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Leaders tell Congress relationships key in war on terrorism

WASHINGTON -- Leaders from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command spoke to members of Congress on March 19 on the personnel issues their organizations face in fighting the global war on terrorism.

Lt. Gen. Daniel James III, the director of the Air National Guard, told the Senate Armed Services Committee subcommittee on military personnel that relationships were key to the success the Guard has had during recent call-ups.

"The close relationships that we have maintained with our members, their families and their employers are key to their successes and reliability during the global war on terrorism," James said.

Family relationships, James said, were of critical importance.

"With deployments at historically high levels, we must also keep a watchful eye over the families they leave behind," James said. "The post 9-11 challenges and operations tempo of the Air National Guard not only increased our reliance on our people, but ultimately placed increased pressure on families. We continue to recognize the importance of families as key tenets of readiness and retention."

In the same vein, Maj. Gen. John J. Batbie Jr., vice commander of the Air Force Reserve Command, told committee members the Reserve component has been working over the past 12 years to improve its relationship with servicemembers and their families, helping them deal with the stress of deployment.

"Since Desert Storm, we have added in a bunch of full-time folks and part-time people we can call up," Batbie said. "Last year we called up 29 family support people to manage some of those issues. We decided to team up the medical, family support and chaplain people to be there when those deployed to Afghanistan started coming home -- to be there should any issues pop up."

James thanked committee members for passing legislation to increase accession bonuses to $8,000 and extend the usage period for the Montgomery GI Bill to 14 years, two measures which he said help the Guard with recruiting and retention efforts.

"We believe that both of these programs pay and will pay the Air National Guard significant dividends in the years to come," James said.

At the same time, James said that the Guard is facing a challenge in retaining mid-level airmen -- those skilled servicemembers who are between six and 12 years in their careers. He told panel members an increase in retention bonuses may help keep them in.

"Our retention is the lowest in the mid-career airmen category," James said. "Currently, reenlistment bonuses in critical specialties are capped at $5,000. We believe a more appropriate limit will be $10,000. This will help us to sustain our readiness posture for rapid mobilization and deployment requirements in today's operations tempo."

Committee members asked James about the status of guardsmen at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., where airmen and equipment from the Air National Guard's 116th Bomb Wing and Air Combat Command's 93rd Air Control Wing have come together to form the 116th ACW, marking the first time guardsmen and active duty units have been paired in such a way.

While there are still issues to be worked out, such as legal chains of command and ownership of aircraft, the plan is working very well, James said.

"This is the first time that the ANG and the active component have combined in what we call the blended unit, and it has been successful," James said. "We have had to coordinate a number of different issues because it is a first time, but I find the morale is very high."

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