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CONSTANT VIGILANCE 16 a profound success for Air Guard integration into B-2 strategic operations

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Caleb Watkins, left, and Tech. Sgt. Jaime Farmer, both aircraft armament systems technicians assigned to the 131st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS), prep a munitions handling unit (MHU)-204 trailer for loading procedures at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., April 14, 2016, Watkins and Farmer are two of three 131st AMXS drill-status guardsmen who loaded weapons to the B-2 Spirit during an exercise for the time during CONSTANT VIGILANCE 16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Caleb Watkins, left, and Tech. Sgt. Jaime Farmer, both aircraft armament systems technicians assigned to the 131st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS), prep a munitions handling unit (MHU)-204 trailer for loading procedures at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., April 14, 2016, Watkins and Farmer are two of three 131st AMXS drill-status guardsmen who loaded weapons to the B-2 Spirit during an exercise for the time during CONSTANT VIGILANCE 16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry)

A B-2 Spirit awaits loading procedures during the CONSTANT VIGILANCE 16 exercise at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., April 12, 2016. The exercise included simultaneous elements that tested and refined Air Force Global Strikes policies, training and techniques at the tactical and operational levels. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry)

A B-2 Spirit awaits loading procedures during the CONSTANT VIGILANCE 16 exercise at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., April 12, 2016. The exercise included simultaneous elements that tested and refined Air Force Global Strikes policies, training and techniques at the tactical and operational levels. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Exercise CONSTANT VIGILANCE 16 proved to be a total force success story as 131st and 509th Bomb Wing Airmen affirmed their strategic B-2 operational mission readiness and completed the final phase of a plan, 11 years in the making.

For the first time in this exercise, Whiteman's total force team included drill-status Guardsmen, or DSGs, according to Col. Michael J. Francis, 131st Bomb Wing commander. The Air Force Global Strike Command training event April 8-13 honed the ability to perform conventional and nuclear missions.

"The precise and dedicated work of the Airmen in our total force team, whether active or Guard - and now for the first time, whether full-time or part-time - is nothing but exceptional," Francis said. "They proved to be superior performers, and that is due to the high level of professionalism and expertise of all of our Missouri Airmen."

DSGs are Citizen-Airmen in the National Guard who work full time for a civilian employer during the week and then drill part-time with the 131st, usually just one weekend per month and two weeks per year. Their successful participation in this exercise culminates the final step for the Air Force's plans that began in 2005 after the Base Realignment and Closure Commission announced that the F-15 Eagles would withdraw from the Missouri Air National Guard's 131st Fighter Wing based at Lambert Airfield in St. Louis, Missouri. The unit would remain fully manned to accept a new mission.

In Feb. 2006, the Secretary of the Air Force released a letter assigning the wing as a "classic associate unit" for the B-2 mission, across the state here at Whiteman.

"That letter gave us our mission," said Col. Kenneth Eaves, 131st BW vice wing commander.

Then in 2007, Air Combat Command and the National Guard Bureau released the Integration Plan for aligning the 131st and 509th Bomb Wings.  ACC oversaw the B-2 mission prior to the stand up of Air Force Global Strike Command in 2009.

The I-Plan document instructed the two units on all mission and legal requirements to accommodate a full range of operations with the B-2, according to Eaves.

Fast forward to 2009, the wing commanders then agreed to a memorandum of understanding that outlined a liaison program, described how the 131st would integrate in active duty workspaces, determined pilot selection criteria and more.

"In 2013, we were certified to conduct the nuclear mission after the initial nuclear surety inspection," said Eaves. "We declared FOC - full operational capability."

But, there was one remaining piece that was vital to 131st leadership - the operational capabilities of DSG Airmen, continued Eaves.

Due to the B-2's highly sensitive strategic mission, the Department of Defense's Personnel Reliability Program serves as an extensive security and medical review of Airmen working on the airframe and its weaponry. The final phase of the 2009 memorandum was the enrollment of DSGs in PRP.

But earning PRP certification is more complex for DSG Airmen who work civilian careers away from base for most of the month, yet need to be evaluated on a regular basis. Despite that hurdle, the DSGs were able to achieve the certification.

"In the 2009 MOU, it says the 'final phase' of Total Force Integration at Whiteman will include getting drill-status Guardsmen on PRP," said Eaves. "The important word is 'final,' and we did that in CONSTANT VIGILANCE 16.

"The 131st has fully arrived," he added.

Not only did the 131st and 509th accomplish the objectives set out in the Integration Plan, they exceeded them.

During CV16, one TFI bomb load team included two full-time Missouri Air Guard technicians, a part-time Missouri Guard DSG Airman and a 509th active duty Airman. The team's members were specifically recognized by the inspector general as superior performers and were coined for their work.

Tech. Sgt. Jaime Farmer, a weapons loader with the 131st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was the part-time DSG who participated on that load team.

"You almost live two lives," said Farmer of his status. "Throughout the week, I'm talking with farmers, helping them grow soy beans. Then on weekends, I have to switch my mind to my military career. We come in on drill and spend time training to improve on various tasks, and prepare for when the time comes that it's not an exercise."

Farmer is an agronomist with Pioneer Hybrid and works out of central Missouri when he is not in uniform. He commended the other DSG Airmen of his team whose civilian careers include IT software sales manager, a recruit with the Kansas City Police Department and a medical student.

The Air Force recognized the Airmen's full-time lives and careers outside of Whiteman as an opportunity, not a liability, since it is rare that Guardsmen change duty stations.

The 2007 Integration Plan specifically states that, "Mission effectiveness should increase over current capabilities due to the high experience level and continuity of ANG personnel, and the number of qualified Guardsmen integrating with the current 509 BW."

Farmer agreed.

"The Guard has an institutional memory when it comes to the job and working with the jet," he said. "That's one of the biggest benefits that the Guard offers the active duty."

Farmer and his teammates perform monthly proficiency loads on the B-2 to maintain that institutional knowledge and acquire their certifications - meaning they can never miss a drill, said Chief Master Sgt. John Flaugher, who supervises Farmer and his Guard teammates.

"The 509th has been very supportive of this effort," said Flaugher, the wing weapons manager.

The success of the total-force team in CV16, Team Whiteman victories in the Air Force Global Strike Challenge four of the last five years and outstanding performance in other exercises has brought attention to the TFI success here.

Air Force and Department of Defense leaders have visited Whiteman specifically to see TFI in action. In February, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III met with base and Missouri National Guard leadership to discuss the concept. Welsh also spoke at a base-wide all call to Airmen, where he stressed the need for Total Force excellence to ensure full global strike capabilities.

"Time after time, we have been excellent," said Eaves. "That's what we expect daily, so when inspections or exercises happen, that's what people will see. The success of this team tells that story."