New Jersey Air Guard Goes All Out
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J., Feb. 21, 2002 Last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attack turned the New Jersey Air National Guard's 177th Fighter Wing upside down, according to the wing commander.
"Typically, a Guard unit is 30 percent full-timers and 70 percent traditional guardsmen," said Col. Mike Cosby. "As a result of 9/11 and the partial mobilization by the president, about 65 percent of our people are full-time.
"A Guard unit typically works about nine hours a day," Cosby noted. "Our unit was a little atypical in that we ran two shifts, which meant we worked from about 6 in the morning until about 10 or 11 at night. Now, since 9/11, we're working 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
The wing's missions are also "significantly different," he said. "We used to train here in the United States. We would go out and fly air-to-air missions or drop bombs on our bombing range. Now, we're actually flying live, loaded combat sorties, combat air patrols over our own continental United States."
Cosby, a veteran F-16 pilot from Boerne, Texas, served on active duty from 1983 until 1991. He flew 87 combat sorties during Operation Desert Storm and has a total of about 300 combat flying hours. He said 177th fighters last flew combat air patrols as part of Operation Southern Watch in October 2000.
"That's where we flew the exact same mission, combat air patrols, but in this case, it was over Iraq," he noted. "Then to imagine less than a year later you're doing the exact same mission over your own country is kind of a sobering thought."
Since Sept. 11, 2001, 177th pilots have patrolled the northeast corridor from New York City to Washington as part of Operation Noble Eagle. They've flown more than 825 combat air patrols totaling more than 3,100 flying hours, doubling the number of hours they'd normally fly in the same time frame.
"Unlike normal deployments where we all pack up and we all go someplace overseas, isolate ourselves and focus strictly on the war or the mission at hand, now members of my unit have to go home (at the end of their shift)," Cosby said. "They have to make dinner for the kids, do homework, go to the basketball or baseball game, fix the car, clean the gutters and paint the house and cut the lawn. There's a lot more issues they're involved with here because we're 'deployed at home station.'"
The majority of the Guard members' employers, probably over 95 percent, Cosby said, fully support their employees and the Guard mission. Some supplement employees' salaries if they've taken a significant cut because they're now on active duty. Some employers continue to provide health care and insurance for not only the employee but also the employees' families, he added.
In some cases, however, the Guard had to educate employers on the laws associated with the president's partial mobilization, he noted.
"The Air National Guard hasn't been partially mobilized since Vietnam," Cosby said. "Some employers are not sure what the rules, responsibilities and obligations are under U.S. Title 10. Once we explained the rules of a partial mobilization and the law that governs it, we've haven't had any problem."
The Guard took a proactive stance, he said, holding press conferences, explaining the rules on television and passing out flyers. New Jersey also has a very active Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program headed by a retired general that helped explain the situation to employers, he added.
By law, a partial mobilization can last up to two years. "Our orders are cut year to year," Cosby said. "I can't tell you when Noble Eagle is going to end. I can't tell you when our partial mobilization is going to end. I can't tell the families or the employers when it's going to end, either."
But based on the wing's re-enlistment rates, the Air Guard members must agree with their commander's view that there's no "higher calling, especially for a citizen soldier, than to defend your own country."
"Reup rates up almost 90 percent," Cosby said. "People are proud in the job that they do and they're proud to be associated with a first-class organization."
The commander also noted that the wing's "mission-capable rate" on its circa 1983- and 1984-vintage F-16C aircraft is also up over 90 percent. Normally, he said, it runs about 70 to 75 percent.
"We're flying airplanes more so they get more maintenance," Cosby explained. "We have higher priority on parts than we did before because we're in a combat operation. So there's a lot of things that contribute to that (mission-capable rate), but the bottom line is the young kid that's bending the wrench and making it happen out on the flight line."
The high operations tempo is taking its toll, however, Cosby acknowledged. "Are we getting tired? Yes. The tempo's up significantly. We've doubled our flying hours. How long can we do this? As long as the president asks us to do it."