The United States Air Force has two civilian components: Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. It could be quite confusing as they both aid in the national defense of different military operations, and both are comprised of Citizen Airmen, too. The two, however, have several differences.

Air National Guard

The Air National Guard, also called Air Guard, is a separate federal reserve force of the United States Air Force. It is under the joint bureau of the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force, the National Guard Bureau. What’s interesting about the Air National Guard is that it is both a federal and state force. If it is under the Federal Force as per the President of the United States’ order, it becomes an active part of the United States Air Force. Now, if it is under the state jurisdiction, they report to the Governor and act as a militia force, usually during national or state emergencies like floods, hurricanes, or earthquakes.

Master Sgt. Anthony Hall, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Air Guard can be traced back to December 13, 1636, when the need to establish militia regiments arose. Bay Colony had to be defended against American Indians and other European countries in North America. As a result, the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s General Court passed an act calling to create three regiments and organize existing separate militia companies in and around Boston. This organization would later become the Army National Guard.

Militias were seen as territorial compared to, say, the naval forces, which were governed by federal laws and policies. This explains why the US Navy, US Marine Corps, and US Coast Guard do not have National Guard components. So why does US Air Force have a separate Air National Guard? The branch evolved from the US Army, so the former components of the US Army Air Forces were carried over, too, when it became the US Air Force in 1947.

As a side note, the Air Guard units tend to have some of the most experienced pilots in the Air Force, in the First Gulf War, Air Guard units were among the first to deploy to Saudi Arabia.

Air Force Reserve

Air Force Reserve was formed in 1948, under President Harry Truman’s call. For 74 years now, Air Force Reserve has been part of the United States’ defense, with a mission “to provide combat-ready forces to Fly, Fight and Win.”

Tech. Sgt. Charlie Miller, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As written on their website, they evolved from a “stand by” force that was only called during emergencies into a Major Command of the Active Duty Air Force. Now. Air Force Reserve provides the nation with air cyberspace and space defenses. Today, they currently perform about 20 percent of the work of the Air Force, from traditional ones, like flying missions, to unconventional missions like Modular Aerial Fire Fighting (MAFFs), Weather Reconnaissance (Hurricane Hunters), and Personnel Recovery (Pararescuemen).

As of today, Air Force Reserve has 69,200 members, distributed among the 4th Air Force, 10th Air Force, and 22nd Air Force. Each was 35 wings, ten independent groups, and support units at nine reserve bases, 554 active duty, and five miscellaneous locations. About 20 percent of the members are officers. The rest are enlisted.