The 301st Fighter Wing operating at NAS Fort Worth JRB, Texas, today traces its roots some 1,255 miles away and 70 years back to Seymour-Johnson Field, North Carolina. Back then, the wing’s P-47N Thunderbolt pilots cleared the way for B-29 Superfortress crews in missions over Japan at the height of World War II.
The 301st has traded the humidity of the Tar Heel state for the dry heat of Texas and its Thunderbolts for F-16 Fighting Falcons. Its mission now is to stand ready in the event its aircraft and personnel are needed anywhere in the world at any time. To ensure it’s up to the task, the 301st leverages Total Force Integration, or TFI.
“TFI is putting the US Air Force's overarching concept of the Total Force Enterprise into operation,” said Col. Max Stitzer, 301st Maintenance Group commander. “In this organizational structure, Air Force organizations at all echelons benefit from the demonstrated strengths and unique capabilities of all components: active duty, Reserve Component—including the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, and civilian.
The 301st FW has been moving toward this concept of operations since September 2007 when then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley announced the 301st would be one of the Active Association homes of TFI.
The 301 FW’s role in Total Force Enterprise, or TFE, is to implement the Active Associate organizational structure. “In this construct,” said Stitzer, “the Reserve unit is the host and the active duty personnel collocate and functionally integrate into a seamless force capable of executing the missions assigned to an organization with twenty-four F-16 Block 30s as its primary aircraft.”
Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz described the benefits of TFI. “Total Force Integration allows us to leverage Air Reserve Component experience, improve access to aircraft, encourage retention, and increase total force effectiveness.”
The 301st recently put those concepts to the test during the unit’s operational readiness inspection, or ORI, when the unit’s readiness to perform in wartime is assessed. An ORI, conducted during a contingency or a force sustainment mission, occurs every five years for each Air Force wing. The wings are evaluated in four areas—initial response, employment, mission support, and ability to survive and operate in a hostile environment.
According to Lt. Col. Kevin Zeller, the 301st Operations Group commander, the wing “worked together to prepare and execute the ORI.” For Zeller, responsible for overseeing the wing’s pilots and personnel who maintain pilot flight equipment, like g-suits, helmets, and night vision goggles, TFI has proven to be a valuable tool in making certain the wing is ready to fly at a moment’s notice.
Since 2012, more than 130 active duty Air Force Airmen have integrated into the 301st Fighter Wing, enhancing the organization’s capability and readiness while playing an integral role in ensuring the wing successfully passed its ORI in November 2012.
“A dozen Regular Air Force Airmen joined us just prior to our November 2012 Air Combat Command/Inspector General Phase II ORI,” said Stitzer. “They contributed significantly in key roles to help us achieve our satisfactory overall rating with excellent sub-area ratings in Command and Control, Control of Maintenance, and to help us achieve an Outstanding rating for producing 100 percent of our tasked simulated combat sorties."
Despite the fact that the concept hasn’t been fully implemented in the 301st yet, TFI is already providing benefits. Lt. Col. Matt Cliver, 495th Fighter Group Detachment 457 commander, notes that the 301st is still rounding out its Active Association under TFI. “The first Airmen showed up here under the current Active Association in spring 2012. Most of the positions will be filled by summer.” Cliver is in charge of all of the active duty personnel associated with Detachment 457, which includes all of the pilots and maintenance members.
The process of implementing TFI isn’t without its challenges. “We are currently working through the initial bed-down of our TFI partners and the initial headaches that can go along with standing up a new program,” said Zeller. “Over the next few years, we will receive our full complement of active duty personnel and begin to execute as a fully integrated organization with normal personnel changeovers.”
Stitzer noted that, over the coming months, processes and personnel will normalize. “We will continue to welcome our remaining initial cadre of active duty Air Force Airmen to achieve full operational capability,” he said. “We will then transition to steady-state where Regular Air Force Airmen move on to their next assignments and are replaced. The 301st will continue to refine maintenance training programs and assignment processes to ensure all Airmen all have the opportunity to gain experience appropriate for their rank, specialties, and for their career development and education needs.”
TFI isn’t the latest trend in the herculean task of staffing, equipping US Armed Forces. In fact, the idea has been around since before many of today’s warfighters were even born. In the 1960s, the Air Force advocated for and implemented policies designed to maximize total force capabilities. Specifically, the Air Force instituted comparable structuring for its active and Reserve Component forces and took an integrated approach to equipping, supporting, and exercising all units. These total force policies proved extremely successful during reserve mobilizations for the Berlin Crisis in 1961 and during the USS Pueblo crisis in 1968.
Two years later, then Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird was looking for a way to blend US active and Reserve Component military forces into the most advantageous mix for ensuring national security. Not surprisingly, the total force concept was the obvious solution. Laird’s new policy applied to all aspects of manning, equipping, and employing Regular, Guard, and Reserve forces. It marked a notable turning point in reliance on Reserve forces as the primary means for augmenting Regular forces. Previously, the US military relied on conscription to augment forces.
Given the current economic climate and the mounting budget pressures facing the armed forces, implementing TFI could play a critical role in maintaining readiness. “The Air Force must continue to provide key capabilities in all ten mission areas,” said Zeller “But doing so with a reduced capacity or size of the force.”
Currently, the 301st FW is standing up an Active Association whereby Regular Air Force personnel augment the Reserve wing. Over the next three years, it will gain some 160 active duty personnel with the majority joining the operations and maintenance groups. “At the same time,” continued Zeller, “we will lose an equal number of Air Reserve Technician and traditional Reservist positions for a zero sum gain. The active duty will work alongside our reservists to ensure the wing meets its mission requirements.”
As of October 2012, the Air Force had more than 120 total force associations across a wide spectrum of weapons systems and functional areas. TFI associations are now active in all major commands. Senior leaders of the force intend to add active association at all Air Reserve Component fighter locations and at each future continental KC-46A tanker locations.
The Air Force plans to pursue further opportunities for developing associations and enacting other total force alternatives. “In addition to the vital role the Regular Air Force Airmen played in our ORI,” explained Stitzer, “they have completely integrated into all functional areas and organizational echelons in the 301st Maintenance Group, contributing substantially to our local operations and even assisting us in improving and streamlining processes and procedures because of their varied experience.”
Some of the key roles now filled by the Regular Air Force Airmen include Aircraft Maintenance Unit Officer-in-Charge, Aircraft Maintenance Unit Superintendent, Quality Assurance Lead Inspector, Weapons Section Chief, Munitions Section Chiefs, Flightline Expeditor, Production Superintendents, Armament Flight Chief, and Dedicated Crew Chiefs on four of 301st F-16 aircraft.
If enhancing capability and operational readiness was the goal of TFI, then the concept appears to be hitting its mark. “TFI only makes us more capable and more able to operate in today's high-tempo operational environment,” explained Stitzer. “Another benefit we enjoy is the addition of more full-time support to augment the capabilities of our Air Reserve Technician cadre and our traditional drilling reserve workforce.”
B. J. Boling is a program communicator for Lockheed Martin.