourage voluntary integration in the early 1960s, with little success. The NGB had disputed his legal authority to force integration while the Guard was under state control. It had also argued that integration would be political suicide for some governors and would hurt the military capabilities of their units.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited the use of federal funds to support discriminatory activities, dramatically altered the attitude of the Defense Department toward racial discrimination in the National Guard. It gave federal officials the power to force integration regardless of who controlled the Guard in peacetime. But, real progress in effectively integrating the Guard did not come until the 1970s.