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Guard and Reserve: Not just our 'backups'

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- When I first arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Station in 1998, I was a young Captain on active duty. I busily prepared myself for my new job as a Range Operations Commander.

During the process of learning my new job and getting oriented to the unit, I became aware of some mysterious Florida Air National Guard (FLANG) folks that were in the unit. I'd never really worked with reservists or Air National Guard (ANG) members and to be honest, I didn't really have the most flattering opinion of them, though I really had no personal experience to base it on. They weren't the real military. They were our "backups" if we ever got deployed or couldn't fulfill mission requirements for some reason. Like that was ever going to happen!

Of course, as I continued to progress in my development and spent more and more time working with Guardsmen, I realized they were a valuable part of the team that brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the fight. They were not just our "backups." After spending three years sitting on console, in what now is the Morrell Operations Center, I was offered an opportunity to join the organization I once didn't understand. I left active duty for a full-time position in the 114th Range Operations Squadron (ROPS) -- the ANG unit that supports the 45th Operations Group.

The trend with 114 ROPS was part of a larger trend throughout the Department of Defense (DoD) for the past 20-plus years.

While the ANG has traditionally been a strategic reserve, DoD policy has changed in recent years to emphasize the ANG as less of a strategic reserve and more of a day-to-day operational force. In fact, today ANG units accomplish 34 percent of the Air Force missions worldwide.

However, we aren't the same as the regular active duty Air Force. We are primarily a part-time force. Only 35 percent of the 106,700 ANG members are full-time. The rest are part-time. However, many of those part-timers have been activated to temporary full-time status to meet the needs of the Air Force for weeks, to months, to even years.

Also, we are often executing domestic operations such as homeland defense and disaster recovery. That certainly doesn't mean we don't deploy. In fact, there are over 12,000 ANG members currently deployed.

What we don't usually do is PCS. Many ANG members stay in the same unit for their entire career! Obviously, that allows people to gain incredible experience focused on their specific mission. However, that sometimes makes it a challenge to get breadth of experience and fresh ideas. That's why a mix of active duty and guard/reserve can be an excellent way to execute a given mission.

Now 114 ROPS has grown to 113 members and supports virtually every aspect of range operations, from training, to evaluating, to executing day-to-day operations. In many cases, one can't tell an ANG member from an active duty member, and I think that's a good thing. We may have different backgrounds, but especially on launch day we're very proud to be just another part of Team Patrick.