Thursday, January 27, 2011

COMMENTARY>New Reserve unit stands up at base

By Capt. Joe Knable

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

In alignment with the Air Force’s Total Force Integration plan, Air Force Reserve Command is standing up a new unit here to augment the C-130 legacy training mission.

As active-duty C-130E-models are retired, borrowed Guard and Reserve C-130Hs are flowing in from around the Air Force, the C-130H fleet will be upgraded and active-duty units will transition to an all J-model fleet. The Reserves provide the legacy C-130 training community with flexible capability while shoring up active-duty aircrews to deploy and fight the nation’s wars.

However, this change may have gone unnoticed so far because the unit currently employs only two people -- the unit commander and the director of personnel -- but the unit expects to grow to 706 Reservists over the next few years.

Beginning last October, the 314th Airlift Wing began retiring its aging C-130E fleet. In its place, the Reserve component training unit will stand up to train legacy C-130 aircrews, provide flightline maintenance and internal support functions.

As part of the Total Force Integration plan, Air Force Reserve Command will bring in 10 C-130Hs and the Air National Guard will add an additional eight C-130Hs to meet initial and requalification C-130 programmed flight training requirements.

The new Reserve unit commander, Col. Archie Frye, huddled with Col. Mark Czelusta, 314th Airlift Wing commander; and Col. Jim Summers, 189th Airlift Wing commander; the two commanders he will work most closely with to discuss game plan for the unit’s standup and its impact on their missions and the base.

The 314th Airlift Wing currently has 14 E-models remaining in its inventory and plans to retire them at a rate of approximately one and a half per month until they’re gone. The planes are flown to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, the aircraft retirement “bone yard,” in Arizona, where they are resold, stored or scrapped.

The 314th AW’s remaining C-130Es are assigned to the 62nd Airlift Squadron, whose rich heritage dates back to World War II. There are no plans to deactivate the 62nd, however, Colonel Czelusta said. Air Force leaders have not yet determined what the squadron’s role will be after its E-models are retired.

The new Reservists will work primarily with the 314th Airlift Wing over the next two to three years as the 314th maintains the lead for legacy C-130 training and the Reserve unit grows. The Reserve unit, expected to be a group, plans to grow 18 full-time crews and 18 part-time crews, all of which will be instructor-qualified. Their manning numbers, which will be reconsidered yearly, are driven by the needs of the 189th Airlift Wing, which will lead the legacy training on base. The Reserves are inherently flexible, designed to serve as the mission’s “shock absorber,” Colonel Frye said.

The 314th AW currently has seven C-130Hs assigned, and the 10 Reserve and eight Guard planes are arriving commensurate with the retiring of the wing’s E-models, Colonel Czelusta said. By October, there will be 18 legacy C-130Hs possessed by the 314th but still owned by their respective home Reserve or Guard units. These 18 planes will continue to transfer between Little Rock AFB and their home bases according to maintenance schedules and operational needs.

The new Reserve unit will ultimately be associated with Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing here. In fiscal year 2013, when the Reserve unit is at or near full strength, the 314th will “hand the baton” to the 189th as the lead wing for C-130 legacy training, alongside the Reserve unit. The 189th will primarily train students in the C-130H-AMP variants -- C-130s upgraded by Boeing’s Avionic Modernization Program, which includes the installation of a modern digital glass cockpit akin to that found in a commercial 737-800 -- while the Reserves will primarily handle training in the legacy models that haven’t been modified. However, mixed Guard and Reserve instructor crews will be a common sight, Colonel Summers said. By 2020, all 221 legacy combat-coded C-130s will be modified.

The active duty will no longer have the manning to populate the schoolhouse, so standing up the Reserve unit and transferring the legacy training to the Guard and Reserve was a “common sense solution” as they “gracefully degrade the active-duty presence in the legacy schoolhouse” said Colonel Czelusta. The active-duty Airmen aren’t out of the legacy business yet; in fact, the 314th is still hiring legacy crews for the next several months.

The active-duty force will go to “almost a pure J-model operation,” said Colonel Czelusta. The Guard and Reserve would then be the only components flying the legacy aircraft, and since their manpower pool is more stable than the active duty, fewer crews will need to be trained and fewer instructor crews will be needed to train them.

Therefore, the long-term solution is to give the eight Guard planes back to their units and the 189th and Reserve unit will operate the 19 remaining legacy aircraft here. The 314th AW will still have a hand in training the legacy aircrews who are getting their initial qualification, as they will start at the wing’s 714th Training Squadron for classroom instruction and simulator training.

All three commanders agreed that the impact of these changes to the students for whom all three units exist will be negligible.

“The bottom line is that if we do this right, it’s totally transparent to the student,” said Colonel Summers. It won’t make a difference to the student whether the student is flying with an active-duty, Guard or Reserve instructor, because all three components train to the same high standards.

“We are going to have a seamless presentation of C-130 Combat capability to the war-fighting units in the shape of combat-ready crews,” said Colonel Czelusta.

There will be a number of other changes on base. Most noticeably for many will be infrastructure. To make the partnership with the 189th work, Colonel Frye’s unit will have share resources with the 189th AW on the ANG campus, he said.

There will be no changes to 19th Airlift Wing aircrew operations. However, there will be a temporary influx of personnel as the Reserve unit stands up faster than other base personnel are reassigned. The 19th Airlift Wing, the base’s host wing, will provide support for increased air traffic, additional parking around base, more customers at meals -- especially on drill weekends, and initially there will be a significant increase in the workload for the personnel office as they hire the remaining 704 Reservists.

Colonel Frye has requested augmentees to help with the influx and eventually the Reserve unit will have its own personnel, medical and finance elements, as well as its own flight line maintainers. However, it will rely on the 19th AW for back-shop maintenance, as the 314th currently does. Colonel Frye said he is very pleased with the welcome he has received already from Team Little Rock.

These legacy model transitions all take place while the 314th AW beefs up its C-130J fleet, which will roughly double in size. The final 314th AW fleet will be smaller than its original fleet because the newer-model training program will utilize simulators more and therefore require fewer airplane flights to qualify the student, which yields a significant savings to the taxpayer.

While the Reserve unit will be new to the base, the base’s C-130 Combat Airlift mission is new to Colonel Frye, who has never flown a C-130. He is a command pilot with more than 4,000 hours in the A/OA-10 Thunderbolt II, B-52H Stratofortress, KC-135R Stratotanker and C-141C Starlifter, but the C-130 is one plane he’s always wanted to fly yet has never had the chance until now, he said.

Colonel Frye started his Air Force career in 1977 as an enlisted crew chief, flight engineer and aerial repair specialist. He has commanded three operations groups and most recently the 931st Air Refueling Group at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. He was planning to retire this month, he said, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stand up this new unit when they asked him because he loves recruiting. An additional benefit of his new job is that he will finally live with his wife, the Arkansas Air National Guard director of staff, after being stationed apart from her for several years.

So, instead, he plans to finish his career at Little Rock AFB. “My plans are to retire after this assignment,” Colonel Frye said, “This assignment’s very important to me because it’s the last game I’m going to play in, and I definitely intend on winning.”

Capt. Michael Ueda contributed to this report.

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