The Air Force Reserve: Then and Now

U.S. Airmen with the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron provide aircraft security for a C-130 Hercules aircraft from the 463rd Airlift Group at Balad AirBase, Iraq (photo: U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)
U.S. Airmen with the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron provide aircraft security for a C-130 Hercules aircraft from the 463rd Airlift Group at Balad AirBase, Iraq. (Master Sgt. Lance Cheung/U.S. Air Force photo)

They engaged in air-to-air combat again Adolf Hitler's Nazi forces, flew dangerous missions over fortified enemy territory against North Korea in the 1950s and mobilized for the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. We're talking about the members of the Air Force Reserve, a longtime element of the U.S. armed forces now reaching its 70th anniversary.

The Air Force Reserve recently commemorated their 1948 transition from Reserve Air Power to Air Force Reserve Command; reserve units began serving as far back as 1916 when a National Defense Act created Reserve Air Power.

In 1917, the first Reserve unit deployed to France, and by 1939, reserve forces had grown to 1,500 members when Hitler's military invaded Poland. Called "Citizen Airmen," more than 3,000 reservists were fighting by 1941. Once World War II ended, the Air Force didn't want to lose such an imposing force, especially as the Cold War emerged.

 "The Air Reserve fell under the signal corps, and it remained under the umbrella of the Army. In 1948, Truman made the Air Force Reserve a separate component," Donald Boyd, Air Force Reserve Command historian, told in an interview.

The famous aviator Charles Lindbergh was himself a reservist in 1927 when he flew across the Atlantic, Boyd said.

Expanded Missions

The Air Force Reserve has had some major impacts on the history of the Air Force as a whole, including when they used their jungle flying skills to deliver supplies in humanitarian missions in South America in the 1950s. Their missions wound up laying the foundation for the highly revered AC-130 gunship used for close-air warfare during the Vietnam War -- an attack aircraft that came to be affectionately known by soldiers as "Puff the Magic Dragon."

"Following these missions in South America, the military came up with the idea of a gunship with fixed gunnery, inspiring deadly weapons used in Vietnam," Boyd said.

Today, AFRC deploys thousands on a range of missions across the globe, including recent work by the 39th Aerial Port Squadron and the 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron to deliver winter clothes to forces in Afghanistan.

 "On any given day, nearly 6,000 Air Force Reservists are serving on active duty worldwide in support of combatant commanders and other agencies and major commands," Col. Bruce Bender, Air Force Reserve Command, told

The Afghan winter clothes mission, for instance, delivered more than 13,000 pounds of donated clothes, according to the Air Force.

Today's Reserves

According to Air Force Reserve Command 2018 data, the force consists of 69,800 command structures, 35 wings and 10 independent groups and mission support units at nine Reserve-based and 54 active-duty units.

Training is a heavily emphasized dimension for reserve members, Bender said, given that they spend the majority of their time working in the civilian workforce.

"Training is essentially the same for the reservists as it is for the active duty," he says. "A good percentage of the Air Force reservists come from the active-duty side. They have not only gotten the same training, but as a component, they are typically among the more experienced folks. The rigors of the training are the same."

Earlier this year, for example, reserve citizen airmen joined a special operations joint training event called Emerald Warrior. The reservists conducted airborne missions from a C-130J provided by a distinct unit known as the 815th "Flying Jennies."

"We had special operations people flying with us to perform different types of jumps out of aircraft, like high-altitude low-opening [HALO] and high-altitude high-opening [HAHO]," Master Sgt. Chris Sentilles, 815th loadmaster, said in an Air Force statement.

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Air Force Reserve