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Shattering Myths: How Reserve Citizen Airmen Enhance the Lethality and Readiness of the Nuclear Force

Engines start on the B-52 Stratofortress named the Phoenix, at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. The “Phoenix” is taking part in the Total Force Enterprise mission with the 2nd and 307th Bomb Wings in the command directed mission “Polar Growl”. The B-52 is capable of delivering large payloads of precision nuclear or conventional ordnance over long ranges, while also providing decision makers the ability to rapidly project military power and generate decisive effects. This is a long range exercise over the Arctic and North Sea regions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Laura Siebert/Released)

Engines start on a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. The B-52 is capable of delivering large payloads of precision nuclear or conventional ordnance over long ranges. Reserve Citizen Airmen work hand-in-hand with their active-duty counterparts throughout the nuclear enterprise on a daily basis. (Master Sgt. Laura Siebert)

A B-52H Stratofortress pilot and copilot practice an aerial refueling with a KC-135 Stratotanker over Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. The B-52 is assigned to the Air Force Reserve Command's 307th Bomb Wing, which hosts the only schoolhouse where Reserve and Active Duty aircrew learn to fly the B-52. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele/Released)

A B-52H Stratofortress pilot and copilot practice an aerial refueling with a KC-135 Stratotanker over Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. The B-52 is assigned to the Air Force Reserve Command's 307th Bomb Wing, which hosts the only schoolhouse where Reserve and Active Duty aircrew learn to fly the B-52. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele/Released)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Smith, 93rd Bomb Squadron flight instructor, boards a B-52 Stratofortress for a routine training mission at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., March 3, 2017. By the end of the flight, Smith had amassed over 10,000 flight hours in the bomber.  A veteran of 30 years and multiple deployments, Smith has more hours in the B-52 than any other aircrew  member currently in the Air Force.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ted Daigle/Released)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Smith, 93rd Bomb Squadron flight instructor, boards a B-52 Stratofortress for a routine training mission at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., March 3, 2017. By the end of the flight, Smith had amassed over 10,000 flight hours in the bomber. A veteran of 30 years and multiple deployments, Smith has more hours in the B-52 than any other aircrew member currently in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ted Daigle/Released)

The wing of a B-52H Stratofortress in obscured by smoke after a "cart-start" of its engines, Sept. 18, 2014, Barksdale Air Force Base, La. This type of engine start enables the aircraft to be airborne within minutes and is routine training for maintenance personnel and aircrew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele/Released)

The wing of a B-52H Stratofortress in obscured by smoke after a "cart-start" of its engines, Sept. 18, 2014, Barksdale Air Force Base, La. This type of engine start enables the aircraft to be airborne within minutes and is routine training for maintenance personnel and aircrew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele/Released)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- There are a couple of common misconceptions frequently heard by people who work for Air Force Global Strike Command, headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. AFGSC is the major command that provides combat-ready forces to conduct strategic nuclear deterrence and global strike operations in support of combatant commanders.

The first is that nuclear weapons have not been used since World War II, when atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. The second is that Reserve Citizen Airmen are only weekend warriors who train once a month, two weeks a year and deploy only to backfill stateside manning positions.

The truth is Reserve Citizen Airmen are impactful contributors to the lethal force of strategic bombers, the tankers that refuel them and the U.S. network of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, said Maj. Gen. Vito Addabbo, a Reservist who serves as Air Force Global Strike Command’s deputy commander. On a daily basis, Reservists train active-duty air crew members and provide critical maintenance, bolstering a force that makes being feared its No. 1 priority.

It’s also the truth that the U.S. military, including Reserve Citizen Airmen, use nuclear weapons on a daily basis ... as an effective deterrent. Within the nuclear triad, a three-pronged arsenal operated by the Air Force and Navy, more than 2,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen support the nuclear mission every day.

This arsenal is operated under the exacting precision of assigned forces and supports 24/7 deterrence to prevent catastrophic actions from adversaries. The triad is comprised of the Air Force Minuteman III ICBMs providing ground-based, quick-response weapon delivery, Navy sea-based ballistic missile submarines providing survivability and the Air Force’s bomber fleet providing a flexible weapon-delivery option.

Many Reserve Citizen Airmen live double lives, balancing their civilian careers with their Air Force commitment. Making up 14 percent of the overall force, many of them have day jobs as tradesmen – electricians, contractors, plumbers – while others may be college students, law enforcement members or small business owners.

They bring a wealth of experience to the country’s nuclear force and magnify AFGSC’s readiness, reach and lethality. Coupled with their formal military training, well-trained Citizen Airmen bring expertise in spades. They are force multipliers relied upon by the nation’s allies and feared by the nation’s adversaries.

“Approximately 70 percent of Air Force Reservists are part-time,” said Brig. Gen. Jonathan Ellis, mobilization assistant to the commander of Eighth Air Force, one of two active-duty numbered air forces in AFGSC. “Reserve Citizen Airmen come from all walks of life and are employed with many private companies around the country.”

Master Sgt. Amber Perry, a command post controller, is a Reserve Citizen Airmen assigned to the Air Force nuclear enterprise.

“The nuclear portion is hard to explain because people don’t understand it,” Perry said. “Most people who are training for the nuclear mission will never see it happen, which is good. We don’t want to see it happen.”

Perry understands her role in the command post is the catalyst that sparks many other Reserve Citizen Airmen into action. When she engages the klaxon – the distinct audible alarm sounded across the base – she knows it’ll only take a few minutes before a bomber is screaming to life and leaving four black trails of smoke as it climbs.

She actually had the opportunity to watch this in action during an exercise.

“We heard the klaxon and we just saw the crews run out to the flight line,” she said. “You saw the cartridge start on the B-52. We got to see what we do (as command post controllers) all play out. We got to see from the aircrew running out to the jets, starting the airplanes and taking off within minutes, and to me, it was like ‘okay, this is real.’”

It is as real as it gets for Reserve Citizen Airmen every single day working in the nuclear enterprise.

According to Addabbo, Reservists like Perry bring experience to the table and have a critical role in the Air Force’s nuclear mission.

A traditional Reservist, Perry uses her unique experience to benefit the mission in both her military role and in her civilian job at the Air Force Nuclear Command, Control and Communications Center at Barksdale. In 2017, AFGSC created a new organization to oversee the NC3 weapon systems. The NC3 center streamlines the management of approximately 60 different systems as an advocate for the entire Air Force.

“When I work in my military role in the command post, I am an NC3 user. My civilian position at the NC3 center involves sustaining that same equipment,” she said.

The NC3 ensures nuclear message delivery from national leaders to the warfighter. Perry said using the equipment in the command post aids her in identifying problems and developing solutions to the systems.

The command post is only one example of Reserve support to the nuclear enterprise. AFGSC leverages Reservists at all ranks and levels to carry out day-to-day operations.

Addabbo, a commercial airline captain in his civilian life, has 32 years of impactful experience in multiple roles, including his current position as the deputy commander of AFGSC. AFGSC is responsible for the Air Force’s entire bomber force, the B-21 Raider program, the nation’s three ICBM wings, the Air Force’s NC3 systems, the National Airborne Operations Center and operational and maintenance support to organizations within the nuclear enterprise.

“We have some of the most experienced and capable crews in the Air Force,” Addabbo said. “So they most definitely add to the overall lethality. They’re among the best. There are very few who can touch their experience and their competence.”

Addabbo’s previous experience as a U.S. Strategic Command battle watch commander has also earned him the position of emergency action officer aboard the Boeing E-6B Mercury Airborne Nuclear Command Post aircraft. The ABNCP provides survivable NC3 for U.S. Strategic Command’s mission.

Addabbo isn’t the only Reserve general who plays an impactful role in the Air Force’s nuclear forces.

Ellis wears multiple hats in the nuclear mission too.

When mobilized, he serves the numbered air force responsible for the nation’s entire bomber fleet and 20,000 Airmen. However, on a daily basis, he serves as the deputy commander of the Joint-Global Strike Operations Center, which is responsible for all Air Force nuclear assets during a nuclear war. In either position, Ellis has a finger on the pulse of all Reserve involvement for this area of the nuclear enterprise.

“They’re creating the next generation of lethal, nuclear warriors,” Ellis said.

One of these warriors is Lt. Col. Steven Smith. Smith is a full-time Reservist instructor in the 93rd Bomb Squadron who has more than 10,700 flying hours in the B-52 as a weapon systems officer, making him the only Airman with more than 10,000 hours in the air. Smith develops weapons and tactics curricula which are used to train every B-52 air crew in the Air Force.

“Anywhere they go, anything they do, every day, there is a Reservist involved,” Ellis said, referring to the Reserve Citizen Airmen in the 307th Bomb Wing who work alongside Airmen from the 2nd Bomb Wing, an active-duty wing based at Barksdale.

Reserve Airmen also contribute to the nuclear force outside of being air crew members or training air crews. Many more give the aircraft the ability to fly, fight and win in support of mission requirements.

“We have maintenance personnel who pre-flight, launch and recover B-52 aircraft,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jerry Rayborn Jr., 707th Maintenance Squadron maintenance superintendent. “We also have support personnel providing equipment in support of aircraft maintenance and specialists who perform an array of maintenance tasks to include fuel systems, hydraulic, electrical, avionics, fabrication, egress and weapons loading operations.”

Both Addabbo and Ellis emphasized that, despite working significantly fewer hours in uniform than their active-duty counterparts, traditional Reservists have the exact same readiness and training requirements.

“Individual readiness is one of the most important things Reserve Airmen need to keep in mind as they consider readiness and lethality in their daily support to the nuclear mission,” Addabbo said.

The generals recognize the experience and expertise of Reserve Citizen Airmen and their ability to supplement the active-duty force, making sure the nation’s lethal nuclear assets stand ready to deliver a decisive response – anytime, anywhere.

“I don’t want to brag and say they are the best, but they are the best,” Addabbo said.

(Camp is assigned to the Air Force Global Strike Command public affairs office.)