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Reserve, active duty blend seamlessly

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (AFPN) -- Active-duty and Reserve airmen are working side by side and facing the same wartime challenges while deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Air reserve technicians from the 917th Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., work in tandem with their active-duty counterparts as members of the 5th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron munitions flight at a forward-deployed location.

It is impossible to tell who is active and who is a reservist, except for the patches on their uniforms.

At home station, the Reserve technicians do the same jobs as regular bluesuiters. However, they serve in their units as civilian employees except during their drill periods -- one weekend per month and two weeks per year.

"My job in peacetime is the same as my job upon activation -- to train and prepare traditional Reserve members to perform their wartime duties," said Master Sgt. Joel Estes, senior munitions controller. "During the rest of the time, we're supporting the 917th Wing's munitions flight (by) providing weapons for training."

The 917th Wing is a combined wing, equipped with A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and B-52 Stratofortresses.

"Our mission at Barksdale provides our people the unique opportunity of being able to train on both fighter and bomber assets at the same time," Estes said. "Most people spend their Reserve career on one or the other but rarely both. It's the perfect training environment for our traditional Reserve members."

This training is valuable to the total-force concept, which blends active duty, Guard and Reserve airmen into one team.

As deployed airmen, air reserve technicians bring their experience and knowledge to the fight, according to Estes.

The difference, according to Senior Master Sgt. Clinton Cates, night-shift supervisor, is the job satisfaction that comes with being deployed.

"Our mission here, in ways, is much more rewarding than the day-to-day," he said. "The pace is quicker and ever flowing, so it keeps you on your toes."

Estes agreed. "The stress level is more intense, and the hours are longer, but there's a great feeling of accomplishment. Being a part of any contingency is the only way we realize the true magnitude of our training."

"Everyone here is working toward a common cause," Cates said.

That cause is providing munitions to the warfighters. The reservists are involved in every aspect of the effort -- from receiving components to building bombs.

Tech. Sgt. Todd Cummings, who normally works storage and handling back home, is using his experience as a reservist "on the pad" to build munitions, the most hands-on job.

"Being here and building the bombs is as close as you can get to the mission," he said. "This is what we train for."

Cummings is on his second deployment in six months. Air Force officials activated airmen from the 917th in September 2002 for a 90-day rotation supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

In total, service officials mobilized more than 176,000 Reserve airmen to support the war on terrorism at home and abroad, according to the Department of Defense. Although deployment rotations have been heavy, the value of air reserve technicians is evident, according to one active-duty senior noncommissioned officer.

"The blending of active-duty and reserve airmen has been seamless," said Chief Master Sgt. Ricky Quattlebaum, munitions flight chief. "They are using their skills and raising the experience level of the flight, which makes us, as a whole, that much better."

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