9 Things You Need to Know about the Air Force Reserve

By Sandi Gohn

Sometimes known as “citizen airmen,” Air Force reservists have made notable contributions to protect and defend our nation since the inception of the Reserve on April 14, 1948.

We rounded up nine need-to-know facts about the Air Force Reserve. Take a look:

1. Hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Air Force Reserve pilots swiftly took to the air to protect American cities from further unanticipated assaults.

For days after the initial attacks, reservist F-16 fighter pilots flew air patrols over major U.S. metropolitan areas, while their KC-135 tanker and Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACs) counterparts supported them with the fuel and security necessary to conduct their mission.

Lt. Gen. Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix De Guerre with Palm to Col. Jimmy Stewart for exceptional services in the liberation. | Photo credit U.S. Air Force Photo

2. Over 15% of citizen airmen are Air Reserve Technicians (ARTs), a special type of reservist that works as a Department of Defense (DOD) civilian during the week and as an Air Force reservist during trainings and mobilizations.

ARTs’ civilian and reservist roles, although technically different, are complementary and require a similar skillset. Usually, ARTs’ roles are focused on helping provide the continuity, administrative and logistical support needed to plan and execute the training weekends and unit exercises that they and their fellow reservists will participate in at least once a month.

3. Actor Jimmy Stewart, who starred in films like “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Rear Window” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” served as a citizen airman.

After flying as an active-duty Air Force pilot in World War II, Stewart joined the Air Force Reserve in 1945 and retired as a brigadier general in 1968.

4. In 2007, reservists from the 315th Airlift Wing broke the 100,000 flight hour mark in support of the war on terror.

As Staff Sgt. Jeff Kelly noted in a 2007 article, to put this milestone in perspective, “One aircrew would have to fly continuously for 11.5 years in order to reach the 100,000 mark.”

Photo credit DIVIDS

A modified Air Force Reserve C-130 aircraft, assigned to the 910th Airlift Wing, conducts aerial spray operations.

5. The Air Force Reserve has three unique special mission units: the weather reconnaissance, aerial spray (herbicide and pesticide distribution) and airborne firefighting groups.

In 2017, all three units were called to action for the first time in 70 years due to a trifecta of natural disasters: post-Hurricane Harvey mosquito relief, Colorado wildfires and Hurricane Irma.

6. Speaking of hurricanes, reservists compromise the majority of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, one of the three special units mentioned above and the only unit in the military whose sole mission is to gather severe weather data for the National Hurricane Center and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Citizen airmen in this unit must be ready to fly missions in as little as 16 hours, no matter where they are located in the country.

7. Roughly 300 of the Air Force’s aircraft are solely controlled by the Air Force Reserve.

In any one moment, 99% of the Reserve’s aircraft are ready to deploy within 72 hours’ notice.

8. In 2018, the Air Force Reserve launched its first-ever cyber wing, which is tasked with organizing and training reservists, specifically, to defend the Air Force and the country against cyber-attacks and cyber warfare.

Air Force Gen. Maryanne Miller | Photo credit DIVIDS

As Air Force Col. Lori Jones, head of the new unit, noted, “Our adversaries are busy conducting cyber-enabled campaigns to erode of military advantage, threaten our infrastructure and reduce our economic prosperity. We must respond to this by exposing, disrupting and degrading cyber activity that threatens U.S. interests.”

9. In 2016, then-Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller became the first female chief of the Air Force Reserve and commander of the Air Force Reserve Command.

She was later promoted to a four-star general and served as the first-ever reservist to lead the Air Mobility Command before retiring in 2021.

-This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated in 2022.

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