New OSS commander reaps benefits of ART to AGR program

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Shelton Sherrill
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Thinking about all the different people that have been in his life and helped open his eyes, one question always echoed in his mind: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Despite his continued achievements as his career advanced and his accomplishments stacked up, that question lingered, evolving into: “Is there something else to do beyond being a master evaluator navigator?”

Lt. Col. Christopher Harris, commander of the 403rd Operations Support Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, vividly remembers a conversation with his commander while deployed to Southeast Asia in 2018. Harris said he talked with her often to get a different insight on things he never thought about. He credited his recent promotion to his leadership's guidance in making career moves to make him competitive, such as transitioning from an Air Reserve Technician (ART) to an Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) position.

Harris' former job as chief of Standardizations and Evaluations with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron was initially an ART job before it converted to AGR. In this role, he was in charge of the section that evaluates the flying performance of all aircrew members in the squadron. As an ART, he was still a traditional reservist (TR), but worked as a civilian during the month in addition to carrying out his military obligations.

Harris said that before taking on his new role as the 403rd OSS commander, he decided to be more active in planning his career. That's when he spoke to the 403rd Wing commander, Col. Stuart Rubio, about changing the role into an AGR position. After a few signatures and approvals, his efforts were rewarded.

As an AGR, Harris works a full-time position as an active military member. Similar to an ART, an AGR is still committed to fulfilling their Reserve requirements.

In his new role as commander of the 403rd OSS, Harris' job is to ensure members are prepared to accomplish the mission and provide premier operational support for executing agile tactical combat airlift and weather reconnaissance missions. The squadron provides mission planning, Tactics and Aviation Resources, and aircrew flight equipment support for the 403rd Wing's weather reconnaissance and airlift flying missions.

Changing a position from an ART to an AGR is not uncommon. The Air Force Reserve Command assembled a strategic plan in 2019 to convert 1,200 ART positions into AGR. The purpose of the program was to increase readiness and align with the National Defense Strategy.

Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, AFRC commander and chief of Air force Reserve explained the advantages of the transition writing the following: Improving our full-time manning levels will boost our capability to generate combat-ready forces who can fly, fight and win. In addition, increasing our full-time support will ease the workload across the Air Force Reserve, giving Reserve Citizen Airmen additional time to devote to family, career, mission-essential training, and individual wellness – one of our key focus areas.

The conversion program not only provided Harris the opportunity to answer that question of, “Is there something else?”  It also presented other benefits not offered by an ART position.

One benefit for Harris, or anyone making the switch, is the pay. Air Reserve Technicians are paid based on hours worked since they are federal civilian employees. As an AGR, Harris' base salary is based mainly on time spent in the military and rank, like active duty. Also, AGR means Basic Housing Allowance and Basic Allowance of Subsistence benefits.

Other advantages came in the way of health and retirement benefits. Both positions presented pros and cons regarding eligibility and benefits, but Harris recognized that being in AGR status best suited his needs and goals.

Last, Harris said career advancement was an important factor determining which position was best for him. Both provide different benefits to meet mission needs while providing Airmen with separate paths for career advancement. An AGR can switch job positions at other bases as long as they meet the qualifications and minimum rank. In addition to meeting the same standards, ARTs have to complete the job's required level, also known as "step."

"For ART positions, there are basic steps that you have to get," said Harris. "As a step-12 navigator, I can't get a deputy officer job position, which is a step-14, because I can't get a step-14 position until I get a step-13."

Being an ART didn't necessarily limit his options; instead, becoming an AGR gave him different opportunities. As an AGR, Harris said, he could now be considered for many other positions as long as he meets the minimum rank.

"It's all about the paths," said Harris. "I've always got a couple of different paths to get me to my goal."

As the AFRC continues to offer more AGR positions and increase mission readiness, those interested in different AGR career options can visit myPers to see what path best leads to their career goals.

Regardless of which status he’s fulfilling, Harris said he is excited for this opportunity to lead the men and women of the 403rd OSS and support the 403rd Wing’s mission to develop exceptional Airmen who are ready to respond to every challenge, every time.