The First 75 Years: Reserve celebrates three quarters of a century of unparalleled service

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Over the past 75 years, hundreds of thousands of men and women have answered their nation’s call and served as Air Force Reservists, ready at a moment’s notice to leave their families and civilian jobs to serve their country.

It would be impossible to mention all of the missions Reservists have participated in or services they have provided  in the more than 27,000 days since there has formally been an Air Force Reserve , but in honor of AFRC’s three quarters of a century of unparalleled service to the country, here’s a quick recap of the command’s first 75 years provided by AFRC’s History Office.

While the historical origins of an air reserve in the U.S. military stem from the National Defense Act of 1916 that authorized an organized Reserve Corps, the Air Force Reserve was formally established on April 14, 1948, by President Harry Truman. The president envisioned a program similar to one established during the First World War, whereby Reservists stood ready to serve during wartime.


When the Korean War erupted in 1950, the Air Force Reserve was comprised of more than 315,800 non-drilling and nearly 58,500 drilling Reservists in combat sustaining units, namely 20 troop carrier wings outfitted with C-46s and C-47s (and later C-119s), and five light bombardment wings of B-26s.

Between July 1950 and June 1953, the Air Force mobilized nearly 147,000 Air Force Reservists to active service for periods from one to three years. Five Air Force Reserve units remained on active service while another 15 units were called up to replace and fill out active units. The Air Force Reservists performed well, as demonstrated by numerous unit citations and several recalled individuals who became fighter aces.

During the 1950s, several legislative acts addressed concerns with the national reserve program, establishing the Ready, Standby and Retired Reserve categories. Units were provided with full-time Air Reserve Technicians and the president was authorized to mobilize a portion of the Ready Reserve to active duty without advanced congressional notification.


In the 1960s, the country relied on Reserve forces to support the Berlin and Cuban Crises. While still transitioning to new aircraft, five Air Force Reserve C-124 units along with 5,613 Reservists were mobilized for a year during the Berlin Crisis. When the Cuban Crisis intensified, Reserve aircrews flew C-119s and materiel to Key West Naval Air Station and Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida. Mobilizations followed with 14,220 Reservists and 422 aircraft on active duty by Oct. 28, 1962.

The Air Force again called on the Air Force Reserve to participate in the Vietnam War effort. Reservists voluntarily provided direct and indirect support with few mobilizations. Needing more strategic airlift into the Vietnam Theater, Reservists responded by flying C-124 missions as part of their inactive duty, annual two-week training, and an additional 36 days of inactive duty days until U.S. involvement ended in 1973. Air Force Reserve rescue and recovery, intelligence and medical specialists, aerial porters, maintainers, lawyers and chaplains comprised the range of support provided.

Desiring more augmentation from the Reserve and yet unable to procure enough new C-141s, the Air Force initiated in 1968 the associate concept whereby Air Force Reserve personnel would associate with an active-duty unit equipped with new C-141s or C-9s, flying and performing maintenance together.


With the implementation of the Total Force policy in 1973, the Air Force Reserve became a multi-mission force, flying the same modern aircraft as the active Air Force. With the same equipment and budget authority, the Air Force Reserve was held to the same readiness standards and inspections as active-duty Air Force units. Special operations, air refueling, weather reconnaissance and fighter missions were added to the airlift, rescue and mission support roles performed by the Reserve. The associate concept soon expanded to include the C-5.

Reserve participation in Air Force exercises and deployments perfected its mobility capabilities as demonstrated throughout the 1970s, most notably during the Israeli Airlift of 1973. Some 630 crewmembers volunteered for Middle East missions to include flying into Tel Aviv while another 1,590 Reservists performed missions worldwide, freeing up more active crews for airlift.


The 1980s saw the modernization and expansion of the Air Force Reserve program. KC-10s joined the associate force in 1981. Fighter units obtained the more modern A-10s and F-4s, and in 1984, the Reserve received its first F-16.

Operationally, the Reserve returned American students from Grenada in 1983, performed air refuelings of F-111 bombers during the El Dorado Canyon raid on Libyan-sponsored terrorists in 1986, and acted as a full partner in Operation Joint Cause which ousted Panama’s Gen. Manuel Noriega in 1989 and 1990. Reservists also supported humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, including resupply and evacuation missions in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo. The Reserve’s continual volunteering allayed the concerns of those who believed the Air Force Reserve would not be available when really needed.

Air Force Reserve airlift and tanker crews were flying within days of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. When ground operations commenced, Reserve A-10s operated close to the front lines along with Reserve special operations and rescue forces. A Reservist scored the first-ever A-10 air-to-air kill during the early days of Operation Desert Shield.

When Operations Desert Shield/Storm ended, the Reserve counted 23,500 Reservists mobilized with another 15,000 serving in a volunteer capacity.

By this time, the Reserve had become indistinguishable from the active force in capability. There was no difference between an Air Force Reserve pilot and an active-duty pilot, or a boom operator or loadmaster.

In the aftermath of Desert Storm, Reservists continued to serve and were heavily involved in enforcing the no-fly zone over northern and southern Iraq as well as in humanitarian relief missions to assist uprooted Iraqi Kurds. For more than six years, Reserve C-130s performed these Provide Comfort missions on a rotational basis while F-16s and rescue HH-60s deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, for the no-fly operations.

In 1993, when tensions mounted in Bosnia, Reserve tanker and fighter units participated in enforcing the Deny Flight no-fly zone while airlift units ensured logistical resupply.

The Air Force increasingly relied on the Reserve for a “steady state” of daily assistance, whether it was flying airlift channel, firefighting, aerial spray or hurricane hunter missions or providing highly skilled medical and aeromedical personnel. As a result, Congress sought to clarify the organizational placement of the Reserve. Accordingly, in February 1997, the Air Force Reserve officially became Air Force Reserve Command, the Air Force’s ninth major command.

In 1999, Reservists volunteered and were also mobilized for Allied Force operations over Serbia and Kosovo. The involuntary recall marked the ninth time the Air Force had requested a mobilization of Reserve units and personnel since 1950. During Allied Force, the Reserve once again proved itself as an adaptable and capable force, ready to perform the full range of Air Force operations on an integrated and daily basis in sync with the new Air and Space Expeditionary Force concepts.


When terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, Air Force Reservists responded in full measure. Reserve F-16 fighters flew combat air patrols protecting America’s cities while KC-135 tanker and AWACs aircraft supported with air refuelings and security.

In October 2001, the United States initiated the Global War on Terrorism as military forces entered Afghanistan to combat the Taliban in Operation Enduring Freedom. Air Force Reserve MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft became the first fixed-wing aircraft to penetrate Afghan airspace while Reserve F-16 crews, already deployed in theater for Operation Southern Watch, performed the first combat missions.

Reservists made significant contributions by flying close air support, combat delivery, rescue, strategic airlift and air refueling missions supporting operations in Afghanistan. They also provided B-52, special operations, aeromedical, security forces and civil engineering support. When war against Saddam Hussein’s regime began in March 2003, Reserve combat-ready A-10, B-52 and F-16 aircrews flew numerous strike operations during the first hours of engagement and performed special operations and rescue missions.

Reserve rescue personnel were among the first into Tallil Air Base as Reserve A-10s provided close air support. Part of the lead tanker force, Reserve tankers offloaded more than 21 million pounds of fuel to more than 1,000 aircraft. In late March 2003, 15 C-17 Reserve associate crews supported the C-17 airdrop, which opened up the Northern Front in Iraq.

Additionally, Reservists supported Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle missions and space-based operations in Southwest Asia, providing essential data to battlefield commanders. In all, Reserve aircraft and crews flew nearly 162,000 hours and deployed 70 unit-equipped aircraft in theater while aeromedical personnel provided 45% of the Air Force’s aeromedical crews that performed 3,108 patient movements.


Throughout the 2010s, the Air Force Reserve continued to support the nation’s Global War on Terrorism while also facing a number of unexpected threats, including the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, instability in the Ukraine and the outbreak of Ebola. As ISIS drove thousands of Iraqis from their homes, the Reserve airlifted life-saving supplies to the Yazi refugees, refueled strike packages and delivered combat capability.

When the Ebola outbreak threatened the world, the Reserve supported Operation United Assistance by providing medical capability and airlift capacity to deliver vital personnel and supplies to Liberia.

The 2010s also brought some new missions to the Air Force Reserve as the command ushered in the first F-35 fighters at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the first KC-46 aerial refuelers at Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. In 2018, the Reserve stood up the 960th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing – a first of its kind for the command. In 2011, the Reserve established the Force Generation Center as its execution arm for mobilizations and deployments.

Across the decade, the Air Force Reserve continued to serve as an operational force on a constant basis. In a rapidly shifting security environment, the command leveraged the unique talents and expertise inherent in its Reserve Citizen Airmen, from pilots and intelligence professionals to space and cyberspace operators. From 2010 to 2020, the Reserve continued to provide the agile response, daily operational capability, strategic depth and surge capacity which are vital to the United States’ national defense.


Like the rest of the world, the Air Force Reserve started the latest decade locked in a fierce battle with Covid-19. While the pandemic kept most Reservists at home, countless Reserve health care providers selflessly answered the call and volunteered to serve on the front line in the country’s battle against the deadly and highly contagious disease.

In early April 2020, 125 Reserve medical specialists reported to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, with only 48 hours’ notice to help overburdened health care providers deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in the New York City area.

More than 40 doctors, 70 nurses and about a dozen respiratory technicians departed their home stations on April 5, went through further inprocessing at JBMDL and eventually went to work at medical facilities in and around New York City.

Their deployment was part of a larger initial mobilization package of more than 1,000 Reserve Component medical professionals from across the nation.

While Reserve medics continued to serve their units and their country during the pandemic, all Reserve Citizen Airmen had to get creative to stay connected during this time of physical distancing. Virtual unit training assemblies and video conferencing became the norm as Reservists showed their flexibility in ensuring the command could still perform its long-standing mission of providing combat-ready forces to fly, fight and win.

Reserve Citizen Airmen from across the country played a huge role in one of the largest air evacuations of civilians in American history, supporting the rapid evacuation of thousands of people from Afghanistan in August 2021 as part of Operation Allies Refuge.

More than 70 Reserve aircrews and hundreds of maintenance, security, medical and support personnel were activated to help ensure the safe passage of Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul to locations around the globe.

Hundreds of Reservists were also deployed to support Operation Allies Welcome as more than 50,000 vulnerable Afghan allies were temporarily housed at eight U.S. military facilities.

For 75 years, the nation has called on the Air Force Reserve to support national security objectives around the globe and across the spectrum of military and humanitarian operations. As they have for three quarters of a century and as they will continue to do into the future, Reserve Citizen Airmen across the country stand ready to provide daily operational capability to the joint force while preserving the strategic depth the nation needs to respond to unexpected and emerging threats.