Reserve and Guard Readiness
Having been assigned to an Active Duty unit for a year in Iraq I am critically aware of the increasing and interdependent role that National Guard and Reserve soldiers play in augmenting the Active Force. The Army Reserve which houses much of the logistical support units and the National Guard with a heavier combat mix are placed at a critical juncture in their history. They are more critical than ever to National Defense efforts.
However, no so long ago these critical elements of our national defense were subject to years of inadequate budgets, lack luster support and training effort from active Component. Reserve components were subjected to half hearted efforts to share training facilities, poor understanding of unique requirements, non-existant logistical support and a general distain for part time soldier capabilities were the “situation normal”. Any Reserve Officer or senior NCO can attest to the inequities for getting equipment, training resources, use of facilities when needed to conduct regular Drill training. My units often had to consider training on holidays, Mother’s Day, etc… because these dates were what was left on Installation training schedules and we were the bottom feeders in priority.
Now we are hearing that the stresses of prolonged, repeated deployments on a too-small force have left the Guard and Reserve so short of equipment, training and sometimes personnel that their ability to perform missions at home and abroad is increasingly in jeopardy. Some significant percentage of Guard and Reserve units are poorly equipped and considered "not ready" for deployment. Much of the equipment needed for Reserve forces was never provided in the past or is so old that it is incompatible for use along side Active Duty Units. Radios FBCB2, Fire Direction Computers, and other equipment was not fielded to Guard and Reserve units until they were going to be deployed. These units received older equipment “in-lieu” of the real item. This shell game or deception was concocted to report the unit as ready in Unit Status reports and was dishonest to a real assessment of the unit equipment readiness to fight along side of Active component forces.
Additionally Guard and Reserve unit support from within is very under funded. In Reserve units the fulltime administrative staff was funded to 30-40% of actual requirements. The Active Guard and Reserve and Military Technician ranks remain no where near adequate to sustain support functions for reserve soldiers. This leads to administrative tasks being transferred to valuable training time on Weekend Drills. Add in excessive “mandate” training and Reserve and Guard units find themselves very tasked on a weekend drill.
Finally – units can only draw from the population in their local area. Soldiers must fit skill sets in a local unit, travel to a unit looking for their grade and skill, or join the inactive Reserves (IRR). Senior personnel are most likely to experience assignment as routine practice to locations miles away from home as they seek to maintain grade and skills. To add insult to injury, the soldier must foot the cost of lodging and transportation themselves. The dynamic of maintaining pure units turns away soldiers with mismatched skills in a local area while requiring the heavy use of cross leveling of units when deployment is pending. While unit cohesion suffers, if you are an Armor unit you would rather have trained and experienced tanker than just a warm body from the local area.
Without creative opportunities for assigning Reserve Personnel, shortages are likely to grow. The Army Reserve has centrally located many training centers to offset this issue, however without reimbursing the expenses, junior soldiers will be reluctant to travel to distant installations to train. Fiscally oriented up or out for Reserve Enlisted skills may need to be re-looked to avoid departure of seasoned soldiers from Reserve and Guard units.
The Bottom-line to this short treatise is to adequately address maintaining the effectiveness of Reserve and National Guard units we must seek soldier centric real solutions to keeping skilled soldiers in the Reserve. We must not call a Reserve or Guard unit operational until it has an full active duty Brigade equipment set on hand. Any Reserve or Guard soldier can testify that the era of the "weekend warrior" is long gone. It has not been one weekend a Month, two weeks a summer for quite some time as the demands placed on Reserve soldiers have pressed for much more God and Country time to get the job done. (God and country time is unpaid additional hours contributed off the clock to get usually administrative tasks completed) We must provide adequate administrative resources full time at these units to insure medical, personnel, logistics, maintenance readiness is supported and not another un-resourced burden for the soldier. Today’s Army cannot return to the tiered “class” systems and processes of the past with respect to the Guard and Reserve. This should serve as an ideal opportunity to change the system so that the National Guard and Reserve are better able to be an equal partner in support of the National Security Strategy.