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Total force Airmen's paths converge

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Megan Reed
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing
"Ready to lift it?" "Ready!" The two Airmen stood on either side of the remotely piloted aircraft, removing the radome - the panel that would be a canopy on a manned aircraft.

They both moved efficiently, with a few quick words here and there to coordinate movement.
An observer would see no difference between them, both exhibiting the same apparent training and proficiency, the same comfort with the job at hand.

But in reality, they are very different.

One is an active duty Airman, while the other is a traditional guardsman.

Whether an individual enlists in the active duty military or the Air National Guard, they go to the same basic training and technical schools. But once their training is over, their paths split. The active duty member is assigned to their first base, which could be anywhere in the world, where they will work their job full time...while the guardsman goes back to their home unit. After a brief period of on-the-job-training, a traditional guardsman is free to pursue their goals - which could be anything from raising a family, going to school, or developing a full-time civilian career.

But for two days a month they train to maintain their skills and work alongside Airmen and civilian employees who perform it full-time. Additionally, they attend two weeks of training per year to fulfill unit requirements, but may further their training through a temporary duty assignment or a deployment.

For a traditional guardsman, deploying to a forward location can present several unique challenges. Most traditional guardsmen have full-time civilian employment, and many are well established in the local community, so leaving behind a family isn't routine. It's possible that they haven't deployed in years, if ever. It can be difficult to get time off from their civilian job, or school. Families, though aware of the possibility of deployment, are often not used to the planning and preparation that goes into sending a family member off to war. Lastly, the guardsman will not only be performing their job full-time, but in an exacting, high-stress environment. They may normally do this job only a few times a year, but in a deployed environment they must be able to perform their duties as competently as their active duty counterparts.

I've had the honor of being one of the two first 174th Air National Guard members to deploy with the active duty as an RPA avionics specialist. I had concerns at first, especially as someone with very little experience on this airframe. Would I be accepted by my fellow Airmen? Would my level of knowledge be sufficient? Would I be able to keep up and adjust to the new environment? Back home I am a freelance writer and a college student, only working as an avionics specialist a little over 30 days a this deployment is radically different from the life I was used to. 

But I've learned that no matter what is thrown my way, as long as I do my best, and keep a positive attitude, it's a fairly painless adjustment. It's a matter of keeping your eyes and ears open and learning from those who've been here before, those who know what they are doing regardless of their rank, age, etc. I also found that much of my past flightline experience has allowed me to be an asset at times, especially in areas such as inspections and troubleshooting.

But above all, I've found that I now have several new friends and a newfound respect for my full-time counterparts. I've also had the privilege of working with leaders whose examples I will follow for the rest of my life.

I've come to understand that at the end of the day, we are all here for the same reasons - reasons that make our differences unimportant.