America’s Air Reserve Component has shifted to an operational reserve engaged around the world and essential to today’s fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the pace of combat operations continues unabated, Pentagon resources are rapidly declining. Unfortunately, defense budget cuts tend to disproportionately affect the National Guard and Reserves. Pentagon leaders often overlook the tremendous capabilities provided by these men and women at a relative bargain to the nation. For example, the Air Force Reserve share of operations and maintenance funding in 2008 was seven percent. Meanwhile, Air Reservists flew 100 percent of all Air Force aerial spray and weather reconnaissance (hurricane hunters) missions. The Reserves also flew 60 percent of all aeromedical evacuation missions and 46 percent of all strategic airlift missions that year.
Guard and Reserve forces also provide countless other benefits to the nation, including community connections, military first responders for domestic crises, and priceless civilian-acquired skills that are not readily attainable in the active duty forces. As the defense budget comes under increasing pressure in the years to come, reducing the funding and missions of the Pentagon’s most cost-effective organizations should be the last resort. Instead, defense leaders should begin leveraging the cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and strong community relations of the Air Reserve Component by increasing its size and mission.