Healy Testifies Before Senate Defense subcommittee

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  • By Lt. Col. Ethan Stoker

Senior leaders from the Reserve and Guard components of the U.S. Department of Defense testified before the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense about the fiscal 2025 budget request at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, June 18.

The panel of senior leaders included Lt. Gen. John P. Healy, the chief of the Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command; Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau; Lt. Gen. Jody J. Daniels, chief of the Army Reserve; Vice Adm. John B. Mustin, chief of the Navy Reserve; and Lt. Gen. David G. Bellon, commander of the Marine Corps Reserve.

In his opening statement, Healy emphasized the importance of the AFR as a force multiplier in the face of the Great Power Competition.

“The AFR provides the nation with operational capability, strategic depth and surge capacity across every U.S. Air Force core mission set, overseas and at home,” said Healy. “We provide a ready now, accessible force, that is both mission-effective and cost-efficient.”

A question was asked to Healy about the Air Forces’ efforts to re-optimize for Great Power Competition and its impact on the Reserve.

“The Air Force Reserve is ideally suited for the great power competitions the Air Force is preparing for,” said Healy. “The AFR operates in a lean structure, with a relatively small number of bases and a staff that operates 28 days a month with only 25 percent of the personnel. This makes the AFR well-positioned to demonstrate cost savings while also being able to effectively segregate the wing and create deployable combat wings.”

Healy explained that these deployable combat wings can pick up and go forward, leaving behind a base component that manages the base. He said that the AFR is only having to make minor changes to its manning structure to be ready for this new construct by 2027.

Regarding the overall re-optimization, Healy pointed out that the AFR's current construct underpins every major command in every aspect of the current construct. He explained that as the new construct develops, the AFR will also be underpinned and integrated into each of these new constructs.

“From an operator's perspective, Great Power Competition is all about ensuring that the Air Force can fight and win when called upon," said Healy. “The AFR will provide deployable combat wings, combat generation wings, and in-place combat wings that will absolutely fill the need presented by the United States Air Force.”

The challenge to balance the divestment of legacy aircraft with the need to maintain air superiority and surge capacity was brought up during the hearing. Healy pointed out that the divestment of legacy aircraft, such as fourth-generation fighters, without a concurrent recapitalization plan poses a substantial risk to the U.S. military's ability to act in a fifth-generation fight.

“This concern is highlighted in a recent study by the RAND Corporation, which found that the military has a more experienced force in the reserve component than in the active component,” said U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kans). Healy said this is due to the many service members who wish to continue serving beyond their active-duty commitment.

“However, if these experienced personnel are not allowed to transition to fifth-generation aircraft like the F-35 or the KC-46, the military risks losing their valuable skills and experience, said Healy. “This could severely impact the U.S.'s ability to fight future conflicts, should the need arise.”

Healy talked about the importance of retaining these experienced personnel, saying, "We call it closing all the windows. We must stop letting these individuals get out. We do a fantastic job in the Air Force Reserve. We’re currently at 88.3 percent. 89 percent is our goal for this year, but we’re consistently at 88.2% retention on a 10-year average for our pilot force, which is the most exquisite and costly force we have."

Healy talked about the strategy to mitigate this risk lies in a concurrent and proportional approach. He said, “As legacy aircraft are phased out, there must be a parallel effort to recapitalize with modern aircraft. This will ensure that experienced personnel have a platform to continue serving and that the U.S. military can maintain its air superiority and surge capacity.”

Healy was asked about cutting-edge cyber capabilities from the private sector and how we can successfully leverage private sector resources to support our national security. Healy explained that AFR has approximately 3,500 Airmen doing the cyber mission with a

retention rate of 86 percent. He gave an example using a direct commission program that the AFR started to capture more cyber professionals in the Reserve.

“In 2023 we directly commissioned three individuals. We have three more going in 2024 and seven pending right now,“ said Healy. “It allows us for an individual on the civilian workforce to take their skills and training and commission them directly into the Air Force Reserve.”

Healy conveyed the importance of Congress supporting the Presidential Budget Request of $6.9 billion to ensure adequate funding for the Air Force Reserve's Operational and Maintenance. The request provides an accessible, operationally ready, Title 10 part-time force with the resources required to provide surge capability and strategic depth to execute the National Defense Strategy. He stated that any reduction in the FY25 budget for the Air Force Reserve "will create a substantial risk to our Flying Hour Program."

Healy also expressed gratitude for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriation but identified a reduction in NGREA found in the HAC-D markup.

“For FY2025, the HAC-D has proposed a $30 million reduction from FY 2024,” said Healy. “We would appreciate SAC-D support to increase this allocation, enabling us to field a more lethal and survivable force.”

Another area Healy addressed passionately was the importance of supporting Reserve Airmen and their families.

“Our most important weapons system is and always has been our Airmen. Two of our most significant lines of effort support Reserve Airmen and their families by providing affordable childcare and access to healthcare for family members with special needs through the Exceptional Family Member Program,” he said.

One of the most pressing quality-of-life concerns raised by Healy was the dental pay requirement for service members, which is currently capped at $1,500.

“If a service member's annual dental expenses exceed this amount, they are forced to cover the additional costs out of their pocket,” said Healy.

The general pointed out that this historically low cap has resulted in over 700 Service Members not being ready to deploy due to dental issues. He explained that an increase in the dental pay requirement cap and a more comprehensive approach to healthcare access could help mitigate the negative impact on military readiness and ensure that service members can deploy when called upon.

Healy expressed confidence in the Air Force Reserve's ability to provide combat-proven readiness and remain prepared to defend the nation, now and in the future. He thanked the subcommittee for the opportunity to testify and for their continued support of the Air Force Reserve, Citizen Airmen and their families.