TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. - Lt. Gen. James “JJ” Jackson, Chief of Air Force Reserve and Commander, Air Force Reserve Command visited Tinker Air Force Base Reserve units and members in the Reserve Officer Association here May 14. The 507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs office was able to interview the general during his visit.
PA: Sir, first off, thanks for coming back to Tinker to your old stomping grounds in the 507th Air Refueling Wing. What’s it like coming back to your first Air Force Reserve unit?
Lt. Gen. Jackson: This visit has been amazing. It brings back fond memories of the “Okies” of the 507th. Back then, I flew F-16s in the 465th Fighter Squadron and was there with our transition to KC-135’s. It is great to come back here and see how things have changed but also how they haven’t. One thing that hasn’t changed is the outstanding caliber of our Citizen Airmen. I met many of the 507 ARW and 513 ACG team, and our future is in good hands as these Reservists continue to make a difference. It’s great to see and hear about all of the outstanding efforts here first hand from the Airmen.
PA: There have been vast changes in the Air Force Reserve in the last 10 years. Many of our seasoned Citizen Airmen in the unit have noticed a change of the culture in the Reserve from high operations tempos to additional requirements being leveraged on the Air Reserve Component. Do you think there is a culture shift, and if so, is it good long term for the Air Force Reserve?
Lt. Gen. Jackson: Change can be difficult but it’s so necessary going forward. The units here are a perfect example. When I was here, we had to work the conversion from a fighter unit to a tanker unit and we stood up AFRC’s first AWACS wing. That was a great challenge and a huge culture shift, but it was great to see us evolve and become better. Fundamentally, we have to continue to adjust and improve in the Air Force Reserve. We continue to provide a hedge against risk, and our Air Force Reserve will continue to play a significant role in our nation’s defense. We may be a primarily part-time force, but we participate full-time when needed. It’s this flexibility and surge capacity that makes the Air Force Reserve a critical partner of our three component team. So yes, we have adopted a new way forward, we are doing more and it is good for the Air Force Reserve as we remain operationally ready and relevant to the fight.
PA: Why is modernization so important for the future of the Air Force Reserve?
Lt. Gen. Jackson: Some of the KC-135 tankers flown in the 507th are nearly 60 years old. The Air Force’s AWACS Fleet has never had a major airframe modification. Our aircraft inventory is the oldest it’s ever been, and our adversaries are closing the technology gap. The Block 45 avionics change of the KC-135s here at Tinker and the AWACS upgrade are critical to keep our warfighting edge. These upgrades will keep us relevant for 20 more years. We are moving forward with standing up operational KC-46 squadrons and providing training in the KC-46. We are upgrading other legacy systems. The F-16 fleet is being equipped with new advanced targeting pods and anti-jam global positioning systems, and the C-130’s secure data link capabilities will improve our interoperability with the joint force. We are delivering new fighters like the F-35 to Hill Air Force Base in Utah. We strive to build and maintain partnerships between active and reserve units, merging unique perspectives, experience levels, and embracing the total team. These modernization efforts are vital to remain combat ready.
PA: What initiatives are AFRC considering to improve our future force and retain our Citizen Airmen?
Lt. Gen. Jackson: An advantage of the Air Force Reserve is that we are a catcher’s mitt of talent and are able to recruit talent as Airmen transition out of active duty, over 68% of our accessions were prior service last year. The Reserve allows our Airmen to continue serving and helps us retain that investment in operational capability and mission expertise. This is why it’s so critical to take care of our reservists. The Yellow Ribbon Program is an initiative we continue to offer, and provides valuable assistance and personal tools for Citizen Airmen and their families preparing for or returning from deployments. We also launched the Wingman Toolkit website and mobile app that provides resources members can utilize to foster mental, physical, spiritual and social well-being. Balancing the demands of a civilian career, military career and family is demanding and creates a need for support programs to keep our Citizen Airmen resilient and connected.
PA: Congratulations on your upcoming retirement. What are your plans as you move on to the next step in your life?
Lt. Gen. Jackson: Next month I will pass the torch officially and end my tour as Chief of Air Force Reserve and Commander, Air Force Reserve. However, Barb and I will always consider the Air Force Reserve as part of our extended family. As I pass the baton to your new leadership team, I challenge all of you to continue to focus on our Citizen Airmen and their families. Our force would not be strong or combat-ready without the men and women who put on the uniform and the home team that support them. It has been an honor and privilege to serve alongside each of you. Once again, thanks for all you do!