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August 10, 2009—Nine Air National Guard officers helped the Air Force determine whether it could open to non-rated officers the previously rated-only air liaison officer position, which was a special duty for rated officers. The Air Guard ALOs proved the concept, and the service just selected a new crop of non-rated officers to attend tactical air control party training. If they pass, they will serve in the new ALO career field (Air Force Specialty Code 13L).

One of the Air Guardsmen, Lt. Col. William Wheeler, has served as an ALO for nearly 20 years and currently commands the Illinois ANG's 168th Air Support Operations Squadron.

According to a National Guard Bureau report, when the Air Force did away with its tactical air support groups in the 1980s, the Air Guard pushed to set up a non-rated ALO test program so it could continue to provide support to Army National Guard units. The test at Peoria, Ill., began in 1989 with selection of nine enlisted airmen, including Wheeler, to receive commissions and train in tactical air support.

Wheeler served as an ALO during Operation Deny Flight in Bosnia and, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, served with active Army units on three deployments to Afghanistan and one to Iraq.

He is the last of the original nine still serving, but he will be the first airman to receive USAF's new 13L career designator.

Wheeler said of the Air Guard's ALO program, “This is an Air National Guard initiative that has an impact Air Force-wide.” He noted, too, that having the new career field will let the service and the Air Guard recruit directly for ALOs, which he said "is long overdue."

(NGB report by MSgt. Mike Smith)