Total force, mission partner

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Matt Morand, 21st Operations Group deputy commander and
  • Lt. Col. Jessica Matthews, 213th Space Warning Squadron commander
In 1957, my father was 11 years old when Sputnik cleared the tower in Tyuratam. In 1968, he graduated from West Point, served 26 years in the Army and raised a family, eventually retiring in 1994 and is now a teacher in South Carolina. For three years in the early-1980s, we lived in Anchorage, my dad serving as the battalion executive officer for 4th Battalion, 327 Infantry at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

Twenty-seven years later and 17 years into my service to the Air Force, I returned to Alaska as the commander of the 13th Space Warning Squadron at Clear AFS. In 1957, the Cold War was on Sputnik's heels; if the Soviet Union could put a beach-ball sized sphere into space, what else could they put on a ballistic missile? While the Cold War has ended, the need for strategic missile warning and space surveillance has not. The men and women of Clear AFS have been standing guard of the polar region since 1961, Frontier Sentinels for more than 50 years.

While Clear is home of the 13 SWS, it is also the home of the Alaska Air National Guard's 213th Space Warning Squadron. Activated in 2006, the 213th is the force provider for the operational mission, delivering a trained and ready force of about 100 Active Guard Reserve and drill status Guardsmen. At Clear AFS, it's the Guard that primarily operates the radar, performs security, provides contract oversight for the $22 million base operating support contract, manages shared sports and services activities, and staffs the commander's support staff. They do this in a multitude of status, both as Title 32 Guardsmen, and self-executing to Title 10 when operators and defenders perform the federal mission. It was my job, in conjunction with the 213th SWS commander, to execute the shared mission, every day. We were, in short, functionally integrated. If you came to Clear AFS and were talking to military, you wouldn't know if you were talking to active duty Air Force of Guard. In terms of mission execution, it didn't matter.

If you think this type of relationship is unique, it's not. Air National Guard support to Air Force Space Command is growing; there are 65 units in 54 different locations, operating with more than 6,328 Guardsmen. The ANG is supporting space and cyberspace in 30 different states, including command and control, combat communications, network warfare, information operations and infrastructure engineering. The Guard provides roughly 33 percent of the Air Force capability at 7 percent of the budget with a force that is 70 percent traditional.

Jessica is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. We joke a lot about who is smarter (she is, of course) and my southern roots, but what we are really doing is establishing trust and respect for each other's roles. Most of what Jessica and I did was support each other's organization. There were few days where we didn't walk the halls together, attend staff meetings for each other, collaborate on both administrative and disciplinary actions, and talk through complex situations where guidance was slim. Our integrated and supportive efforts set the tone for the base, and from the base to our respective wings. There were few that doubted Clear AFS operated as a true mission partnership. The Guard and active duty are different, make no mistake, but we got the business of the mission done every day together. In terms of mission execution, the nuances didn't matter.

The few active duty operations personnel that are lucky enough to be stationed at Clear are trained by the best. They are better for it, and are challenged by the incredible wealth of experience and talent which the AKANG brings. In turn, our active and Canadian counterparts deliver a multitude of current national operations and multi-weapon system experience to our deployed-in-place Guardsmen. It's a win-win.

As I wrap up my tour, I return to the states with no regrets. I don't need to tell you the Air Force depends on the Air Force Reserve, and that we will continue to remain committed to the Total Force Enterprise - the powerful combination of the active duty and Reserve components that together make up the U.S. Air Force.