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Reservists demobilize to prepare for new 'steady state'

WASHINGTON -- In response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Air Force mobilized more than 30,000 Air National Guardsmen and Air Force Reservists.

Nearly a year later, a large portion of them are being released as the Air Force embraces a new steady state, according to Michael L. Dominguez, assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.

"We had, by far, the most people mobilized (within the Department of Defense). That was driven by the Air Force mission and this kind of war, which was largely about air power," he said. "To sustain the Reserve and Guard we have to get them back into their traditional roles where they can be reserves again and roll in when we need them."

The Air Force slowly began demobilizing last spring and presently has more than 13,000 airmen waiting to be demobilized over the next two months.

"What that means is we (send) them back to their home stations, where they reconstitute their units, take accrued leave and then out-process. We want them to do that on our time," Dominguez said. "Then their mobilization will be complete."

Before Sept. 11, Guard and Reserve troops were on duty every day of the year, supplementing and supporting the active duty component in some capacity, according to Dominguez. "They can do that because they can anticipate the requirements and make arrangements with their families and employers.

"One hundred percent retention of these people is really critical to me," he said. "We want to get them back into their citizen airman role where they are with us when we need them, when they can plan for it."

Sending Guard and Reserve airmen back to their regular missions will not be painless for the active duty force, and many reservists and guardsmen will likely remain mobilized into the second year of this conflict, according to Dominguez.

"This is a huge challenge ahead of us because we have removed the two crisis response instruments (of mobilization and Stop-Loss)," he said. "Mobilization and Stop-Loss were like training wheels to get us to this new steady state," he said. "Those are gone. We are going to wobble some but we will think our way through this. This is going to be a long-term challenge."

Increasing the number of people on active duty may seem an easy and obvious solution to the challenge, but Dominguez said transformation has to occur first.

"Transformation means adapting to the ops tempo and threat with the resources you have," he said. "Lots of talent is tied up in nonwarfighting jobs. We need to get people in uniform out of doing things like pushing paper.

"We need to use the military where they belong, where their unique skills and abilities are warranted," he said.

The Air Force is already looking at this most recent mobilization to capture lessons learned. Many reasons for the success of the call-up can be found in the expeditionary Air Force concept that involved the Guard and Reserve in its evolution.

"It allowed combatant commanders to understand how to use these guys," Dominguez said. "It built trust and confidence, and we got a lot of practice together. I have to say from my perspective that the process of calling people up and mobilizing them for the U.S. Air Force worked superbly. That's largely a result of the fact that they are so closely integrated with the active force."

Within 24 hours of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, nearly 7,000 guardsmen and reservists put on their uniforms and reported to their bases. Many volunteers remain on duty today, Dominguez said.

"What a tremendous lesson for the active force, " he said, "that when you need them, they're there. You don't even have to call. They're just there. We're pretty unique in the Air Force in how easily and seamlessly the Guard, Reserve and active duty work into one force.

"We still have to be watching and vigilant about our total force," he said. "But this mobilization shows that those who preceded us were vigilant and achieved success in building this total force. We owe it to them to preserve that."

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