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Truesdell serving his country again

February 11, 2002

Truesdell serving his country again



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY
andreabh@herald-mail.com


When terrorists attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001, Col. John C. Truesdell decided he wanted to contribute again to the country he had served for nearly 30 years before retiring in 1991.

Truesdell, 62, of Hagerstown has returned to service in a top civilian position at the Pentagon. He was sworn in Jan. 2 as deputy assistant secretary of reserve affairs for the U.S. Air Force after his appointment was approved by President Bush.

Truesdell makes the 81-mile commute daily to Washington where he plans and oversees policies - including mobilization - and directs activities that affect reservists in the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and Civil Air Patrol. He heads a staff of military and civilian personnel, and reports directly to the assistant secretary of manpower and reserve affairs for the U.S. Air Force, he said.

During his career, Truesdell saw combat in Vietnam and served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Council at the Pentagon. He worked his way up from private to colonel.

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After retiring, Truesdell was a vice national chairman for veterans in President Bush's 2000 campaign.

Today, he works in a fifth-floor office in the ninth corridor of the C ring at the Pentagon.

From his office, Truesdell can't see the gash that was created when terrorists crashed a plane into the building Sept. 11. But he feels the aftershocks.

Many of Truesdell's job duties involve the war against terrorism. He has civilian oversight authority to review plans to send air reservists into action, he said.

"It's a ton of responsibility but I find a lot of fulfillment here," he said. "The level of expertise of the forces and the people here is better than what I expected. The people who are going out to fight today are just as good or better than anyone who has gone before."

After top Air Force officials devise mission plans involving reserve forces, the plans go to Truesdell's office. He and staff members review the plans to verify the need for reservists.

They make sure all reservists who have volunteered for active duty have been utilized, if possible, before mobilizing non-volunteers, Truesdell said.

"We don't second-guess anything. We just ask the questions," he said.

Truesdell reports his findings to his boss, who makes final decisions.

Truesdell and his military assistants, including Col. Tom Madigan of the Air National Guard and Col. Klaus Hoehna of the Air Force Reserve, visit reservists to learn firsthand how being called into active duty is affecting them, their families and their employers.

Truesdell again briefs his boss, who testifies before Congress about reserve issues, he said.

Truesdell, who describes himself as a "senior-level employee with a private's mentality," understands how the decisions he and his superiors make affect soldiers, he said.

"I've got to remember that everything we do here goes downhill," he said. "We don't want to whiplash them."

There are about 125,000 trained reservists who can be recalled to duty to augment active forces during war or national emergencies, according to the current Air Force Reserve Handbook for Congress.

"We're fighting this war by air power and surgically inserted ground forces," Truesdell said.

The Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are "really a part of this war," he said.

Air reservists provide the bulk of homeland defense for Operation Noble Eagle. They transport troops and equipment overseas for Operation Enduring Freedom, Madigan said.

Air reservists comprise the majority of the 73,428 Reserve and National Guard troops called to active duty since Sept. 11, according to figures released Feb. 6 by the U.S. Department of Defense.

More than 34,400 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve troops have been called to active duty, compared to about 23,600 Army National Guard and Army Reserve troops, about 10,000 U.S. Navy reservists, nearly 3,400 Marine Corps reservists and about 1,900 U.S. Coast Guard reservists, according to current figures.

Truesdell sees a constant flow of mobilization packages through his office, he said. The question is always "what's next?" he said.

Without knowing for sure, he and his co-workers try to maintain a sufficient "buffer" of reservists to react if a surge of forces is needed, Truesdell said.

"Like a good card player, you've got to hedge your bets," he said.

Truesdell foresees the Civil Air Patrol - the civilian arm of the Air Force - playing a homeland defense role in the war against terrorism, he said. He called the Air Patrol an untapped resource that might be needed to fight a war he doesn't see ending anytime soon.

"This is for real. The threat is very much out there," he said.

In addition to helping provide Congress with information needed to create legislation affecting the Air Reserve Forces and Air Patrol, Truesdell educates the public and employers about the importance of reservists in today's tense climate, he said. He speaks at meetings of such groups as the Retired Officers Association of the Tri-State Area and Reserve Officers Association.

He also promotes employer support of the Guard and Reserve to help boost recruitment and ensure retention, he said.

"I think I can perform a great service in spreading the information to the public, the media and Congress," Truesdell said.

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