Wednesday, November 23, 2011

TOP STORY >> Reserves taking off

Leader executive editor

Col. Edsel A. (Archie) Frye, who heads the new Air Force Reserve Command at Little Rock Air Force Base, showed a visitor around the base last week and introduced his small but growing group that will eventually reach more than 700 reservists and support staff in the next three years.

Frye has the enthusiasm of a motivational speaker and the organizational skills of a business school graduate. He’s building from the ground up — there are still unopened boxes in some of the offices where his staff is settling in.

Frye, who was named commander in February, has so far recruited some 70 reservists and support staff, who are spread out over several buildings around the base.

He says several times, “We’re going to make this the best unit in Air Force history.”

Although the air base has announced cuts in civilian jobs and is reducing the numbers of young officers, and more cuts are likely, both the Reserves and Air National Guard are hiring. (See related story on this page.)

Frye says he’s reaching out across the country to fill the open positions, but, he adds, “We’re recruiting 250 people from Arkansas.”

Barring possible budget cuts, half the jobs will be full time. Some will make $70,000 a year, the colonel says.

Their slogan is “Stationed locally — serving globally.”

Frye says the Reserves can stretch a dollar further because they have many part-timers.

The unit — called Detachment 1, which is part of the 22nd Air Force — will replace active-duty missions and train flight crews on 10 old C-130s. The maintainers, who are already at work on the flight line with five experienced pilots, will make sure the planes are in top shape.

“When they’re this old, you have to give them tender-loving care,” says Maj. Claude Smith, who with several years of experience under his belt in the Air Force, commands the maintenance team.

He’s standing with Sgt. Ralph Babcock, another maintainer and an Air Force veteran. Babcock says all their planes will be vintage 1960s through 1980s.

The group goes into another room with a U.S. flag for a re-enlistment ceremony for Babcock led by Smith.

“They have 50 years experience,” Frye says of Smith and Babcock. “One of the keys to our success is we have all that experience.”

Frye was born in West Virginia and grew up in Duncan, S.C., where, he said, “We’re taught to win. The attitude is we can do anything.”

The little town of 3,100 has produced football players and an engineer who laid out the new power grid in Iraq, Frye says.

He sounds like the general manager of a new sports franchise who can’t wait to build his team and get to the Super Bowl.

The colonel says he’s hired “one of the best quarterbacks,” Lt. Joe Janik, a pilot, as one of his top commanders.

Maj. Rick Rogers, another pilot, joined the Reserves after a career in the Air Force and as a commercial pilot.

Rogers says he flew into Iraq and Afghanistan for a contractor, but called it quits so he could spend more time with his wife and children, who live outside Montgomery, Ala.

Rogers parks a Cessna at the Carlisle airport and flies home most weekends.

Lt. Col. Amy Boehle, the personnel director, has six people working in her office. Their job is to fill some 600 positions, including pilots, navigators, maintainers, loadmasters and a public-affairs specialist.

Boehle has hired a doctor and a dentist and advertises open positions online at A military background is needed for most of the civilian jobs.

Plans call for a $2 million headquarters building. The command’s annual budget is $16 million, says Barry Seidel, a former master sergeant, now a civilian, who heads the finance department.

Frye was previously commander of the 931st Air Refueling Group at McConnell Air Force Base, where he also stressed the importance of a team effort.

He drew inspiration from a Will Ferrell movie, “Semi-Pro,” about a struggling basketball team owned by Ferrell, who strives for excellence even as he tries to keep the franchise going.

Frye, who started his career 35 years ago as an enlisted man, won several awards at McConnell for leadership.

His wife, Col. Tammy Hatcher-Frye, is National Guard staff director at Camp Robinson.

Little Rock Air Force Base is his last assignment, he says. It will take him four years to get the command up and running.

“This place is full of opportunity. Keep your eyes on this unit,” he says. “We’re going to build a dream team.”

His office is in a small building that once housed the state headquarters of the Arkansas National Guard.

Across the street is the headquarters building of the Air National Guard, where the 189th Airlift Wing, commanded by Col. Steve Eggensperger, is cooperating with the reserve command. The 189th will be the lead wing for both units.

The reservists will augment the Guard’s training mission. They will both train on older C-130s, while the other training unit on base, the 314th Airlift Wing, will have all-new, advanced C-130Js.

Frye points to a huge hangar across the street from his temporary quarters. The base is spending $350,000 to remodel the upper sections for the Reserve’s offices.

“If you can’t stand prosperity, don’t join this unit,” he tells recruits.

“What an incredible blessing to bring in people who are hungry and promote them,” Frye says. “We’re trying to build an outstanding team. We have to do more with less.

“We have a lot of blue-chip employees,” Frye says. “I’m lucky to have this job. I couldn’t have scripted it better.”