Total Force—Citizen Airmen Instructor Pilots

Lt. Col. George Fenimore, 96th Flying Training Squadron commander

Lt. Col. George Fenimore, 96th Flying Training Squadron commander

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Throughout US history, the American federal military has grown and shrunk relying on state, territorial, or regional militias and regiments to meet defense needs. Working typical jobs, normal citizens such as farmers, bankers and craftsmen have met the call to serve during times of need.

Today, as the active forces continue to shrink from Cold War highs, the Total Force contributions from the Guard and Reserve components become proportionally larger.

Since 1998, the 96th Flying Training Squadron has been providing instructor pilots to the 47th Flying Training Wing at Laughlin AFB. As we in the 96th prepare to receive nine additional manning authorizations through the BRAC realignment, our roster will grow to 90 IPs.

Key to the success of our squadron and to the 47th FTW mission is the contribution of our Traditional Reservists. These 60 Citizen Airmen are remarkable. To many they are seen as whimsically enjoying the best of all possible worlds outside the structure of active duty. But that is far from true and a patently unfair characterization. "Two days a month and two weeks a year" was dropped long ago as an Army Reserve recruiting slogan. "Two and two" does not apply to the Air Force Reserve flyers, especially in today's increased ops tempo.

These TRs must carefully juggle three delicate responsibilities: their family, their employer and their six to eight days of monthly Reserve duty. Quarterly and annually we recognize our Citizen Airmen who epitomize successful execution despite this hardship.

Many of our members are airline pilots who must endure the dreaded "double commute" from their homes (in San Antonio, Dallas, Memphis, and Columbus, Ohio to name a few) to distant airline hubs and then again to Del Rio. Each month these gritty pilots spend 12 to 18 days with their airline plus a week with us yielding hardly a week at home. That equates to nine months a year away from home--hardly glamorous.

But what lures them back to Laughlin every month? Service to their country, dedication to the mission, and love of flying.

Another dozen (we've had as many as 18 at a time) of our IPs also serve as contract simulator instructors with LSI. Their "Superman" changing act from blue to green, then back to blue flight suits is a near daily occurrence. Constrained only by crew rest, these IPs provide exceptional instruction in the air, the sim, and in the classroom. Through the transition to the T-6, these dual-hatted IPs have melded the entire spectrum of the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training instructor experience enhancing the overall quality of pilot training.

But what motivates them to work so hard? Service to their country, dedication to the mission, and love of flying.

This whole system works only with support, cooperation and understanding of unsung heroes in this system: host commanders, employers and co-workers who must often adjust schedules to accommodate Reserve duty. This "Training Triad" of civilian contractors teaming with the active and reserve components provides a symbiosis where all three prosper immeasurably where the world's best flying training can take place.

I want to extend my greatest thanks to the employers and co-workers for accommodating the TRs' schedules and to all of Laughlin's commanders for embracing the TRs when they come to serve.

The Traditional Reservist is truly remarkable who with the skill of a magician, the agility of an acrobat and endurance of a marathoner makes that difficult life appear easy and prone to envy and scorn.

Finally, no tribute to the Traditional Reservist would be complete without recognizing the sacrifices of the families. To the families, spouses and kids, thank you. Thanks for sharing your TR with us.