BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --
I enlisted on Jan 11, 1990, and I can promise you the Air National Guard has changed in the 27 years I’ve been in the 117th Air Refueling Wing. Change is never easy, especially when the changes look mostly bad. We’re are now worried about OPR and EPR bullets, our operations tempo is up, the deployment tempo is up. I won’t attempt to convince you that I’m not concerned about some of the changes we’re seeing in the Air Force and our Air National Guard. I’m an optimist, so I have to look for the bright side of things. I also try to be objective, so here it goes.
When we flew F-4s, my world was great. I was an egress troop in Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance, I’ve still got the maroon ball cap, and I got to work on ejection sets, bomb racks, and even missiles. When we traded the F-4s for KC-135s, I thought it was the worst thing to ever happen to me and the unit. Tankers don’t have ejection seats, so I didn’t even get to keep my full-time job. As much as I loved that time in the Guard, the only time I ever got to travel, other than to Gulfport, was to go fix a broke F-4 somewhere. Fast forward to the KC-135 era, and how many of us have gotten to travel all over the world? I would argue with anyone that the conversion to tankers was a wonderful change for the 117 ARW. I think even the last two F-4 crew dogs will secretly admit that. If this were the Guard I signed up for, I’d still be driving a van cross-country to fix a broke F-4.
The 117th is no longer the sleepy little Guard unit where most of us worked two days a month and two weeks a year. The entire base deploys all over the world and the intel squadron is no longer a small unit. They’re now a very large band of analysts and interpreters. With the increase in mission sets and workload came increases in career opportunities. We’re now seeing technicians and Guard bums in maintenance, ops and intel retiring with active duty retirements! Speaking of retirements, those are happening earlier than ever before. We have traditional Guardsmen retiring and getting their checks before they turn 60. If this were the Guard I signed up for, we’d still be retiring at age 60 with a couple of thousand retirement points.
The cost of a college education is ridiculous, and getting more ridiculous every day. Remember the Montgomery GI Bill? It was good, but it wasn’t great. If you were lucky, you were an AGR and could get Tuition Assistance after that. While those programs were very helpful, they had their limitations. Fast forward to today and the new GI Bill. How many of us have used that benefit to attend college or pay for our spouse or children to go to college? My little boy is 5 years old, and his college is already paid for! I transferred my GI Bill benefits to him the day he got a social security card. If this were the Guard I signed up for, we’d be paying a LOT more money to educate our families.
Like most things, stagnation leads to decay and change allows for growth. Don’t believe me? My 1991 5.0 Mustang used to be the fastest thing on the road, but 225 horsepower doesn’t get you very much respect these days. Like the venerable 5.0 Mustang, we should love and respect the Guard we joined, and we should remember how the Guard used to be so we don’t forget our heritage. However, we should also learn to become optimists so we can appreciate the great things we have in the Guard today. It’s true that we sow much more than we used to, but we also reap much more.