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58th, 150th SOWs building model for total force integration

Staff Sgt. Robert Blacknall (right), 512th Special Operations Squadron, and Tech Sgt. Lane Miller, 150th Special Operations Wing, New Mexico Air National Guard, conduct a pre-flight inspection on the right gun on an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter at Kirtland recently. While Blacknall is regular Air Force and Miller is an active guard member, the two work side by side as Instructor Special Mission Aviators in the 512th under the total force integration between the 58th and 150th SOWs. (Photo by Jim Fisher)

Staff Sgt. Robert Blacknall (right), 512th Special Operations Squadron, and Tech Sgt. Lane Miller, 150th Special Operations Wing, New Mexico Air National Guard, conduct a pre-flight inspection on the right gun on an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter at Kirtland recently. While Blacknall is regular Air Force and Miller is an active guard member, the two work side by side as Instructor Special Mission Aviators in the 512th under the total force integration between the 58th and 150th SOWs. (Photo by Jim Fisher)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- When members of New Mexico's congressional delegation proposed a mission change for the New Mexico Air National Guard's 150th Fighter Wing in 2010, it was a marriage of necessity. Integrating the 150th, a unit dating back to 1947, with Kirtland's 58th Special Operations Wing would mandate a complex transition. The change in weapon systems would be the tip of the iceberg.

Air Force leadership approved of the integration however, as pairing the units was a priority under Total Force Integration. TFI is a concept which links Air National Guard and Reserve units to regular Air Force units for the purposes of gaining continuity, backfill, surge capability, and sharing resources.

Now five years later and more than a year after the 150th was redesignated a special operations wing, the two units are fully integrated. In fact, they have the foundation to be a model for total force integration across the Air Force, according to 58th Commander Dagvin Anderson.

"I don't think either side would have sought this TFI seven or eight years ago," Anderson said, referring to the very different missions of each unit at the time. "Now that everyone has seen the value of it, both sides are fully committed to it. This is my fourth tour with different TFI organizations and the foundation is here to make this the best I've seen."

150th Commander Col. Robert Reyner said the integration of operations and maintenance functions related to flying operations has gone very well.

"It's been cited as a success and a model TFI," Reyner said. "It's becoming more robust, we are integrated with all their shops and in every type of aircraft. We started out smaller but it's now getting bigger and expanding with the inclusion of different aircraft. Our command relationships are very strong with Air Education and Training Command and Air Force Special Operations Command and these have developed along with the TFI."

With the realignment in 2010, the 150th undertook a transition centered on adapting operations and maintenance from F-16s to special operations and rescue helicopters and C-130s, according to 150th Command Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Hall. They also took on new missions, including intelligence, and the RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer) expeditionary civil engineer capability. This meant retraining and bringing new people to the NMANG.

"We had to bring in a whole bunch of new folks, some active duty, and cross-train a lot of people into some very new mission areas to make this TFI happen," the chief said.

While some air guardsmen had to transition after many years' experience in certain career fields and with the fighter mission, the men and women of the 150th are providing the unique continuity, experience and expertise that guardsman bring to the fight, according to Hall.

"As an Air National Guard asset, we provide the continuity," the chief said. "Active duty folks rotate in and out, so our people are holding down the anchor. Not only are they here for a long, long time, but many of our people who are also in the civilian work force bring their various skills and experience from the civilian world to the task in their military duty."

Not only are traditional guardsmen providing continuity, but active duty members now on active guard and reserve status with the 150th are providing much needed continuity to their integrated 58th units. Tech Sgt. Lane Miller has made the transition from active duty with the 58th to active guard with the 150th. A special mission aviator and evaluator flight engineer on the HH-60 Pave Hawk, Miller is a member of the 512th Special Operations Squadron's Standards and Evaluations section.

"When conducting operations, other than the patch, there is no difference [between the 58th and 150th members]," Miller said. "The 150th members here will continue to work together over time as opposed to the active duty side--the 150th guys can provide input based on experience so we don't have to continue to reinvent the wheel. We can say, 'we've already tried this and this is the most efficient way to do things.'"

Maj. John Mosier, standards and evaluations chief, said people like Miller and his 150th teammates are giving him the experience necessary to run his programs.

"The biggest benefit of the continuity is in plans and programs," Mosier said. "As a supervisor, I need people that can provide consistency that minimizes the thrash when we have active duty turnover. I need a program manager that's an expert in their job and that's where the 150th really shines."

Situations like Miller's are not uncommon. Members of the 150th, including active guard, traditional guardsmen and even civilians are integrated in 58th units and operations. In addition, synergies are being developed to include RED HORSE as well, according to 150th Vice Commander Col. James Dixon.

"You wouldn't find one shop in general without 58th and 150th people sitting side by side, and you can't tell the difference except for the patch on the uniform," Dixon said. "And now we have our RED HORSE unit ready to start plowing drop zones--there are a lot of synergies that we have been able to develop because of the association.

After meeting the milestones for integration that were essential for a successful TFI process, the 150th must keep pace with an evolving SOW mission, Reyner explained. As the 58th is transitioning to training aircrews in the new J-model special operations C-130s and anticipating the next generation rescue helicopter, the 150th must stay in step, Dixon said.

"As airframes change, we need to make sure the TFI has the capability to change with it," Dixon said. "If the active duty community looks into the future and says that five years from now, we will need these types of people, we need to look into training people into these specialties."

Leaders from both units said that strong relationships will ensure continued success going forward.

"An effective TFI starts with effective relationships," Reyner said. "Communication has been the key to getting the TFI from a starting point to a very mature working environment."

This is the foundation for expansion, according to Anderson.

"We're committed to making this a model TFI. Relationships are the key and this is a very strong association," Anderson said.