PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, SAUDI ARABIA –
Rooted in a sea of sand, the U.S. Air Forces Central (AFCENT) mission is, in-part, seamlessly accomplished by both active duty and the Air National Guard—proving the concept of Total Force Integration (TFI).
TFI is nothing new. Once called “Future Total Force,” TFI became the standard about 15 years ago—fully integrating the Air Force’s active duty, guard and reserve components in exercises and contingency operations around the world.
“To be honest, I probably wouldn’t know I was flying with a guard pilot or in a guard jet if I didn’t know ahead of time,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Kristoffer "Smirk" Smith, 378th Expeditionary Operations Group (EOG) commander following a flight in an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet with South Carolina Air National Guard (SCANG) pilot Maj. Shaun "Clutch" Hoeltje. “That’s a testament to the high level of professionalism that the Swamp Foxes carry with them wherever they go.”
The 378th EOG, located at PSAB, is outfitted with more than 300 Airmen from the SCANG’s 169th Fighter Wing, known worldwide as the Swamp Fox. Of that number, 50 Airmen are active duty—permanently assigned to the SCANG’s all-active duty 316th Fighter Squadron—successfully exemplifying TFI since 2007.
Continuity is what the National Guard brings to TFI.
“On active duty the average assignment is somewhere between 18-36 months,” Hoeltje said.
Conversely, there are SCANG maintenance Airmen deployed to PSAB today who have worked on the F-16 for more than thirty years, including at PSAB in 1991 during Operation DESERT STORM.
“Similar examples exist among the pilots,” said Hoeltje. “We will deploy several times together over the course of a 10-15 year guard flying career, which creates cohesion at a level that is different than active duty.”
Hoeltje, who has 2,300 hours in the F-16 and three combat deployments under his belt added that this group is the most experienced team he has ever seen deploy—nearly the entire group are instructor pilots with multiple deployments among them.
Smith has flown the F-16 for 20 years and has 2,000 flight hours, with 175 of those hours in combat. Speaking to the experience factor of the SCANG, Smith said it allowed the squadron to arrive on a very short hand-over timeline and seamlessly pick-up operations from the previous unit without missing a single sortie or mission.
The EOG commander addressed the unique mission at PSAB when he said, “This isn’t your average deployment.”
Units at PSAB continually train and engage with partner nations in the region as they support U.S. Central Command priorities, protecting the region and providing assurance. This includes employing small detachments around the area of responsibility to expand the “Agile Combat Employment” concept and even training Airmen how to “hot-pit” refuel aircraft that are different from their primary aircraft.
“All of that is on top of the ‘normal’ combat operations that is the usual expectation for deployments,” Smith said.
Despite their different service components, Smith and Hoeltje have worked together before PSAB. Smith was an instructor pilot at the USAF Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base when Hoeltje came through the USAF Weapons Instructor Course.
“It was awesome to fly with Clutch having known him back during his active duty days, and now seeing his stellar work building and leading younger Swamp Foxes in the guard,” said Smith.
Active, guard and reserve pilots train together from early on in their careers.
“This makes integration between the active duty and the guard, at least from a tactical perspective, very easy,” Hoeltje said.
Seamless integration is proof of total force success in the skies over PSAB and the rest of the world.
“From a tactical employment perspective, we are truly a total force,” said Hoeltje.