Total Storm

June 1, 1992

Operation Desert Storm was the first major war of the Total Force era. When the US buildup began, there was no doubt that the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve would take part. It was no surprise when they responded with effectiveness and style.

“The very first day, the first hour, I asked for all the C-5s and C-141s owned by the Guard and Reserve,” noted Gen. H. T. Johnson, commander in chief of Military Airlift Command (now commander of Air Mobility Command). General Johnson recalled that, because the Guard and Reserve had not been formally mobilized, “I had no right to do that,” but he got them anyway. “I also asked for all their crews,” he added, “and we were oversubscribed in crews.”

One day, the General made the offhand remark, “We need some C-130s, but we cannot call up individual crews in -130s. Why don’t we set up a provisional unit?”

The General was just thinking out loud, but, within two hours, his Guard and Reserve advisors returned with news that they had assembled two lead units, one of Reservists from Dobbins AFB, Ga., and the other of Guardsmen from Charleston, W. Va. “When do you want them to move?” they asked.

The 926th Tactical Fighter Group, a Reserve A-10 unit from New Orleans, left a deep impression on the Iraqi foe. Overall, Reserve A-10s flew 1,300 combat sorties and logged more than 3,000 combat hours. One captured Iraqi captain described the experience:

“The single most recognizable and feared aircraft at low level was the [A-10] Thunderbolt II. This black jet was seen as deadly accurate. . . . The actual bomb run was terrifying, but the aircraft’s loitering around the target area prior to hitting the target caused as much, if not more, anxiety, since the soldiers were unsure of the chosen target.”

By war’s end, 12,098 of the Air Force’s 54,706 personnel in the Persian Gulf area–twenty-two percent–were Guardsmen or Reservists.

From Concept to Fact

Clearly, members of the Air Guard and Reserve are no “weekend warriors.” In 1970, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird directed that a “Total Force” concept be used in assumptions for planning, programming, manning, equipping, and employing the reserve units. They were no longer to be equipped with hand-me-down weapons. As Secretary Laird envisioned it, they were to be serious partners in national defense and take over missions previously assigned to active-duty forces.

Three years later, Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger announced that Total Force was no longer a concept but a fact.

The services took to the idea with varying degrees of enthusiasm and commitment. Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in 1990 that the Air Force was a clear leader in using reserve components effectively.

Indeed, the Air Force was soon relying on the Guard and Reserve for large portions of the airpower it put on the line. By the 1980s, the forces were flying modern aircraft. Their rosters were filled with experienced veterans. They frequently bested their active-duty counterparts in competitions.

Gen. Robert D. Russ, commander of Tactical Air Command, reported in early 1990 that, compared to active-duty counterparts, “the only difference in a Guard or Reserve tactical fighter unit today is twenty-four hours. We give the Guard and Reserve twenty-four hours to get started so they can recall their people.”

In previous crises, Guard and Reserve units had responded. This was true in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the 1975 rescue of the Mayaguez off Cambodia, the 1983 conflict in Grenada, the 1986 Operation Eldorado Canyon against Libya, the 1987 and 1988 escort missions in the Persian Gulf, and the 1989 Operation Just Cause in Panama.

It was in the Gulf War, however, that the first massive test of the Total Force occurred. When Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, Maj. Gen. Philip G. Killey, director of the Air National Guard, and Maj. Gen. Roger P. Scheer, chief of the Air Force Reserve, alerted their troops to get ready.

Flying and support units ran telephone checks to determine how many aircrews would be willing to volunteer. By the time the operational commands officially asked for help, volunteers were lined up in Guard and Reserve outfits across the country.

The initial call was for 6,000 volunteers. By the third week in August, all 6,000 were on active duty, and more were standing by. In the first seventy-two hours after the call for volunteers, 15,000 Guardsmen and Reservists had stepped forward.

Hefty Work Loads

Most US strategic and tactical airlift capability is in USAF’s Air Reserve Component. Fifty-five percent of the crews who operate strategic airlifters (C-5s and C-141s) are in the Guard and Reserve. Almost sixty percent of the tactical airlift (C-130s) capability is in the Guard and Reserve.

Furthermore, nineteen air refueling squadrons, about half of the Air Force’s total capability, are in the reserve forces. These squadrons provide the country’s wartime air refueling surge capability. Sixteen of them were ultimately activated.

Under the Total Force Policy, fifty-seven percent of the aerial port units, sixty-seven percent of aeromedical evacuation units, and forty-six percent of tactical reconnaissance assets were in the Air Reserve Component when Saddam invaded Kuwait.

Reservists and Guardsmen came from all walks of life. For example, 2d Lt. Becky Armendariz worked in the personnel office at the White House. She was also a member of the 60th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron (AES) at Andrews AFB, Md., near Washington. “I arrived in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on November 7,” she said. “I had, at first, expected to spend thirty days on active duty, but it turned out to be ninety days.”

For Operation Desert Shield, Guardsmen and Reservists were called to active duty under two provisions of federal law.

For volunteer service, Title 10 of the US Code authorizes the Secretary of Defense to order individual members of the reserve components to active duty with their consent and (for National Guard personnel) that of their state governors. Another section of Title 10 authorized the President to call to active duty units of the Selected Reserve, up to a total of 200,000 for not more than ninety days, with one ninety-day extension.

With war a possibility in late 1990, however, Congress authorized the President to extend the Desert Shield call-up for combat units to 180 days, with a 180-day extension.

Mobilized or volunteer Reservists often faced special problems. For many, active service in the Gulf War meant large pay cuts, since military compensation did not match their civilian salaries. Others had to repay bonuses they had received from their employers. Some were even furloughed or released. Although the law provides protection, practically speaking, getting a job back often means lost time and money. Most employers supported their employees called to active duty, but some did not.

By August 3, however, the Air Reserve Component was prepared to augment the active-duty Air Force with complete units or small packages of people with individual, specialized skills. As General Johnson said, MAC put aircraft and aircrews into the airlift pipeline immediately.

The Air Guard, for example, provided six C-141s and fourteen augmented crews from the 172d Military Airlift Group from Jackson, Miss., and two C-5s and three crews from the 105th MAG, Stewart ANGB, N. Y. The Reserve responded with similar numbers.

Maximum Effort

MSgt. William R. Cary, a flight engineer with the 701st MAS, was one of the early C-141 crewmen to volunteer. The first flight left him in little doubt that this was to be a maximum effort. “We normally flew at a max weight of 275,000 pounds in the C-141,” Sergeant Cary reported at the time. “Now we were operating at 375,000 pounds.”

By August 6, when the US began to move a 250,000-strong war machine more than 8,000 miles, ANG KC-135 in-flight refueling outfits were assigned to tanker task force locations at Bangor ANGB, Me.; Pease ANGB, N. H.; Phoenix Sky Harbor IAP, Ariz.; and Forbes Field, Kan.

ANG and AFRES C-5 and C-141 aircraft and crews were incorporated into the MAC system on August 7. By then, aircraft maintenance and support volunteers from the Air Reserve Component were also working full-time.

Provisional reserve tactical airlift squadrons were formed from volunteers. The AFRES 94th Tactical Airlift Squadron (Provisional) was composed of eight C-130Hs and crews, four each from the 94th Tactical Airlift Wing, Dobbins AFB, Ga., and the 908th Tactical Airlift Group, Maxwell AFB, Ala. The Guard provided the 130th Tactical Airlift Squadron (Provisional) with eight C-130Hs, four from the 130th Tactical Airlift Group, Charleston, W. Va., and four from the 136th Tactical Airlift Wing, Dallas, Tex.

The two provisional squadrons were destined to operate out of Al Kharj airfield, Saudi Arabia. In the beginning, however, no facilities existed for transport aircrews and ground personnel, so the squadrons operated out of the UK, flying between Al Kharj and Britain for several weeks while temporary facilities were constructed.

On August 7, when the first air and ground elements began to arrive in Saudi Arabia, the Guard activated its contingency support staff at Andrews AFB. The Reserve manned a CSS at its headquarters at Robins AFB, Ga. The Air Force activated a central contingency support staff at the Pentagon on August 8.

The 172d MAG provided the first Guard airlift sortie in support of Operation Desert Shield, airlifting troops and equipment of the Army’s 82d Airborne Division.

By the end of August, the Guard and Reserve were flying forty-two percent of the strategic airlift and thirty-three percent of the aerial refueling missions. Concurrently, the Guard deployed sixteen C-130H tactical airlifters to the Gulf. The C-130H, the newest version of the Lockheed Hercules, has powerful T56-A-15 turboprop engines, a redesigned and strengthened outer wing, updated avionics, and improved cargo-handling capabilities.

By September 20, 1990, wartime sortie rates, made possible by the addition of activated Guard and Reserve aircraft and aircrews, resulted in a huge surge in flying hours. This created an increased need for aircraft maintenance capabilities. MAC issued a call for more maintenance people from the Guard and Reserve. Individual maintenance personnel from ANG and AFRES began to be recalled and put into MAC’s infrastructure.

By October 1990, the White House came to the conclusion that only offensive military action would force Saddam to withdraw forces from Kuwait. The President wanted to know what it would take to do the job. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, through Gen. Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed President Bush that he needed an additional 200,000 troops.

Some would come from bases and reserve components in the US, but with the cold war in Europe ending, the Army could move its crack VII Corps from the continent without significant risk. In November 1990, President Bush ordered 200,000 more troops for the Gulf.

“If we were to get a second Army corps,” recalled Lt. Gen. Charles Horner, the commander of Central Command’s air forces and the air boss of the campaign, “that meant we had doubled the requirement for full-service support. I looked at each of our airfields to see what additional forces we could accommodate, so we built our air force support up about half again as much.” More reserve and active-duty units were ordered up.

The President issued another executive order, extending active duty for those originally called up for an additional ninety days. It was clear by now that the crisis would not be over quickly.

Open Twenty-Four Hours

In December, more Guardsmen and Reservists were called up. Among them were fire fighters from Reserve civil engineering squadrons, medical personnel, an aeromedical patient staging squadron, an aerial port squadron, refueling aircrews, and maintenance and support personnel.

The 439th MAW, Westover AFB, Mass., was activated December 3 to augment airlift operations from the US to the war area. The 439th kept Westover AFB open twenty-four hours a day. Later, ANG KC-135E tanker outfits were alerted for activation. The call-up finally included twelve of the thirteen ANG tanker units. The units, with a total strength of sixty-two tankers, were quickly deployed with maintenance support to Saudi Arabia, where the tempo of training operations was revving up.

Then, on December 3, the US began to call up Guard and Reserve fighters. Modern F-16s of the 169th TFG, McEntire ANGB, S. C., were alerted. So were the F/A-16s of the 174th TFW, Hancock Field, N. Y. Reconnaissance aircrews and support personnel from the 152d TRG, Reno, Nev., replaced the 117th TRW, Birmingham, Ala., which had been in the initial call-up. From the Air Force Reserve, the 926th TFG, NAS New Orleans, La., with A-10 close support fighters, was alerted.

These units were carefully selected. The 169th TFG had won the 1989 Gunsmoke competition, which pits the best Air Force fighter teams from commands around the world. The 174th TFW has TAC’s only F/A-16A fighters. The F/A-16, an enhanced variant of the basic multirole fighter, is a prime asset in air-to-ground operations. The 926th TFG, equipped with A-10s, was ideal for helping to fill the increased ground support requirements that went with the new influx of ground troops.

The 152d Tactical Reconnaissance Group deployed RF-4Cs to Saudi Arabia on December 5. The RF-4C was a vital reconnaissance asset during the Gulf War. It was difficult to get tactical intelligence, General Schwarzkopf reported, because cloudy weather and oil smoke interfered with bomb-damage assessment and new target intelligence. The flexibility and responsiveness of the RF-4C helped reduce the scarcity of real-time intelligence.

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the flow of Guard and Reserve people toward the Gulf continued. Security police and medical personnel were placed on active duty, as were tactical transport crews and combat logistics personnel.

On December 29, the 169th TFG, first Guard fighter unit to deploy, sent twenty-four F-16As to Al Kharj airfield. More than 700 support people deployed in transports.

On January 2, 1991, the 174th TFW deployed eighteen F/A-16 aircraft to Al Kharj and, along with the 169th TFG, was incorporated into the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing (Provisional). Together, the 169th and the 174th flew more than 3,000 sorties during the war.

Capt. Grich Goodwin, an F-16 pilot with the 174th, had spent ten years flying A-10s in the active force before joining the New York ANG in 1990.

“I finally got a job with American Airlines, and two days into training, I got the call,” Captain Goodwin said. “It was December 29, and they called me at lunch.” The captain would fly thirty-eight combat missions in the Gulf. Today, he notes wryly that his former active-duty A-10 colleagues had not deployed.

“Last Out” Hardships

Guardsmen and Reservists served on all fronts. Back at the 174th’s home station, Hancock Field, the workday for CMSgt. Marshall B. Carter, chief enlisted maintenance superintendent, started at 4 a.m. and often went into the night. “I asked to go to Saudi Arabia, but they needed me here,” he said.

Four AFRES refueling squadrons were mobilized for Desert Storm. One squadron was equipped with the KC-10 Extender and the other three with the KC-135 Stratotanker. In the course of the war, reserve force tankers refueled more than 8,000 warplanes, dispensing more than eighteen million gallons of fuel.

The 100-hour ground war began February 24, 1991. A Reserve C-130E from the 1650th TAW (Provisional), composed of the 914th and 927th TAGs, flew the first aeromedical evacuation flight of the ground campaign. The 1650th evacuated wounded US Marines from the southern Kuwait battlefield to hospitals in Saudi Arabia.

Four days after the start of the ground war, Washington declared a cease-fire and dictated terms to Baghdad. On July 31, Congress mandated that all Reservists called to active duty be demobilized. Many Air Reserve Component people volunteered for active duty, returning equipment and people to home bases.

Reservists took pride in serving their country in wartime, but the Air Force policy of first in, first out, which sounded fair on the surface, in reality caused problems. Many Reservists came on board late in Desert Shield. They had to wait to be demobilized. Many felt that, with financial and professional woes mounting back home, they should have been released sooner.

Capt. Buddy Young, a South Carolina F-16 fighter pilot, had built up an ambulance and tour bus business that employed fifty people. It was family-owned, and, without his management, it almost went under during the months that he was gone. SSgt. Lanty Mimnaugh, a loadmaster with the 701st MAS, lost his construction business while on active duty. Both Captain Young and Sergeant Mimnaugh say they would go again if called, but they feel that the first in, first out policy is a tough burden that Reservists and employers should not have to bear.

Most employers kept the Reservists’ jobs open for them. Some made up the difference between military and civilian pay. Many gave special aid and support to the families of Guardsmen and Reservists. One Wilmington, Del., employer gave $40,000 to families hard pressed financially.

The Total Force image suffered somewhat in the early going when a few of the Army’s National Guard roundout brigades were judged not in shape to deploy when they were called up. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said that the problem was confined to three Army Guard units and that those who read it as a broader indictment of Guard and Reserve forces were wrong.

Overall, the reserve components performed with distinction in the Gulf War. If anyone was surprised by the effectiveness of the Air Guard and Reserve, it certainly was not the Air Force, which had known the caliber of these units all along.

An A-10 Victory

On February 6, Capt. Robert Swain of the 706th TFS, NAS New Orleans, La., shot down an Iraqi helicopter over central Kuwait in the first-ever A-10 air-to-air victory.

“As I was leaving the target area-after dropping six 500-lb. bombs and firing my two Maverick missiles at tanks–I noticed two black dots running across the desert. They weren’t putting up any dust, and yet they were moving fast over the ground.”

They were helicopters. On the radio, he told the forward air controller, flying nearby in an OA-10, about the two. The helicopters split up, one heading north, the other south. The OA-10 pilot moved in close to the helicopter flying south, established it was Iraqi, and began to fire marking rockets along its path.

Captain Swain was “cleared in, hot.” Diving in, he lined up his target.

“On the first pass, I tried to shoot an AIM-9 heat-seeking missile, but I couldn’t get it to lock on [the target],” he said. “So, on the second pass, I fired a long burst of 30-mm from the cannon, and the helicopter looked like it had been hit by a bomb. We tried to identify the type of [helicopter] after we were finished, but it was just a bunch of pieces.”

James P. Coyne is a veteran fighter pilot. He retired from the Air Force in 1984 as a colonel, served Air Force Magazine as a Senior Editor, and then became Editor in Chief of Signal Magazine. This article is adapted from his Air Force Association book Airpower in the Gulf, published by the Aerospace Education Foundation. His most recent article for Air Force Magazine was “Plan of Attack” in the April 1992 issue.