Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, the director of the Air National Guard, listens as Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, consults at the Pentagon on Oct. 29 with senior leaders guiding the National Guard's response to Hurricane Sandy as part of the federal, state and local team. (Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill / Army National Guard)
On Oct. 31, during Defense News’ interview with Lt. Gen. Harry “Bud” Wyatt, U.S. Air National Guardsmen were still involved in rescue efforts along the East Coast following Hurricane Sandy.
“We work with the Army National Guard very closely as to provide that capability, security forces, medical forces, communication,” said Wyatt, the director of the Air National Guard.
When it comes to how long the Air Guard can sustain such heavy operations, Wyatt pointed out that the storm’s damage, while significant, was less catastrophic than it was for Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
“If a particular state’s capabilities that reside in the Guard components become overwhelmed, usually the governors will then turn to sister states through emergency management assistance compacts,” he said. “And if we still don’t have enough capability in the Guard, we will turn, using some new authorities, to Air Force Reserve Command or the active duty to provide those capabilities that don’t either reside in the Guard or that we become overwhelmed.”
Wyatt, like many U.S. military chiefs, is dealing with a force in transition as the war in Afghanistan winds down and budgets squeeze resources. He must also deal with mending wounds following public disagreements between the states’ governors and the active Air Force over the fiscal 2013 budget proposal.
Wyatt became director of the Air National Guard in 2009.
Q. The Air Force submitted its budget to Congress earlier this year, and it did cause a controversy. Guardsmen and lawmakers accused the Air Force of failing to coordinate closely with the Guard in making these cuts. You were there at the time — what happened from your perspective, and what are the lessons learned for the long term?
A. I don’t think the situation was as acrimonious as a lot of people think. We had some discussions inside the Air Force, and I was part of those, looking at different ways to provide the capability that the taxpayer expects in the United States Air Force but also recognizing that we had a shift in strategy, shift in the policy, trying to move the Air Force forward with the type of capabilities that we wanted, but at the same time being very aware of the budget constraints that we are trying to operate [within]. I wouldn’t call it a rift or a disagreement. I would call it just different perspectives on ways to get the job done. It’s a ballet, if you will, to figure out what capabilities the country can afford, not only for Title 10 — war fighting overseas — but for the Title 32 mission that the governors are in charge of.
Q. Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, had said this is a top priority to sort of heal this relationship, to put this in the past and find new ways to work. What are the changes that are being implemented from your standpoint that would help improve the strategic relationship going forward?
A. First of all, I think he’s a key person to make that happen. The outreach he has done already with adjutants general, with the Air National Guard, with the Council of Governors, has been phenomenal, and I think has set the tone that “Hey, we need to do the rejoin,” to use his words, and promote the business of the Air Force.
The Air National Guard can provide things to the United States Air Force that will be very beneficial. One is the political context that the Guard has with Congress. We have a great relationship with Congress, primarily because our 89 wings are in all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. We have those contacts with our governors and with our congressional delegations that we’ve established and continue to nurture.
As we go forward trying to figure out what is best for the United States Air Force, I think you’ll see from Gen. Welsh a renewed effort to understand what the Title 32 requirements are from the governors and adjutants general and work that into force structure as we go ahead and make tough decisions on what is the right active component/reserve component mix.
Q. This is a time of budget cutting, ultimately. One of the things the chief is talking about is bringing governors in on big Air Force’s planning process. How exactly is that going to work?
A. A couple different processes. One at the Air Force level will be primarily working through the adjutants general, who answer directly to the governors. In the next budget discussions, [we are going] to more freely discuss proposed changes to Air Force force structure and the [active-reserve] mix. This will help with the dialogue. I think everybody understands that the governors don’t want to write the president’s budget for the military. They have their own challenges with their state budgets, but they do, I think, want to know if there are some proposed changes to Air Force force structure, specifically Air National Guard, in their states.
Q. But some of this is also prestige, guys didn’t want to lose their only flying missions or dwindling flying missions. What’s the best way to do this to reconcile the force with the available resources?
A. There are going to have to be some cuts, I think, across the board. The key is making sure that we do consider the Title 32 fight and the capabilities that the governors need. And if there’s a way to mix that between the cuts that the Guard will be required to take and that the active duty is required to take, I think we’ll come out with a better total product in the end. There’s now the Council of Governors, [and that] has opened up a line of communication from 10 key governors directly to the secretary of defense. That communication channel is being used. The Air Force channel of communication through chief of Air National Guard Bureau will also be used to exchange ideas on the way to do these cuts.
Q. In terms of the freeze, in terms of personnel reductions, how is that hitting you guys?
A. The freeze basically leaves our fiscal 2012 force structure in place. And so it has added a little bit of stability as we work through, hopefully, a compromise with the Air Force on a way ahead.
Q. Do you have any solution that’s in the offing any time soon?
A. We’re getting close, and there have been considerable compromises by the United States Air Force. I think they are beginning to recognize that there’s such things as what I would say is a perfect budget and one that is executable, to borrow words from the chief of staff. And I think we are getting pretty close to one that will be executable. We hope to be able to get clearance from the secretary of the Air Force and [Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta to go forward with that here in the near future. But whether that will satisfy members of Congress is yet another question to be answered.
Q. Effectively, the active duty is going to take more cuts to spare cuts from the Air National Guard?
A. I think you are close. What I meant to say, actually numbers-wise, is you have to remember the Air Guard is about one-third the size of the active component. And one of the complaints that we saw out of Congress was that the personnel cuts were not proportional. So I think numbers-wise what you’ll see as we come together is more active-duty members being cut and fewer guardsmen being cut, but the percentages of cuts will be more proportional than under [the fiscal 2013 submission].
Q. What are some of the missions that are going into the Guard? What are some of the missions that are going to be shed from the Guard?
A. The first one, and I think maybe the most important mission, is the cyber mission. Think about the skill and expertise that already exists in the Air National Guard, primarily because 70 percent of our folks work for civilian companies, a lot of them in the computer IT industry. We already have some great cyber warriors, and we need to capitalize on that relationship, keep them in the Air Guard, capture some of those active-duty folks that decide to transfer off of active duty and take some of those high-paying jobs. What we try to stay away from are ones that are constantly high operational tempo, although we want to stay involved in some of those.
Things like some of the fighter presence overseas might be something where we leverage the expertise of the Air Force. We fly that same equipment but the balance between high operational tempo and maybe those platforms we would use in a strategic fight, we have to look at how we will mix the active component and reserve component.
Q. But there are some people who say that given the demand on UAVs, for example, and MC-12s and how important they were in Iraq and Afghanistan, that those are the wrong kind of aircraft, that the equipment you get should be more transports and tankers and things that you have traditionally held.
A. One of the things you have to remember when you are talking about manned or unmanned ISR is that we are not always going to be forward-deployed to the degree we are right now, and there are some limitations with what you can do with that capability in the continental United States. If we want to talk about Sandy, for example, it would be wonderful to be able to employ some manned ISR to take a look at infrastructure, flooding levels and [provide] some of the situational awareness our governors and the president need to see.
Q. Historically the Guard has been a strategic force in reserve. What does the Guard need to be in the future?
A. I don’t think we can afford to go back to a strategic reserve. The money that is available requires that every platform, every capability we have be able to provide combat power today. What that means for the Guard is that we’ve got to remain operational. We do have to consider the employer demands of the civilian part of our force and of our drill status guardsmen, so our operational tempo might not be as much as the active component, but it does have to stay regular so we can stay part of the operational force.