National Guard August 2011 : Page 42
A conversation with Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III ‘It’s lining up pretty well for the Air National Guard’ 42 He came to the nation’s capital more than two years ago as “Bud from Oklahoma.” But Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, the director of the Air National Guard, is now well-versed in the responsibilities required of him in Washington, D.C. He wages an incessant battle against budget limitations to keep his force’s ﬂeet up to date and sufficiently stocked. He worries that the lessons of history have not been learned when it comes to providing national security in lean economic times. He exhibits frustration at the problem of suicide in his ranks. And he takes a personal interest in the misbehavior of a few officers who don’t view the Air Force’s core values quite the same way he does. Wyatt, however, eschews the sound-bite culture of the city in which he now resides. During a recent interview with National Guard in his Pentagon office, he discussed the future of his force like the litigator he once was, offering his point of view in clear language and almost daring someone to disagree. | Na tional Guard
'It's lining up pretty well for the Air National Guard'
A conversation with Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III Director of the Air National Guard
He came to the nation's capital more than two years ago as "Bud from Oklahoma."
But Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, the director of the Air National Guard, is now well-versed in the responsibilities required of him in Washington, D.C.
He wages an incessant battle against budget limitations to keep his force's fleet up to date and sufficiently stocked.
He worries that the lessons of history have not been learned when it comes to providing national security in lean economic times.
He exhibits frustration at the problem of suicide in his ranks. And he takes a personal interest in the misbehavior of a few officers who don't view the Air Force's core values quite the same way he does.
Wyatt, however, eschews the soundbite culture of the city in which he now resides. During a recent interview with National Guard in his Pentagon office, he discussed the future of his force like the litigator he once was, offering his point of view in clear language and almost daring someone to disagree.
The nation's budget problem is evident. Cuts in the defense budget will be made. What are you doing to ensure the cuts will not impact Air Guard personnel endstrength and force structure?
One of the things that we're obviously doing is trying to work the budget issues inside the Air Force corporate process. The Air Force does have a process that allows participation by all of the components–active, Guard and Reserve.
My concern is that we will approach this time in our history like we have so many other times recently. That is, we do the easy thing and we just cut force structure across all three components. And as a result, we will become a less capable Air Force.
I don't think we have to do it that way. I don't think we should do it that way.
I think we need to recognize the fact that most of our leadership, regardless of service, has the same historical perspective: We've all grown up living in a military paradigm where, No. 1, we had a near peer– Russia–and, No. 2, we were in a period of relative prosperity. We could spend just about what we needed to on a large standing Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard to meet that near-peer threat.
Now we find ourselves in a completely different paradigm. And what I think we need to do is take a look further back and learn a little bit from history, when we have been faced with rising threats at a time when the country could not afford a large military budget.
We have placed more capability in the reserve component. And I think it's time for us to do that again.
But when you take a look at the people who will be making the decisions, all of us, yours truly included, were raised up in a time when the answer was one that we could afford, and that was a large standing force.
We're going to have to make some tough decisions in the United States Air Force. And basically the choices we're going to be left with to meet the president's directive to reduce $400 billion over the next 12 years are either we park airplanes in the boneyard or we transfer force structure to the Air National Guard.
I don't think we have to become a smaller, less capable Air Force. We have to become a more efficient, more cost-effective Air Force, and I think we can do that by moving force structure to the Air National Guard.
So, are the times lining up in favor of this argument, in favor of the Air Guard? Before Air Force leadership could dismiss that argument because money wasn't such a problem. Things seem to be lining up in the Air Guard's favor.
I wouldn't characterize it as in favor of the Air National Guard. I would characterize it as in favor of a more cost-effective national defense, a more cost-effective, but still highly capable, United States Air Force by moving more structure to the Air National Guard.
A lot of people are going to say, "Well, that's easy for the Air Guard guy to say. That's easy for the director to say." And it certainly is. But I'm saying it from the perspective of an American taxpayer who, on one hand, is concerned about having adequate defense, but also is concerned nowadays about not spending any more for defense than we absolutely necessarily have to.
And I think it's aligning very well for what I would call a "militia construct." I borrowed this phrase from a former chief of staff of the United States Air Force, Gen. Ron Fogleman, who said maybe it's time to return to the militia construct that served us very well in 1636, served us very well in 1776, served us very well in World War I and World War II.
But, again, it's going to be difficult for people who have lived in the last 60 years to make that decision because, as I said, we have grown up in a different era.
The Air Force of all the services is especially challenged because not only do we have the reduced budgets, we've also got to figure out a way to recapitalize aging aircraft and platforms across the United States Air Force at the same time.
But I think we can do it. And I think the way to do it is to look to the Guard to provide more of that capability at reduced costs, which is what we do.
So, I think it's lining up pretty well for the Air National Guard.
The Air Guard has long insisted on a flying unit in every state and territory. Is that still a reasonable and a feasible position going forward?
I think it's reasonable. I think it's feasible. And I would go a step further and say it's necessary for the United States Air Force.
We have 89 wings, so obviously there are some states with more than one flying mission.
Obviously, there are going to be downward pressures on maintaining that many flying wings.
The thing that we cannot lose is our people. I think there would be some room to work with the Air Force to maybe convert some of those flying wings into nonflying missions.
But if the Air Force is going to remain connected with the American people, we need to show that there is air power in each of our states, territories and the District of Columbia. What better way than the Air National Guard to provide that?
The Air Force has cut aircraft from several wings over the past few years. It's a trend that has some worried about the future of the Air Guard as a flying organization. You seem to see a bright future for the Air Guard as a flying organization.
I do. I would imagine that the people who see the flying mission of the Air National Guard threatened are those who have lived through the tough economic times in the past and have seen the way the Air Force and the other services have approached leaner times and that is, "Well, let's cut the reserve component and leave the active component where it is."
When you do that, all you do is get smaller and smaller and smaller. And you don't save that much cost.
We are the most cost-effective air arm of the United States Air Force. So, I'm optimistic. I've told my airmen that I think the Air National Guard is exactly where it wants to be at this point in history. The challenge is to make sure we are where we want to be for the sake of the country. Not for the sake of the Air National Guard, but for the sake of the country. I think we need to rely more on the Air National Guard to provide that capability at less cost.
So, I don't feel as threatened as some people might. I will feel that way if we approach the challenges in the same old ways that we have in the recent past.
Let's talk about recapitalization. Where do you see that it's being done to your satisfaction? Where are places that it's falling behind?
I'll start with the good news story. Let's take a look at remotely piloted aircraft. As we have gone forward in building toward the 65 combat air patrols that the secretary of defense is expecting the Air Force to meet by 2013, the Air Force has grown its unmanned aerial system, remotely piloted aircraft capability and inventory. And so has the Air National Guard. We've always provided between 20 and 25 percent of that capability.
As we look at projections out into the future, as we get to the end of recapitalization and acquisition of our PA, that's about where we'll be, 20 to 25 percent of the Air Force capability.
We have higher percentages of capability in the fighter force where we have about 30 percent. C-130 airlift, about 33 percent. KC-135s, where we have about 45 percent of the Air Force inventory.
Those percentages are appropriate for the amount of operations tempo those particular weapons systems have.
Where we have not done a good job, in my opinion, is the F-22. And if you analyze how we got to where we are with the F-22, you can understand why concurrent and balanced is essential not just for the Air National Guard, but for the United States Air Force.
Originally, the Air Force was going to buy 750 F-22 fighters. Through the years, the buy was truncated to 187. Right now, there are five F-22s with Air National Guard on the tail. In the end, there will be only 18 with Air National Guard on the tail. That's the wing in Hawaii.
So, the Air National Guard will have less than 10 percent of the F-22 fleet. We do have a classic association at Langley Air Force Base, [Va.]. The Virginia Air Guard flies the jet, but those are owned by the active component.
So, if the Air Force gets into a fighting war where the F-22 is needed, there is very little, if any, surge capability. Whereas in all the other weapons systems, the force can surge. We need to do better as we go forward.
The target for the F-35 [Joint Strike Fighter] is 1,763 aircraft, but if you look at the fielding schedule, most of those don't come into the Air National Guard until the later years, which was kind of the plan for the F-22. And you saw where that led us.
This seems like a good place to bring up the Air Sovereignty Alert mission. How does this affect that mission if these new aircraft are not coming to you guys?
That's a great question. There are 18 locations across the United States where there are at least two fighter aircraft on ground alert to protect the sovereign airspace over the United States, in my mind, the No. 1 mission of the United States Air Force.
Of those 18 locations, 17 are flown by the Air National Guard. And at about 11 of those locations, we're flying the mission with one of the oldest blocks of F-16s in the United States Air Force–Block 30 F-16s. They are getting old. The Air Force has recently decided to put some money in for what we call structural sustainment of the Block 30s, which will extend the life expectancy of the airplanes from about 2018 to 2020 or 2021. But we still face a recapitalization problem with the structure of the airplane.
The other thing is, the radar systems on the airplanes are just as old, almost unsustainable were it not for the great maintenance capabilities and expertise in the Air National Guard. But it's getting almost as hard to repair and replace the radar systems as it is the airplane itself.
So, we need that mission recapitalized with modern aircraft. We know that one of those units–Burlington, Vt.–has been selected as, to this date, the only F-35 location in the Air National Guard.
Again, when you take a look at concurrent fielding–OK, it is concurrent because it is one of the first continental U.S. operational locations– but there are only 18 going in out of the first 190-some-odd F-35s. So, again, less than 10 percent coming to the Air National Guard.
The important thing to remember is that the fighters that are used for Air Sovereignty Alert–F-16s, and hopefully soon it will be F-35s–are also used for the fight overseas for Air Expeditionary Force rotations.
We're looking at ways to not only remain highly effective from a combat-capability perspective, but also ways to reduce the cost. And one of the factors that we've looked at is, how do we prolong the life of old F-16s? How do we make the lives of F-35s last even longer?
When you consider the experience level of the Air National Guard versus the experience level of the active-duty Air Force, you'll find that most of our units have an experience level of about 90 percent. The experience level in the active duty is significantly lower.
As a result of that, it doesn't require as many sorties from each pilot to remain proficient in the Air National Guard as it does on active duty. When you multiply that toward the number of cockpits and the number of pilots, there's a significant amount of savings every year by having the most expensive-to-fly airplanes, i.e., the B-2, the B-1, the F-35, the F-22, the KC-46A [air refueler], in the Air National Guard.
And the added benefit is that the airplanes, because you fly them fewer hours per month per pilot, they last longer in the long run. So, perhaps, we won't find ourselves 20, 25 years from now in the same predicament that we find ourselves in today.
Like other forces, the Air National Guard has been touched by suicide. The Air Guard has responded with programs like the Wingman Project. Yet suicides persist. What's your personal take on the reason for this?
I will tell you, this has been the issue that has probably been the most frustrating to me. I don't understand it. And I think most people don't understand what would cause a young person to think that the best way to solve the pressures and issues of life is to take their own life. I don't know why our people are doing this.
But we do have the Wingman Project. It does fit into our DNA because wingmen take care of one another.
The experts tell me that the best way to combat suicide is to lay eyes on our people, to know them and to frequently talk with them, visit them and to recognize when they're going through some changes.
We have another program called ACE–to ask if they have a problem, care enough to do something about it and escort them to a person who can give them some help. It's not good enough to just say, "Hey, here's a phone number. Go call this and get some help."
We've got to destigmatize the whole concept around suicides and people not wanting to reveal they have personal issues. A lot of them are concerned about losing their security clearances and, therefore, their job if they're thought to have a mental health problem. We've got to destigmatize that to the point where people will actively reach out and seek help.
We've also committed a significant amount of resources in standing up a director of psychological health professional at each of our 89 wings. We don't have one in each wing to this point, but we're working our way toward that as resources become available. These are individuals at each wing who are charged with getting out and laying eyes on our folks and seeing if there are problems that they can head off.
It's extremely frustrating to attack this issue in so many different ways and still not be able apparently to slow the rate of suicide. I had a flight surgeon who said, "Well, maybe we're focusing on the number of lives lost too much, and not enough on the number of lives saved."
So, what we've started doing in the Air National Guard is documenting how many saves we have, because it occurs to me that as the economy gets worse the problem could get worse. Most of the investigations that we have show that things that cause people to take their lives are personal relationships or financial circumstances. Very few of them had anything to do with numbers of deployments or [being] overseas or their job.
What I think you are seeing in the Air National Guard is a reflection of the pressures on society as a whole. The [suicide] rates of American citizens are up, too. So, I think we are a microcosm, as we should be, of our civilian populace.
I'm not sure we're doing the right things. I think we are. When you take the advice of the flight surgeon and look at the number of lives saved by some of the programs we have, we are making some progress. But I think the problem is getting greater and greater as the economy lags longer, as the war goes on longer and longer, as people are unable to cope with some of their personal relationships.
We had 19 suicides last year. So far this year, we've had nine. At this point last year, we had 11. That's a marginal improvement in my mind. But when you look at the number of lives saved, we've made significant improvement.
We can't stop. We've got to keep exploring innovative ways to take care of our people.
A number of airmen in the Guard are eligible for retirement. Are you concerned that there could be a sudden mass exodus from the force?
It's interesting. If you would have asked me this question 10 years ago, I would have said, "Wow, 38 percent. We are really at risk. If we turn the pressure up here and we have to deploy more or we go to war, a lot of those 38 percent will say, 'Hey, I have my 20-year letter. I'm just going to retire.'"
That would have been my fear 10 years ago. That's not my fear today.
We have had about that percentage of airmen eligible for retirement for the past 10 years.
The people who began joining our force back in 1991 have a perspective that perhaps old guys like me don't have. When I joined the Air Guard, I thought you might go to war once or twice in your lifetime. But the people who have joined in the past 20 years sign up knowing that they're probably going to rotate [to a war zone]. They do it out of patriotism.
Our retention rate is extremely good. Most businesses look at about a 15-percent-a-year turnover. Ours has been in the neighborhood of 6 to 7 percent, people who actually hit that mandatory retirement age. It's almost like you have to force people out because they want to stay members of our organization.
I am concerned about the increased length of time our Air Expeditionary Force rotations. We have had increases in the past and we have weathered those.
I think the economic situation is probably influencing some people to stay in who might otherwise get out if they had the opportunity or the money to do so.
So, I think there are several different factors. But I'm no longer concerned about the fact that 38 percent of our folks are eligible for retirement because I've seen those same folks raise their hand and volunteer time after time to leave home, to leave their civilian jobs and do the country's work.
The AEF rotations are being lengthened, as you said. Will that affect the volunteerism that you mentioned earlier?
I think it may. We watch that pretty close. And I think that you can document that every time you increase the length of the AEF rotations, you do move some airmen from the volunteer side to "Well, you're going to have to mobilize me to go."
It's not been significant up to this point. But we are beginning to see certain job skills, certain types of capability that our airmen provide where they're saying, "Yeah, I don't mind going, but you really need to mobilize me this time. If I raise my hand one more time, my spouse is going to shoot me." Or, "I've imposed upon my civilian employer about as much as I can with my volunteerism. He or she understands when I'm mobilized, but they don't quite understand when I keep volunteering. So, I can't volunteer anymore, but if you want to mobilize me, that's OK."
Mobilization is not a bad word to the Air National Guard. A lot of people say we want to avoid mobilization and rely on volunteerism. I think you have to rely on both. And what we need, I think, to maybe assuage some of that concern about volunteerism is to make sure our people who volunteer have the same protection and the same benefits as the people who get mobilized. If we do that, we're going to be OK.
You recently traveled around the nation talking to Air Guardsmen. What was your purpose? What did you hear?
You're talking about my Return to Core Values Tour. Let me back up a little bit and tell you why we did that. The core values of the Air National Guard are the same core values of the United States Air Force: Integrity. Service above self. Excellence in all we do.
And 99.5 percent of our people have no problem with those core values. They are salt-of-the-earth people.
Like any organization, we have a few people who don't quite see it the way that they should. For example, they may have read service for self instead of service above self.
About a year ago, we had what I would call some significant adverse publicity over the conduct of some in our Air National Guard that was reflecting on the 99.5 percent who really do adhere to the core values.
It was diverting a lot of time and energy from me and my staff to do our primary job of fighting for resources and policy and the things we're charged to do on behalf of the 106,700 Air National Guardsmen.
So, I took a lesson from a former director of the Air National Guard, [retired] Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd. He was faced with a similar situation in the safety arena back during his tenure. It was a period of time when the Air National Guard was transitioning from the A-7s into F-16s and some other newer platforms. And he went through a rash of flying incidents where we lost airplanes. I think there were six in one week maybe.
He determined that he needed to address that immediately.
And so, when these incidents starting happening and it was diverting so much of our attention and adversely impacting the Air National Guard, I went to him and asked him what prompted him to do that.
He gave me some very good advice. He said, "First of all, you've got to be bold enough to get people's attention if you think it's an issue. But, also, you can't be naïve enough to think that you're going to change this. You won't change this as director, but your commanders, your senior enlisted corps, your chief master sergeants, they will change it if you tell them that you have a problem and if they agree you have a problem."
We made six stops around the nation and invited senior officers, senior enlisted, some of our lawyers and financial experts. [The purpose was] to point out that we have a problem. When you're out in the field and you're in 54 different [states and territories] and 89 different wings, you may think that things are going just fine in your wing. You may not be fully cognizant of what's going on elsewhere across the country.
The thing I learned is we need a better communication network to let the commanders and the command chiefs know what's happening in other locations so they can look for that in their own.
The feedback I have gotten has been overwhelmingly that this was the right thing to do. There were a few people who pushed back, but I think those may have been individuals who thought there was no problem. And I asked those individuals, "Well, look a little deeper in your wing, because some of these problems exist in every wing, just not maybe to the same degree as in other wings."
Where I want to go with this is where I think our wing commanders and senior enlisted will take us. They've told me this is extremely important to the future of the Air National Guard.
General Shepperd took a situation that he had when he was director where the Air National Guard was the most unsafe flying organization in the Department of Defense. And through his focus doing the same thing, he took it and turned it into what is today the safest flying organization in the world.
If our wing commanders and senior enlisted focus on the return to core values the same way they did safety 15 years ago, we'll wake up 10 years from now, 15 years from now and the Air National Guard will lead the Department of Defense in integrity, service above self and excellence in all we do.
And I think our leadership at the state level and our adjutants general will take us there.
Either we park airplanes in the boneyard or we transfer force structure to the Air National Guard.
If the Air Force is going to remain connected with the American people, we need air power in every state and territory.
A lot of people say we want to avoid mobilization and rely on volunteerism. I think you have to rely on both.
Like any organization, we have a few people who don't quite see it the way they should.
Director of the Air National Guard
A Title 10, lieutenant general position at the National Guard Bureau, a joint activity of the Defense Department at the Pentagon, the director is responsible for formulating, developing and coordinating all federal policies, plans and programs for the Air National Guard in the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia.