First Future Total Force wing proves successful
by Tech. Sgt. Beverly Isik and Airman 1st Class Paul Ryan
116th Air Control Wing Public Affairs
In October 2002, America’s first total force wing took flight as the 116th ACW and made history by combining active-duty Airmen and Soldiers from the 93rd ACW, along with Georgia Air National Guardsmen from the 116th Bomb Wing. The two wings formed one cohesive unit, flying the E-8C -- the world’s only Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System.
The merger combined the talents of Airmen, Soldiers, guardsmen and civilians to train and deploy combat mission-ready aircrews to conduct ground surveillance, target detection, and battle tracking necessary for the plans and operations of joint force commanders around the world.
Three months after the merger, the wing deployed nine of its then 11 aircraft and 750 troops to support operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
“We integrated successfully and went to war successfully at the same time,” said Brig. Gen. George T. “Tom” Lynn, 116th ACW commander and an Air National Guardsmen. “The real success story of the 116th is the men and women in this organization who wanted to make this work. The people who helped forge this total-force wing will always be a part of Air Force history.
“There are plans for other organizations to form some type of total force constructs,” he said. “We may end up being the only truly ‘blended wing’ in the Air Force, but it works great for the 116th.”
But their success did not come easily.
Blending presented challenges for almost everyone involved. From the Air National Guard commander down to the brand-new active-duty Airman, the two cultures collided and there was little guidance from higher headquarters.
“Since we have become one team, sometimes it is difficult to determine what status a person is in,” said Chief Master Sgt. Linda Bynum, chief of manpower for the wing. “There is no easy way to distinguish between categories of people since (Air Reserve Technicians) wear their uniform every day.”
An Air Reserve Technician is a government civilian employee who during the week wears a military uniform. By law, an ART cannot perform certain command actions against and active-duty Airman except when activated.
While it is a good thing that people cannot distinguish the difference, it is important to know the status since there are certain things that people cannot ask technicians to do when they are not on military status, Chief Bynum said. This is both for the protection of the ART and supervisor.
“Although it may be frustrating at times for the leader, we still have to accept this as a cultural difference and deal with it in a professional manner,” she said.
Despite these challenges, the chief firmly believes the unit is a success.
“The wing has implemented policies and procedures to comply with both active-duty and Air National Guard policies, and we have proven that we can meet the mission requirements of the theater commanders, and that’s what the mission is all about,” she said.
One of the biggest benefits the chief said she sees in the Future Total Force wing is the variety of perspectives and experiences each side brings to the table.
“From my observations, (guardsmen) tend to be older and experienced, and have set processes in place,” Chief Bynum said. “This is a plus for the experienced members to train the active-duty Airmen who rotate in and out.”
And, the guardsmen get the benefit of new ideas on improving those processes from the diverse views of the active-duty Airmen, she said.
Wing leaders learned early on that being the first is not always easy.
The “people issues” were one of the greater challenges the wing faced when merging, General Lynn said.
“There was a great lack of knowledge by the active-duty and the Air National Guard members of each other’s systems: pay, promotion, recognition, etc.,” he said.
The only way the wing overcame this unfamiliarity was through education and day-to-day exposure to each other’s ways.
“It (was) imperative that people meet these issues head-on without fostering an ‘us and them’ atmosphere, but instead fostering an atmosphere of ‘one wing, one family, one fight,’” General Lynn said.
The two wings joined with essentially no direction other than, “Make it happen and don’t fail,” General Lynn said.
There was no template to follow, the general said.
“We didn’t have the benefit of lessons learned,” he said. “Therefore, many of the issues we faced were new and unexpected.”
But ask almost anyone in the wing, the general said, and they will say the blending has been a success. (Tech. Sgt. Mike Spaits, of Air Force Print News, contributed to this article.)
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