(Editor’s Note – The following is an updated repost of a Q&A with Lt. Gen. Rice originally published December 17, 2018 with added questions from April 27, 2020, covering the ANG support to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Lieutenant General L. Scott Rice is the Director, Air National Guard (ANG), the Pentagon, Washington, D.C. He is responsible for formulating, developing and coordinating all policies, plans and programs affecting more than 107,600 Air Guard members and civilians in more than 90 wings and 175 geographically separated units across 213 locations throughout the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.
Rice is a command pilot with more than 4,300 hours in the F-111 and A-10. Before assuming his current position, General Rice served as The Adjutant General and Commander, Massachusetts Air National Guard.
He has served in various operational and staff assignments including Commander, Air Force Forces, Exercise Eastern Falcon in United States Central Command. Rice has commanded a squadron, operations group, and fighter wing. He also served as the Assistant Adjutant General for Air, and Commander, Massachusetts Air National Guard.
During an interview with Airman Magazine, Lt Gen Rice discussed the health and state of the Air National Guard, the development of 21st Century Guard Airmen and challenges faced by the Air National Guard.
Airman Magazine: As of April, more than 44,500 Air and Army National Guard professionals are supporting the COVID-19 crisis response at the direction of their governors. How many ANG personnel are currently aiding the pandemic response?
Lt. Gen. Rice: Currently the Air National Guard has over 7,000 Airmen aiding in the COVID-19 response, of which 80% are currently in a federalized (T32, 502f) status under presidential approval. Our Guardsmen are on the front lines of this COVID-19 pandemic response, fighting against an invisible and dangerous enemy.
Airman Magazine: The National Guard represents about 75% of the total military personnel serving on the front lines; what roles are Airmen supporting and what success stories are being achieved?
Lt. Gen. Rice: Our Airmen are supporting the response in a wide array of mission sets. They include, but are not limited to, supporting warehouse operations and logistical efforts to deliver and distribute life-saving medical equipment; performing mobile testing and sample deliveries; providing mortuary affairs assistance with the utmost respect and dignity; building and outfitting alternate care facilities to alleviate stress on medical infrastructure; delivering and distributing food in hard-hit communities and supporting food banks; providing on-call medical transport. Medical teams are also augmenting local hospitals. In addition to medical and logistical support, our chaplains and mental health professionals are also serving in roles that support mental health and spiritual needs during this trying time.
We see numerous examples of Citizen Airmen leading in their communities every day. Lt. Col. Patricia Adams of the Kentucky Air National Guard and her husband are small business owners who operate an optometry practice that has been severely impacted by the spread of COVID-19. Despite these challenges, Adams was one of the first to volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic – serving as the officer-in-charge at drive-through COVID-19 testing sites – in support of the Kentucky State Police and local law enforcement.
Another example is 1st Lt. Jose Arroyo of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard, who used his experience operating a nonprofit organization to begin building face shields and other personal protective equipment for fellow Airmen at the 156th Wing. Arroyo found the plans for the face shields by leveraging contacts made through his civilian employment. For more than a month, Arroyo has been waking up every hour, on the hour, to reset his 3D printer, ensuring he can make as many face shields as possible. These are just two examples of the dedication, the creativity, and the ingenuity of our Citizen Airmen who are leading the fight against COVID-19.
Airman Magazine: Can you explain the importance of the executive order signed by President Trump extending mobilizations under Title 32 to 31 days? What does this mean for our Airmen?
Lt. Gen. Rice: The majority of our Airmen supporting this crisis have volunteered to serve. Extending the mobilization to 31 days ensures our Airmen receive housing allowances commensurate with their locality. Additionally, extending their orders to 31 days ensures our men and women receive appropriate healthcare during their time of service.
Asking our Guard Airmen to serve on orders for 30 days or less results in reduced benefits to our men and women with regard to housing allowances and healthcare coverage while serving in a federalized status. During a national pandemic, such disadvantages only add to the stresses incurred by Guard families while loved ones serve and may potentially have adverse effects on personnel readiness should our members not be able to receive necessary healthcare.
Extending and authorizing orders to 31 days is the right thing to do for our Airmen and their families. I am very pleased that this executive order was signed.
Airman Magazine: Do ANG Airmen get PPE from state or federal stockpiles? Do they have enough?
Lt. Gen. Rice: Our Airmen will not be asked to do a job if we have not made accommodation for them to have the required PPE. Each state is handling the sourcing of PPE differently.
Airman Magazine: What specialized career fields are most in demand? Other than medical, what other missions are ANG forces being asked to do? Does that vary from state to state? Examples: How is what they are doing in Chicago different than what they are doing in New York City and why?
Lt. Gen. Rice: All of our Guardsmen are in demand. We have some of the best medical professionals in the world serving in our Air National Guard. Many of their talents are being put to use fighting COVID-19.
In addition to direct medical support, our Airmen are bringing their exceptional logistics capability to this unique fight. The importance of getting the right personnel, equipment, and supplies to the right place in a timely manner can’t be overstated. Our Airmen have been delivering medical supplies/tests, conducting tests, restocking food banks in local communities, and many other missions.
The demand has grown based on the needs within each state, some of whom require unique skill sets. For example, Our Fatality Search and Recovery Teams have conducted numerous recovery missions within hard hit communities of Massachusetts, New York, and Washington D.C. While other states such as Arizona, California, Hawaii and Illinois employed their assigned aircraft and air crews to deliver desperately needed ventilators, medical supplies and equipment, or material needed to manufacture personal protective equipment.
Airman Magazine: ANG Airmen are supporting testing sites, enhancing the medical capacities and delivering critically needed medical supplies and food in their communities, can you talk to sacrifices and courage of our Airmen?
Lt. Gen. Rice: Every Guard Airmen who answers the call to serve is honoring their commitment to our nation. In doing so, they demonstrate their willingness to potentially risk their own health in order to aid their communities in need of support and resources the National Guard team is able to provide. It amazes me how our Airmen continuously step up and provide much needed support when our country needs it the most. This is a historic pandemic, which requires a historic response — we are built for this. Our combined military training and civilian expertise enable us to perform a wide array of missions when called upon by our governors. We are neighbors helping neighbors.
Airman Magazine: Can you address the importance of leadership stepping up and filling the communication gap with their Airmen in these critical times?
Lt. Gen. Rice: It is critical that our Airmen hear from their leaders, more so in these trying times. Our leaders have been innovative with how they communicate with their Airmen. We have evolved from the traditional sense of seeing our Airmen and communicating with them face-to-face, to now conducting remote regularly scheduled drill periods, video/audio chats, and utilizing different social media platforms to reach all of our Airmen. Our leaders work hard to ensure our Airmen are informed of the latest guidance to ensure appropriate mitigation procedures are followed as well as appropriately trained and equipped for their assigned missions
Airman Magazine: What would you like to say directly to the ANG Airmen on the front lines and to those Airmen awaiting the call to be mobilized?
Lt. Gen. Rice: Chief (Master Sergeant Ronald C.) Anderson and I cannot fully express how proud we are of our Air National Guard Airmen. You amaze us every day with what you accomplish. As Guard Airmen, you are “Always Ready – Always There.” Thank you for what each and every one of you have done for your communities, states, territories, district and our nation.
Airman Magazine: What is your role as the director of the Air National Guard and what is the state of the ANG force?
Lt. Gen. Rice: My role is not the same as a traditional AF major command (MAJCOM) commander’s role. While the ANG is considered one of 11 MAJCOMs, my role is that of a director, not a commander. So, as a director, I manage the training, organization and equipping of a force with more than 107,600 personnel, and growing. That’s a lot of people in a lot of places. We have airmen in over a hundred entities, 90 wings and 10 centers supporting every AF mission to the same standards as their active duty counterparts.
As for the state of the ANG, we’re relatively healthy. We use two primary measures of readiness, end strength and effective manning. We have met our annual end strength goals in a majority of the last 15 years including this past fiscal year. While our end strength numbers are very good, what we’re really after is our effective manning. Do we have the right people in the right job with the right training? For a variety of reasons, not all airmen will be available for duty all the time. Our goal is to sustain an effective manning rate of at least 90%. We’re a very healthy force.
Historically we have averaged an 85% effective manning rate. Strong leadership and retention efforts have raised the rate to almost 90%. Right now we are manned effectively. Effective manning translates into a more ready, lethal force. So are we effective? Are we efficient and are we providing the forces the Air Force needs? Yes, very much so.
Airman Magazine: As the director of the Air National Guard, what are your priorities?
Lt. Gen. Rice: I have three fundamental priorities. First and foremost is our mission and making sure that we’re ready to complete our mission successfully, whether it be overseas, when the president calls on us through the Department of Defense or by leveraging the resources the Department of Defense funds for us in governors’ state missions to help our states, communities, and neighbors when natural or man-made disasters strike.
My second priority is our people, our 21st Century Guard Airmen. My focus is on empowering them as leaders and decision makers while ensuring they have the resources to get the job done. It’s a whole person, whole family concept.
I am concerned not only about the wellbeing of our service members but also about the spouses and the kids and other family members whose support of the service is vital to our success. You might say that family members are “drafted” into the service. I want to be sure they understand the mission, the benefits and what it means to be community based. So, my second priority is our people.
My third priority is preparing for the future by building for tomorrow’s fight. This includes preparing for everything from modernizing and recapitalizing our equipment to getting our organization right and to building partnerships across the DoD, our federal government, our states and communities, as well as leveraging capabilities and capacity of our overseas partnerships.
So, taking care of our mission, our 21st Century Guard Airman and building a force for the future are my top priorities.
Airman Magazine: Why is it important to build 21st Century Guard Airmen and what are you doing across the ANG to support that concept?
Lt. Gen. Rice: So there’s the cliché of reliable and relevant.
“Always There, Always Ready” is one of the mottos of the National Guard and we take it very seriously. It comes from a heritage extending over 370 years during which America’s Minutemen have served as a militia force in defense of the Homeland. We’re in the fields, we’re in the communities, we work there, we grow our families there, and we’re always ready, always there when our nation or our community calls to provide defense locally or internationally.
“Always Ready, Always There” leads to relevant and reliable. It’s the piece I’m working on with all of our people, making sure they’re trained and making sure they’re properly equipped. And lastly, making sure they’re organized with the necessary command and control network to optimize their capabilities and use of time. Their time is a very precious resource and we want to ensure that it is spent appropriately.
Airman Magazine: What does it mean to be a Citizen Airman in an environment that is empowering Airman across the force to drive a culture of innovation?
Lt. Gen. Rice: Today’s emphasis on innovation and innovative thinking highlights an important Guard strength…as a part time force, about 70 percent of our members are exposed to innovative advances that are occurring in the civilian sector, especially in the area of technology, so we come to the table with new ideas. Only 30 percent of our force is fulltime… their job is to train, organize, equip the force, and make sure that 100 percent of the force is always ready to go. The seventy percent that lives and grows in the community has great, innovative ideas solutions to bring forth from the field, from the business communities, from all those communities that surround all of our bases. That’s a great way to apply innovative thinking to all we do.
Airman Magazine: What is the ANG’s perspective of Total Force Integration?
Lt. Gen. Rice: The Air National Guard is guided by five capstone principles that include enhancing missions using the organized militia construct and a cost effective dual use of equipment overseas and stateside. A third principle addresses sustaining an ANG that is concurrent and balanced with the growth and development of the active duty Air Force. The concurrent and balance strategy ensures our relevance and interoperability with the Total Force. I build the reliability and the people while ensuring that we meet the same capabilities and standards as the active duty Air Force. Plug and play is a real easy thing for the Air National Guard. So when I look at total force, that is what I’m looking at…we’re not different in the sense of what we do, we’re just different in that a part-time, full-time mix is more cost effective.
Airman Magazine: Can you speak to some of the benefits of having Airmen serving while working in the civilian sector and how that benefits the U.S. Air Force?
Lt. Gen. Rice: I’ve personally seen some of our innovative Guardsmen solve problems using the support and help of their companies. It’s been inspiring to see how the business community and the local communities come together to rally behind an individual who is serving. We also have people in our force, in our service, who are senior executives for many Fortune 500 global companies. There are also small businesses where Air National Guard members are CEOs and they adapt their civilian experience and knowledge to their service in the Guard.
Airman Magazine: What are some of the biggest challenges the Air National Guard faces today and what is the way ahead?
Lt. Gen. Rice: Well, talent management is a challenge for DoD and for the Air Force as well as for the Air National Guard. We see stressors in areas where the civilian market is very competitive and is outbidding us for the services of our people.
So, for areas like pilot manning, the civilian market is very competitive in hiring away pilots. My challenge is to communicate to our Guardsmen, the pilot community at large, particularly to military pilots, that you can do both, serve your Nation as a member of the Air National Guard and provide for your family… that is, with great pride you can provide stability for your family by staying in one place, and have a civilian job in your community and patriotically serve your country in the National Guard. So that’s one of the challenges, it’s really talent management in terms of competing with the civilian market to attract the communities’ best and the brightest.
At the same time, the recruiting pool of military eligible young people is shrinking. A large portion of our youth are unable to serve in the US military, whether because of conflicts with the law, because of their health or just because of their general aptitude. It’s a real challenge.
Airman Magazine: How has the ANG evolved through the years, specifically after 9/11 and why is the Air National Guard best suited to support Operation Noble Eagle?
Lt. Gen. Rice: Since 9/11 the Air National Guard has evolved from being regarded primarily as a strategic reserve force to being an operational force. There are a couple of reasons for this transformation. We’ve always had the same standards of deployment, mobilization and training as the active duty Air Force. There’s no difference in our standards for the number of events needed to be qualified and current in a weapon system.
The events surrounding 9/11 were a real game changer. Prior to 9/11 we had a number of cuts to U.S. military end strength through the nineties. It was a period of confidence that America was a sanctuary safe from internal threats… we were more overseas focused.
After 9/11, we realized that we were vulnerable and we still needed to defend the skies over our home cities. Defending the Nation is the number one priority of our Department of Defense and that means doing operations at home like Operation Noble Eagle and having alert bases spread out all over the country. The airspace alert mission is a perfect fit for the Air National Guard…it’s a national defense mission that we perform with great pride and great effectiveness.
Airman Magazine: What role does the Air National Guard play in the State Partnership Program? Can you please provide examples of the ANG’s participation and its impact?
Lt. Gen. Rice: 25 years ago, with the fall of the wall in Germany, there was a need and desire, particularly from some of those nations that were under Soviet influence, to know how do you (the United States) do it? How do you mix your officer corps and your NCO corps? What’s the culture of the U.S. military? It started as a cultural exchange between a number of our states and our allied countries who had an indigenous population in the states. For example, a lot of Latvians were living in Michigan. It was a natural connection between Michigan and Latvia.
A country like Latvia might reason where should we focus our energies? We (Latvia) can’t be all things to everyone like the United States is capable of being and we certainly aren’t the size and shape that we could defend ourselves unilaterally against a country nearby like Russia. So how do we focus our efforts that are appropriate for our capabilities?
As we (the United States) evolved along with them, we learned things like the implementation of air power is a great force multiplier for both our nation and smaller nations like Latvia. Specifically, Latvia has really flourished in the area of special forces and their JTACs, or joint tactical air controllers, and we’re able to mutually benefit from our capabilities. As a result of the Latvian population in Michigan, Latvia partnered with Michigan and today, when Latvia deploys, they want Michigan Guardsman deploying with them. Together we deploy and they export their capability with great country pride; doing something good for the rest of the world…an example of the benefits of the state partnership program.
We’re far better off working together. We have mutual interests and mutual ideals regarding making the world a more peaceful place. We can definitely do it together. The United States cannot and does not want to manage the world unilaterally. We’ve got to work to work together on a multi-national basis.
Ukraine has a partnership with California. They say, “We’re under great stress, Russia has invaded a portion of our country. How do we (Ukraine) go forward? What is the right balance of the use of force and diplomacy in negotiations?”
Where do they turn? They turn to California and the military leadership of the National Guard to help them move forward with a strategy that has provided the Ukraine relative stability, but remains under great stress.
Airman Magazine: How have cyber missions helped transform the ANG and how do you capitalize on civilian sector experience?
Lt. Gen. Rice: Cyber specifically is one area where we’ve really flourished in bringing in the civilian sector, which in a lot of ways is much more innovative because they’re so much more agile and adaptive in the civilian market there. They’re not constrained by a huge standardized bureaucracy.
It’s hard to change the direction of our focus because we have so many systems and going to a new system is almost cost prohibitive. So how do we import civilian market agility into the military? We do it through people serving in the National Guard who are working in those innovative cyber fields.
Now the next hard part is determining policies that are needed for us to live, work and operate effectively in a cyber world that that doesn’t have state or national boundaries. Also, how do we protect Americans and yet not invade their privacy at the same time? How do we go after those nefarious characters who we all swore allegiance to defend our nation against, both foreign and domestic?
So, that’s the hard part we’re working through in cyber and it’s an exciting time for us as we move forward.
Airman Magazine: Can you please discuss the status of Vermont’s Air National Guard’s first F-35 Lightning II fighters and what they will bring to the Air National Guard arsenal?
Lt. Gen. Rice: The F-35 is definitely a game changer for the United States Air Force. We talk about multi-domain awareness and multiple multi-domain systems, but really, the subject is multidimensional operations across our joint force.
When you have something that’s such a vacuum cleaner for information like the F-35, with its processing power and capability and its ability with a fine razor’s edge to implement the war fighting piece of the platform, it’s going to change significantly the way we do warfare.
So we (the Air National Guard) are honored to be one of the first three units in the Air Force to field the F-35. We are well on our way to a establishing our unit in Burlington. We’re getting all the maintenance facilities and taxiways ready and we’re getting all the people trained and organized and ready to accept and deploy this new fighter as quickly as possible.
The next F-35 locations for the Air National Guard will be Montgomery, Alabama and Madison, Wisconsin. We’re pretty excited and we’ve already started down the path of preparing those bases as well.
Airman Magazine: How do you balance the acquisition of the advanced strike fighter while maintaining and modernizing a legacy fleet?
Lt. Gen. Rice: It’s a challenge because we are resource limited. If I could, I would modernize our whole fleet and make it relevant, reliable, and very maintenance capable. I’d love to, but I do have to balance that with a limited budget. We can only buy so much and we can only fix and improve so much and I’m constantly managing that balance across our force.
For example, – we have brand new C-130Js in our fleet and we have over 130 C-130Hs to keep modern and relevant. In 2020 there will be changes in the rules and laws on use of aircraft in our national airspace. All our aircraft will be required to have an updated detection and avoidance system after 1 January 2020. We have to modernize all of our legacy equipment to make sure we have the required systems, which is a program that we’re putting a lot of time, money and effort into.
It’s a challenge, but we don’t do this in a vacuum and decide on our own what we want to change and buy new or change and fix. We don’t decide that. That was decided by the Air Force community and we work together to modernize or recapitalize the fleet. This is one example where we are one force as we drive forward to get the best equipment for our people at the right time in the right place.
Airman Magazine: Guard flying wings are now regularly on a theater support packages to train in Europe and the Pacific. What are the units learning from these experiences?
Lt. Gen. Rice: They are learning by going to new places, new locations and they’re really getting a depth of experience by operating with foreign partners.
Just this past summer, I visited Romania and saw one of our F-15C units flying and training with the Romanians and to understand how they operate while learning from them, as well as informing them how we operate. Together we’re evolving into a closer more unified force, because again, it gets back to when there is conflict and when there is friction, we’re far better off doing this together than we are as separate units and separate forces. It’s a win-win for all countries involved.
There’s also something special about deploying a Guard unit. The Guard tends to be more like family because we don’t move from home stations like active duty personnel. So you get to know people better and there’s a different level of trust and respect because you do know each other.
Then you deploy that small unit, whether it’s for one week, three months or a year, the members really grow together quite well. I don’t see that as much on active duty, because when they deploy or go TDY it’s a transient force within the deployment, people are coming and going. In the Guard, we know each other better, work together better, and that really helps us.
Airman Magazine: With the state of the world today, is there anything, as the Director of the Air National Guard that keeps you up at night?
Lt. Gen. Rice: Not really and I’m not trying to be arrogant about it, I’m being realistic about it. One of the greatest things I’ve learned, particularly as I get higher in the rank, is that there are exceptional people working for us in the Air National Guard, the Air Force and the DoD and with leaders like we have in our military there is no problem, no situation, no challenge that comes to me right now we couldn’t solve together.
It’s a pretty exciting time and there are a lot of changes and challenges in the world.
I just want to make sure I have the best training, the best equipment, the best organization I can provide for the benefit of our people. This is all about leveraging the strengths of our people and getting them in the right place at the right time. This job is not really a job. This is definitely an adventure.
Airman Magazine: Is there anything you’d like to say directly to your 21st Century Guard Airmen
Lt. Gen. Rice: I’ve been in this position for two years with two more years to go and I’d like to say, keep at it. I feel it. I sense it. I’ve visited around 70 of our 90 wings and there’s an unbelievable balance in our Airmen and they’re doing outstanding at taking care of their families, their employers, and their communities while working to be the best they can be.
Most importantly, they’re taking care of themselves and they’re making themselves stronger, more resilient and they are a model for our United States to follow on what it means to be a good person, a good American, and that will provide a future for our kids and our grandkids that we all can be proud of.
Airman Magazine: Speaking of the future, what are some of the major changes you see on the horizon for the National Guard?
Lt. Gen. Rice: We are deep into changing our focus to supporting two primary priorities of the Secretary of Defense and his National Defense Strategy. Secretary Mattis is really working on readiness and the lethality of our force, making sure all of this money that we’ve been recently blessed with from Congress is dedicated to improving our lethality, getting our manning to the right size – the force we need – and getting them trained and equipped in the right way, as well as making sure we understand a unit’s true capability when reporting readiness assessments. At the same time, we’re really focusing on all the different types of threats and making sure that we can effectively put our exquisite systems against those high-end threats whenever and wherever required.
We’re using very practical approaches and very logical and cost-effective approaches against the low-end threats that are ever present, which have been consuming us for the last 20 years. It’s all about making sure we have the right balance moving forward, between taking care of low-end threat missions, while being prepared for high-end threats and making sure that we hone the lethality of our force to a razor sharp edge while staying focused on the job at hand…defending America to the best of our ability.