Air Defender 23

The USUnited States Air National Guard

The USUnited States Air National Guard

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From a supplemental force, the U.S. Air National Guard has become a vital link in the U.S. Air Force. In the Air Defender exercise in June, the airmen from the States are participating with 100 aircraft.

Die deutsche, die amerikanische und die europäische Flagge wehen zusammen an Fahnenmasten.

The German, American and European flags fly together during a sponsorship roll call between German and American soldiers

Bundeswehr/Alyssa Bier

Ready for take off: When the Air Defender exercise trains air operations in European airspace for two weeks in June, nearly half of the aircraft will carry a crest showing a young man with a rifle under a wide sky, the logo of the Air National Guard (ANG). On the U.S. side, it is primarily their aircraft that are participating in the largest redeployment exercise in NATO's history. The home airports of the participating American crews are located in 35 states in the U.S., where each state has at least one ANG unit.

Link between military and civil protection

Military units under the flag of a state and under the command of the respective governor, parallel to the regular armed forces and a mixture of combat unit and disaster control: What looks like fiction through German eyes has long been a reality in the USA. The roots of the National Guard on the ground, for example, go back to the time of the colonial wars of the young America against England. Today, the Guard is closely linked to the regular forces of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, and the federal government's co-financing and coordination of the Guard, as well as the U.S. president's supreme command in the event of a national emergency, also act as links.

Accordingly, all of this results in a dual function: state governors can call on the Guard for assistance in the event of a crisis, which happens time and again during natural disasters, for example. For example, when Hurricane Katrina devastated large parts of Florida and Louisiana in 2005, the ANG was on hand to evacuate people left homeless, set up tent camps and provide first aid, communications and transportation. Second, it is the U.S. president who can mobilize the National Guard in the event of war, as has happened several times.

100,000 personnel and 1,300 machines

In basic operations, the units of the Air National Guard, established in 1947, are assigned to various major Air Force commands, where they perform some of the same duties as active-duty Air Force soldiers. The Air Mobility Command's airlift and air refueling capabilities, for example, are each provided half by the ANG. And Guard training is also shared and under the same requirements with active-duty soldiers; likewise, ranks are the same. The available weapon systems now comprise some 1,300 aircraft, including, with a few exceptions, all aircraft types that are also in the U.S. Air Force - up to and including the F-35 fighter jet. Although the volunteer members of the National Guard generally enter into a temporary service obligation including basic training and then continue to train as reservists, many of the soldiers are now working for the ANG. In the meantime, however, many soldiers in the air units, which number a good 100,000 in total, are working full time because of the increased demands.

To name just two examples, the Air National Guard was deployed internationally in occupied Germany to protect against Soviet aggression and in the two Gulf wars in 1991 and 2003. And not least at the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, a broadly based reservist pool proved its worth when Air National Guard units flew a wide variety of missions. At times, a total of more than 10,000 ANG members were deployed at the Hindukush at the same time.

by Rüdiger Franz

Air Defender 23

Multinational air operation exercise in Europe