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Into the Blue

Audience members (opposite) explore the 2018 Power in the Pines Open House and Air Show May 6, 2018 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. U.S. Air Force photo by Brad Camara.

The U.S. Air Force Reserve Turns 70

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McGuire is a fantastic example of what the Air Force Reserve can, and should, be,” asserts Col. Robert Dunham, a graduate of Princeton University. “McGuire is an associate unit, meaning that reservists share the same hardware with their active-duty counterparts. That is a model that has worked very well.”

Now retired, Dunham is a former ops group commander at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (MDL), an Air Force base in Burlington County, N.J. In 2009 the McGuire Air Force Base was renamed after being consolidated with adjacent Army and Navy facilities, but it remains under the jurisdiction of the Air Mobility Command. In addition to the Air Force and the Air Force Reserve, the base is host to the Air National Guard. It also hosts a Marine Forces Reserve contingent, as well as the Naval Air Reserve’s Fleet Logistics Squadron VR-64.

“The Air Force Reserve was created as a separate component on April 14, 1948, when the Army Air Corps Reserve was transferredto the Air Force,” notes Lt. Col. Kimberly Lalley, the chief of public affairs for the 514th Air Mobility Wing. “The Air Force Reserve lineage dates back over 100 years to when Reserve Airpower was established in the National Defense Act of 1916. Today nearly 70,000 Reserve citizen airmen are stationed locally in communities throughout the United States and overseas and serving globally for every Combatant Command in air, space, and cyberspace.”

History of the Joint Base

“The roots of the Joint Base go back to World War I, when Camp Dix was established,” says aviation historian Dr. Richard Porcelli, author of Floyd Bennett Field and Naval Air Station Atlantic City. “Starting in 1917, it was the major mobilization point for forces headed for the European war. After the war, Camp Dix became a training base, and in the 1920s a primitive airfield was created on the site.

“In the 1930s, using federal funds, airport infrastructure was added including concrete runways. The airport was named Rudd Field in honor of Guy K. Rudd, a fallen aviator from Newark. In 1939 it became Fort Dix Army Air Field. In 1940 it became the home base of the 119th Observation Squadron, antecedents of today’s New Jersey Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Squadron.”

“During WWII it was used mainly as a base for anti-submarine patrols, as well as a stopping point for aircraft flying to and from Europe,” Porcelli continues. “At the end of the war, it was the receiving airfield for returning war wounded. But in 1946 the base was closed, as part of the post-war [reduction in] forces. Its closure was short-lived, with reactivation in 1948 by the newly formed U.S. Air Force.’’

The base was named for New Jersey’s Medal of Honor recipient and second leading American fighter ace, Ridgewood-born Thomas McGuire, Jr. (1920-1945). “His first combat assignment was in Alaska flying P-39s with the 54th Fighter Group,” says Porcelli. “He returned to the U.S. in December 1942 and married Marilynn Geisler, whom he called ‘Pudgy.’ He named his assigned P-38 Pudgy, in her honor. A reproduction of Pudgy can be seen on the base.”

“In February 1943 he reported to Orange County Airport to learn how to fly the Lockheed P-38 Lightning,” Porcelli says. “He was posted to the South Pacific in March 1943 with the 49th Fighter Squadron, 5th Fighter Group. Then he was assigned to the 431st Fighter Squadron.” McGuire was killed when his P-38 Lightning crashed on Negros Island in the Philippines; he had been attempting to assist his wingman during a dogfight, a close-range form of aerial combat.

“The Air Force became an independent military service, separated from the U.S. Army, on September 18, 1947,” says Porcelli. “The Air Service tried to gain independence as early as 1920, but was denied. It did not happen until after the Second World War, partially after the War Department (later Department of Defense) recognized the role of air power in the winning of the war.”

The Air Force has two reserve components: the Air Force Reserve Command and the Air National Guard. “The mission of the 514th Air Mobility Wing is to recruit and sustain combat-ready Reserve citizen airmen to fly, fight, and win, while enhancing our nation’s air mobility capability,” says Lalley.

A “Typical Day” for a Reservist

“No day is typical,” asserts Lt. Col. Tamara Johnson, who has been in the Air Force since 1998, and at Joint Base MDL since 2009. Formerly a KC-10 pilot, she now is an executive officer. Her duties include drafting awards and decorations for the squadron. “I get to interact with our impressive airmen and learn about the amazing things they do on a daily basis. While they believe they’re ‘just doing their jobs,’ I’m in a position to recognize them for constantly going above and beyond.”

Col. Michael DeSantis, the operations group commander for the 514th Air Mobility Wing, attends “a lot of meetings. I’ll come in and prepare for a maintenance operation meeting, where we review the day prior’s flying. Thursday I’ll be flying all day in a C-17, refueling. A big part of my job is training other pilots how to fly; that’s probably about 10 percent of my job. The rest of it is being a commander. With a group of almost 600 people, it’s a big job for me.”

A Princeton resident, Major Sasha Heath is a KC-10 pilot with the 76th Air Refueling Squadron. “A typical day for me depends on what I have scheduled for that particular duty day,” Heath says. “When I come in to fly, for example, the day revolves around the mission. From preparing for the flight, completing the flight, and conducting any necessary debriefs or paperwork, it’s quite a process.”

“Your primary job in the Reserve is to be ready,” says Dunham. “I was the operations group commander. A wing has three different groups. There’s an operations group, consisting of the people who directly do operations; a maintenance group that works with operations to keep all the airplanes up in the air; and a mission support group.”

Col. Adrian Byers, the vice commander for the 514th Air Mobility Wing, agrees with Dunham that “We all have the same requirements of maintaining our readiness. We’re pilots, but we’re officers first. I assist the wing commander in running day-to-day operations. When he’s not here, I run the wing in his stead. One of the pilots in the squadron may come down and be flying a mission the next day. So they’ll plan for that mission.”

A “Three-Legged Stool”

For a reservist, juggling military duty with civilian life can be “very challenging,” says Johnson. “You just have to be organized, and you have to be efficient with your time.”

Heath agrees: “Juggling a full-time civilian job with being a reservist is definitely a challenge. I normally work my Reserve days into days off from my civilian job. As a pilot for the Reserves, one must make time for not just flying, but other duties required of all reservists. I make sure to set aside at least several days a month in order to keep up.”

“Reserve duty entails one weekend a month, with 14 or 15 days of active duty training per year,” says DeSantis. “But it is challenging for the families, a huge sacrifice. We constantly refer to that at retirement or award ceremonies. We have their families stand up, because we recognize what a sacrifice it is for them to work, raise a family, stay current and qualified in that reserve job, and pursue higher education — probably on weekends or during evening hours. We try to build a lot of family time activity when we can. During the holidays we’ll open up an airplane.”

Byers acknowledges the impact that military duty can have on a reservist’s employer. “Sometimes that can be a little challenging, because it always depends on how the employee and employer interact. I fly for American Airlines. There’s a requirement that any reservist must let their employer know that they’re going to do military duty. By law they have to allow you go; they understand and accept that. But what we don’t want to do is abuse that trust. Towards the end of the fiscal year, we typically do an employer appreciation flight. We bring the employers out, so they can see what their employees have been doing throughout the whole year.”

“For a pilot who works at the airlines it tends to be a little bit easier, as opposed to a small business owner,” adds Dunham. “It is the ‘three-legged stool.’ You’ve got your ‘military’ leg, you’ve got your ‘civilian career’ leg, and you’ve got your ‘family’ leg. If you take too much away from any one of those legs, the stool gets out of balance. As long as everyone’s talking it can work very well. When I say ‘everyone,’ it’s the reservist who’s in the middle; he’s got to talk to everyone. Usually when the reservist is open about expectations, he can make things work.”

The Trojan Thunder T-28 team performs aerial stunts during the 2018 Power in the Pines Open House and Air Show at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. U.S. Air Force photo by Brad Camara.

KC-46 Pegasus Tankers

Joint Base MDL has been chosen to receive 24 Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tankers. “This is incredible news for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the state of New Jersey, and the future of national security in the United States,” U.S. Rep. Tom McArthur tells David Levinsky of the Burlington County Times. “Over 42,000 New Jersey residents in my district who are employed at the base and…rely on its survival can breathe easy, knowing the joint base will remain our nation’s premier air mobility installation.”

“Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and Travis AFB were chosen as the next two active-duty-led KC-46A bases because they meet all operational mission requirements at the best value for the Air Force and the American taxpayer and support our tanker recapitalization strategy,” former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James says in a statement.

“The need for a new tanker is strong, and it is the reason that the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus is one of the Air Force’s highest priorities,” says Porcelli. “It was contracted as a KC-135 replacement, but it will also eventually replace the KC-10 as well. The choice of McGuire for the basing of the KC-46 Pegasus assures the future viability of the air base and all the employment and financial benefits it provides.”

“The huge thing is that we maintain a capability of force extension that the Air Force needs,” adds Byers. “As we start to have new fighter aircraft coming along, like the F-35, they need to have more capable tankers [such as] the KC-46. So as I take the KC-10 out of the picture, and replace it with the KC-46, McGuire gains a whole other capability to support the commanders down the road.”

“I’ve heard we’re going to start divesting the KC-10 next year, probably in September,” says DeSantis. “The first KC-46 is slated to arrive in 2021. We’ll start losing the KC-10 in September 2019.”

Last March, however, current Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson stated that the Air Force probably will need to keep the KC-10 in service longer than anticipated. According to Joe Gould and Valerie Insinna of Defense News, the KC-46 tanker program has been beset by delays, partially due to deficiencies in the high frequency radio, and the refueling boom.

Wilson has expressed concern that Boeing is prioritizing commercial projects over the tankers. In a statement, the manufacturer responded that “There is no greater priority…than the delivery of the KC-46. Boeing has continued to demonstrate its commitment to deliver the tankers as soon as possible and believes in our partnership with the U.S. Air Force.” Wilson has replied that “Boeing has been overly optimistic in all of their schedule reports,” adding, “My focus right now is to get the aircraft from Boeing and get them up there flying so we can modernize the fleet.”

Future Goals

“I would love to go back to the Pentagon,” says Byers.  “I’ve had two tours there, but I would love to go to headquarters and continue to serve in that capacity when my time at McGuire is done. Especially if that would lead me to a job that would positively affect the lives of airmen.”

Heath says, “As challenging as it is at times to keep up with reserve duties, I enjoy that I can continue to serve, and want to complete my 20 years. The Reserve presents a unique opportunity for citizens to give their experience and commitment to the military while still pursuing a full-time civilian career.”

“I enjoy being in the operation side of things, as opposed to a staff job at the headquarters,” says DeSantis. “Any time I’m in an operations command job, I feel like I’m doing the most good I can for my country. That’s tremendously rewarding. My aspiration would be to become a wing commander. A wing consists of two to three thousand people, so every time you move up an echelon, it’s an exponential change in responsibility. But that’s not an unusual advancement for a group commander.

Johnson, who has a new baby, plans to retire next year. “Until then I want to do the best I can to make sure the great people I work with are acknowledged for their continued commitment to excellence.”

“When I entered Princeton, my father, a Princeton grad of ’53, told me to get to know as many of my classmates as possible, as I’d never again be surrounded by as great a group,” remembers Dunham. “My dad was wrong, the greatest people I’ve ever been involved with are the reservists I’ve trained with, deployed with, and fought with. The honor of my life was serving with these great Americans.”

On May 5-6, Joint Base MDL presented the 2018 Power in the Pines air show. The event included the Air Combat Command F-22 Demonstration Team, the Canadian Forces CF-18 Team, and a U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights.

“It gets a lot of young folks interested in the military,” enthuses Byers. “You’re sparking an interest in someone at an early age, who later could be one of those guys who we could have here at McGuire, flying C-17s or KC-10s. Every two years we get air shows. We put it on, and we look for community support. Once the community gets involved, then the sky’s the limit — literally!”

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