From the Top: New law helps Reservists respond at home

Maj. Gen. Craig N. Gourley, Air Force Reserve Command vice commander

Maj. Gen. Craig N. Gourley, Air Force Reserve Command vice commander

Citizen Airman/Aug 2012 -- (Editor's note: In his June commentary, Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr. bid farewell to the command he has led since June 2008. With the new commander, Maj. Gen. James F. Jackson, not assuming his position until after the August issue went to press, this month's From the Top commentary is provided by the AFRC vice commander.)

A law passed by Congress and signed by the president in December provides the secretary of defense with the authority to mobilize members of the Air Force Reserve, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve to support state and local governments in responding to disasters and emergencies. (For more information on this new law, see the story in this issue titled "Law authorizes mobilizing Reservists to respond to natural disasters.")

With the Air Force Reserve's prominence in missions such as aerial spray, aerial port, aeromedical evacuation and staging, and mortuary affairs, we bring critical capabilities to support state, local and tribal governments in responding to disasters and emergencies. Prior to the passage of this new law, the secretary of defense could use active-duty forces to respond to a governor's request, but Reservists could only be accessed through volunteerism. While Air Force Reservists have always been quick to volunteer to respond when disaster strikes, this law gives the secretary of defense the ability to access the necessary Reserve assets when they provide the quickest and most cost-effective response for the Department of Defense.

It is important to note that some things remain unchanged by the new law. The National Guard remains the governor's primary military support for disasters and remains under his or her command and control. Air Force Reserve commanders may still exercise immediate response by temporarily employing the resources under their control to save lives, prevent human suffering or mitigate great property damage within the United States. And, most importantly, Posse Comitatus continues to apply -- Reservists who are mobilized for disasters and emergencies are prohibited from engaging in law enforcement activities.

This new authority is a fantastic opportunity for the Air Force Reserve. When disaster strikes our communities, we no longer have to sit on the sidelines and watch our National Guard and active-duty counterparts respond to our neighbors' needs. The Air Force Reserve can bring its considerable experience and expertise to answer our nation's call.