Air Reserve Personnel Center celebrates 60 years of historic service

  • Published
  • By Mark Nelson
  • Air Reserve Personnel Center Historian
(The 1950s - how the Air Reserve Personnel Center began. This feature is the first of a monthly series celebrating ARPC's 60th birthday. Each month will highlight a new decade until ARPC's 60th birthday which is March 1, 2014.)

When World War II ended in the fall of 1945, former President Harry S. Truman released many servicemen from their reserve obligation. Service members were anxious to get back to their lives. After all, the world had changed dramatically with the use of the atomic bomb and many people believed the era of large-scale conventional war was over. The U.S. Air Force, which became an independent service on Sept. 18, 1947, had a small Air Force Reserve known as Continental Air Command, the predecessor of the current Air Force Reserve Command.

CONAC comprised of only 58,000 participating reservists with an additional 315,000 non-participating members by 1950. Readiness was a concern for some members of Congress, so in 1948 the secretary of defense appointed a committee to review the status of reserve forces.

Known as the Committee on Civilian Components, officials found reserve forces were unable to carry out their missions due to a surplus of officers in higher grades, a shortage of enlisted men, too few armories, a shortage of instructors, and lack of funds. However, the prevailing wisdom of most politicians and even some military leaders was that the U.S. could depend on its nuclear forces and would not need a large reserve force.

Unfortunately, these experts were wrong. The Soviet Union had its own plans for the post-war world, and they and their proxies worked hard to expand communism's reach. In 1949, China fell to the communists under Mao Tse Tung. The American monopoly on atomic weapons came to an end that same year when the Soviets exploded their own nuclear weapon. On June 25, 1950, the communist North Korean army, trained and equipped by the Soviets and Chinese, launched an invasion of their American-supported but ill-equipped neighbor, South Korea. The Korean War was on.

From July 1950 through June 1953, CONAC mobilized nearly 147,000 reservists in the Korean conflict, almost evenly divided between officers and enlisted members. In addition, about 46,000 Air National guardsmen were mobilized.

Unfortunately, serious flaws in the structure and capabilities of the reserve forces quickly became apparent. Unit-level reports revealed poor record keeping procedures and a general lack of preparedness. To confirm and correct these problems, CONAC launched an investigation under the direction of Brig. Gen. Clyde Mitchell in late 1950. Mitchell's committee investigated the unit and individual recall programs and recommended corrective action in recall procedures as well as more effective command and control of reserve forces.

The committee concluded that the greatest problem involved deficiencies in reservists' basic personnel records, which in most cases lacked accurate personnel and career information. These deficiencies made successful mobilization nearly impossible because it was difficult to contact reservists, determine their physical condition and determine the level of their skills. Most importantly, it illustrated the need to standardize all records administration and to review the data in the records periodically.

The experience of the Korean mobilization convinced Air Force leaders that reservists' records needed more centralized administration. In November 1951, CONAC officials took the first step when it established a locator file at the headquarters. The file listed the locations of master and field records for all of inactive reservists, but the records themselves were maintained in eight separate locations.

Air Force leadership considered a centralized location for all personnel records as the ideal solution. Lt. Gen. Leon W. Johnson, CONAC commander and Medal of Honor recipient for valor in the Ploesti Raid, decided that the location of a records center should be in the interior of the country. Planners at CONAC eventually chose surplus facilities at the Air Force Finance Center in Denver, Colo., based entirely on availability and economics.

On Nov. 1, 1953, the command established Detachment 1, Continental Air Command and named it the Air Reserve Records Center. A cadre of experienced personnel technicians arrived at ARRC in October 1953 to set up a workable organization. They devised proper filing and handling procedures, hired and trained 800 new employees, and prepared for the arrival of more than 250,000 records from other locations. The facility contained 3,162 filing cabinets that occupied 30,000 square feet of floor space. ARRC officials opened its doors March 1, 1954.

Members of the new organization quickly moved to correct the records problems that had plagued the Air Force Reserve. In 1955, the center's staff launched the officer and warrant officer record reconciliation project. This process, which took several months to complete, involved address research, rank investigation and time-in-grade determinations for more than 152,000.

During the next year, a similar process was completed for enlisted records. On Jan. 1, 1957, the center was re-designated as Headquarters Air Reserve Records Center, a sub-command within CONAC and the equivalent of a Numbered Air Force.

Because the filing cabinets took up too much space, employees in the Records File Division did not have desks. Space was so limited that the chief of the division and his staff moved to an adjacent building. The number of records was growing quickly and the filing cabinets were old and insulated with asbestos, causing health concerns.

For those reasons in July 1956, Remington Rand Corporation officials conducted a study of ARRC's operations. The study recommended open-shelf filing of records by terminal digits of Air Force service numbers. The plan was approved and by June 25, 1958, the filing rearrangement was completed. The center had custody of nearly 500,000 records.

That same year, ARRC leaders realized that the manual accounting system had reached its saturation point. The amount of data processed required more than 6 million punch cards, which had to be updated and maintained regularly. Routine file updates were taking so much time and effort that other critical processes were not getting done in a timely manner.

The only solution was an electronic data processing system. Air Force officials agreed with center leadership and authorized them to purchase a computer system.

On Oct. 31, 1959, a new RCA 501 transistorized electronic data processing system was installed at ARRC. The computer was the first one of its kind west of the Mississippi River, costing $212,000 and had a 32K processing capability. The operation of the system required a dedicated computer room and a staff of technicians and programmers. It was the forerunner of many technological advances the center would employ in the years to come.

The Air Reserve Records Center was born out of adversity and matured at an early age, but as the 1950s ended, ARRC members were well prepared to serve their country should the need arise. The following decade would test ARRC and prove to be one of the most challenging in the center's history.