Lt. Gen. Stanley 'Sid' Clarke is director of the US Air National Guard. (North Carolina Air National Guard)
Over the past decade-plus, the US National Guard has established itself as a core part of America’s military action overseas. At the same time, the Guard has to balance its military actions with its responsibilities at home.
Since taking over as director of the Air National Guard in January 2013, Lt. Gen. Stanley “Sid” Clarke has been in charge of laying out the future of the air component.
Q. How do you see the Guard mission transforming in the future?
A. The Guard is a proven choice for war fighting, a first choice for homeland operations and an enduring choice for security cooperation. With war fighting, we walk hand-in-hand with the United States Air Force on things that they believe they have to do for the combatant commanders out there. And [we factor into] internal thoughts about air power and what the Air Force believes it should be doing and how they would shape the future with air power. When I say air power, that covers the entire United States Air Force spectrum. That ranges from space to nuclear deterrent operations to combat air forces, mobility air forces, a lot of the agile combat support stuff.
One of the things that Congress has been very good to the National Guard about is supporting us in that homeland mission, because they do see it as a requirement that they want to support. And we do the best we can to be good stewards of the money and make sure that we give a lot of payback in how we operate the equipment, use our airmen in order to support the state requirements, the homeland operations piece, as well as the war-fighting piece. It is a very unique construct and you will not find that anywhere else in the Air Force.
Q. The Air Force is working on modernizing and recapitalizing a number of systems. What are your priorities for the Guard?
A. Well, it kind of goes hand-in-hand with the Air Force. Obviously we are flying B-52 bombers in the Air Force, and if there is a long-range strike bomber replacement, then we would like to be a part of that with them somehow, whether it is in association or another construct.
The tanker fleet, most of them came from the Eisenhower era. We are asking airmen to fly 1961 tankers around the globe for no-kidding, serious war fighting through bad weather, possibly threatened environments, over the water for thousands of miles, and we trust them. But they are still old airplanes. At some point they have been modernized, but at some point, those have to be recapitalized. We recognize that. And, indeed, those tankers are the backbone of the mobility of the nation, not just the Air Force.
And that fits nicely with the KC-46 recapitalization program and whatever the follow-on is to the KC-46. So we want to be a part of that. We are a war-fighting component of the Air Force and we move beyond the strategic reserve world to a more operational force, if you will. Our Guard airmen do a great job maintaining these really old airplanes, but they, at some point, will probably deserve to fly newer airplanes along with the regular Air Force. And the regular Air Force agrees with that, by the way.
Q. What other platforms would you like to see the Guard be a part of?
A. [There’s] the joint strike fighter, obviously. There are plans to put joint strike fighters into Guard units and likely those will come with an active association, which is fine. I think active associations are one of the most creative and most powerful total force tools we have. But with regard to other platforms, you know we are pretty much invested into everything that the Air Force does with, likely, the exception of doing the [intercontinental ballistic missile] mission inside missile silos, or the U-2 mission.
Now there are some institutional things that the Air Force does that we are not too heavily engaged on. Like acquisition — we have a smattering of people that are involved with that to a certain degree, but largely that is an Air Force institutional thing that they do. But if there is any other program that is coming along that the Air Force would be invested in, I am pretty sure they will ask us to be a part of it. And there are two reasons. Obviously, we can do the mission side-by-side with them, but also there is an efficiency perspective. Our manpower costs are lower and that is for a variety of reasons. But they would focus on that lens of how do we do this, still get the mission accomplished, still have the operational responsiveness, yet do it with less cost.
Q. The service’s 30-year plan sets a goal of breaking down the lines between the active, Guard and reserve. Is that possible?
A. I do not think you ever quit talking about the total force. I think [Air Force Chief of Staff] Gen. [Mark] Welsh would agree that culturally we are different. You know, the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force had some pretty good recommendations, but where I wish they had put more effort was against looking at the strengths of all three components of the Air Force. The ability to get out the door with an entire squadron quickly is probably a strength of the regular Air Force. They also have a great acquisition force. The strengths of the Air Force Reserve are things like the Individual Mobilization Augmentation program, and classic associations.
Q. What are the Guard’s strengths?
A. The strengths of the Air National Guard — and again, I use this as a lens to look at what we do and how we do it — are things like experienced airmen. Our airmen are dual-use. In other words, they can do that federal mission or that state mission. And because they are dual-use airmen, we need dual-use equipment. So we need to be unit-equipped. In other words, we need our own equipment in order to do that mission. And again, active association can be a part of that. [We’re also] community-based. We like being scattered across communities, across the nation.
Q. What’s the benefit of being unit-based?
A. We prefer to have units. A commander. First sergeant. We have people who are responsible for organizing the unit, training the unit, be inspected and then deployed with the unit, and then returning them home safely. And I wish that the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force had focused on that, and you will find that part of the discussion did not surface as high as discussion about cost effectiveness. To me, that is just black-and-white numbers about the cost of airmen. But we are convinced that our strengths are solid ones that fit into that strategy very well. In fact, it forms the strategy.
Q. The Guard appears set to take on more of the cyber mission. Why is that a fit?
A. Cyber is a really good fit for the Air National Guard. The competitive advantages that I have heard talked about for Guard cyber is that one, you are leveraging civilian skills. Two, when people separate from the Air Force, hopefully they choose to join the Guard so they can be part of the cyber force structure. And three, trust, because you immediately have trust with local and state and federal agencies because you wear both the civilian hat and the military hat and you have an entryway into helping.
Whether it is the banking sector or, let us say, the utility sector, and the concerns of power and water and all of that — you have an immediate trust factor because you are not coming in with a uniform on the first time you have seen them. It is somebody that has been around for a while and actually is a part of the network of people out there in the civilian community industry. I think as we go through the programming efforts, as the Air Force sees the value of that, they will be very comfortable and hopefully programming more forces in the Guard to do the cyber mission.
Q. The 30-year plan wants to make it easier for individuals to leave the service, then return with new skills. That would seem to benefit cyber in particular.
A. Sure. Typically, your cyber personnel are not going to deploy like a big unit would overseas. They are going to do stuff at home. The way it screams at me is that you can actually be a member of the Guard and take kind of a break from a full-time, regular Air Force commitment, if you will. I think that is what they were trying to scratch at. And the way I read that was you can back down from what you are doing, rather than backing out completely, [and] a lot of people who separate from the regular Air Force are doing exactly that.
Q. Do you expect the Guard to continue to be involved in putting together the budget and other major strategic decisions?
A. Yeah, I definitely think that we will continue to be engaged more in the [budget] discussions. And some of the lessons that we have learned over the past is you have to collaborate with others. And if you do that, you actually can show the full picture on problems when it comes to budget difficulties or readiness, where we are strained, and allow other people to have diversity of thought to bring into the equation. So every time the Air Force has a discussion about the future when it comes to 10, 20, 30 years out, they include us in those conversations. They seek out our comments for how we would view something. So I see us being total force partners in all of these discussions forevermore. ■