BEALE AIR FORCE BASE — When the Air Force Reserve Command announced the deactivation of the 13th Reconnaissance Squadron, Jan. 25, no one at the reserve unit on Beale Air Force Base, Calif., was shocked, but they were surprised.
The future of the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 has been a topic of congressional debate since the Presidential Budget, released last February, first proposed cutting the program as early as Oct. 1, 2012.
The 13 RS flies and maintains the RQ-4 Block 30 alongside its active duty counterpart, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, at Beale. The reserve squadron augments the 24/7 high-altitude reconnaissance mission with 80 full-time and 115 traditional reservists.
The Presidential Budget proposal alerted the squadron that the future of their mission was in question. However, in January of this year, the National Defense Authorization Act was published, appropriating funds to continue RQ-4 Block 30 operations through calendar year 2014.
In accordance with this Act, the squadron was prepared to continue providing operational support as long as the remotely piloted aircraft was flying.
“AFRC’s announcement caught us off guard,” admitted Lt. Col. Scott Hinkle, 13 RS commander.
Nearly half the squadron was at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, on a training deployment when the deactivation announcement was released last month.
“We’d been there for nearly two weeks, augmenting the 9th Operations Group Detachment 3 operations. Our members flew operational sorties and accomplished numerous critical training tasks. We performed 14 engine maintenance operations, as well as vital inspections and equipment prep for future deployments of the aircraft,” said Hinkle.
“This was our second large-scale deployment to Guam in the last year, and Det 3 had already asked us to provide additional support later this year,” Hinkle said. “That’s what makes the news of our deactivation difficult to take. We’re seamlessly integrated with the active duty and guard in this mission, and we don’t want to let them down when they need us.”
In recent years, 13th RS reservists have been called on to take leading roles in RQ-4 operations, to include TOMODACHI, Libya, and current operations over Africa, performing high-altitude reconnaissance missions as the only asset deployable without putting pilots’ lives at risk in each of these unique situations.
“As Reservists, our job is to bring continuity and expertise to the mission. The 13 RS has a well-earned reputation for providing operational support that the active duty relies on here at Beale and wherever the Global Hawk is flown around the world,” said Col. Kevin Cavanagh, 940th Wing commander.
“The 13 RS is engaged in the Global Hawk mission on a daily basis, not just one weekend a month. That’s why this particular unit has so many full-time reservists. It’s a round-the-clock mission that provides real-time intelligence to combatant commanders across the globe - intelligence that saves lives of our warriors on the ground,” Cavanagh explained.
Regardless, the squadron will be deactivated Sept. 29, according to AFRC officials.
“We understand this is a budget-driven decision,” Cavanagh said. “In no way is it a reflection on the undisputable professionalism and invaluable mission contributions of the men and women of the 13th RS.”
Still, squadron leadership admits it’s hard not to take the deactivation notification personally.
“Unfortunately, many of these members are the same reservists who went through a Base Realignment and Closure in 2005-2008 when the KC-135 tanker unit was deactivated,” said Lt. Col. Faustino Perez, 13 RS maintenance officer.
“It’s deja-vu,” said 13 RS Maintenance Superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Stuart Bisland, who along with Perez helped stand down the tanker unit just five years ago.
“We’d been recognized as the best tanker unit in the Reserve Command for several years. When the 13th stood up, everyone came back to Beale because we’re a family,” said Bisland. “It took us three years to find jobs for everyone the last time. This time, we have only seven months.”
“Beginning immediately, we’ll be doing everything we can to help anyone affected by the deactivation locate vacant positions within the wing and in other units across the Reserve,” Perez said, adding that, as Citizen Airmen, reservists have civilian employment, family obligations, and community ties that may preclude them from being able to easily relocate.
Even for those willing and able to move, Perez said there are challenges.
“Relocation costs of a TR are not paid for by the military. And for a TR who joins a unit in another region, transportation expenses to monthly Unit Training Assemblies are not reimbursed unless their career specialty is deemed ‘critical’ by the Air Force,” Perez said.
For traditional reservists looking to retrain into other careers, limited training funds is yet another issue complicating the situation, he added.
Full-time reservists with the 13 RS face an entirely different set of challenges, according to Perez.
“It is less likely these members will be afforded the opportunity to train for a new position. The hiring process for full-timers requires they meet the qualifications for a vacancy in order to apply, and they will compete with other reservists across the command for a position,” he said.
Relocation costs for full-time reservists are not guaranteed either, according to Perez.
“Funding for Permanent Change of Station moves is limited under current fiscal constraints,” said Perez. “Certain members’ relocation costs may be funded, but most full-timers, particularly enlisted members, are not normally funded for a PCS. It’s just one more challenge in this difficult situation.”
Perez said all of these issues will be topics that an upcoming AFRC Task Force will address during a visit next month. The task force visit is slated for March 18-22. The purpose of the visit will be to identify all action items necessary to accomplish the deactivation, including management issues and distribution of assets and manpower.
The deactivation of the 13 RS does not come without economic impact to the communities where these reservists live and work. This past fiscal year, that impact totaled more than $11 million, according to statistics released by the 940th Wing Financial Management Office.
The recently released Fiscal Year 2012 economic impact analysis reported the squadron’s total annual payroll was $8.5 million, while expenditures for construction and other services accounted for an additional $835,500. Rounding out the economic impact number was an estimated annual dollar value of jobs created of $1.6 million.
“This is the loss of a unique capability for the Air Force Reserves. It’s a loss for this base and our local communities, as well,” said Cavanagh. “Simply stated, the men and women of the 13 RS are an invaluable asset for our national defense. We are working as hard as we can to move them to other enduring missions that will benefit from their irreplaceable skills.”
Dana Lineback works in the 940th Wing Public Affairs department at Beale Air Force Base.