Monday, June 25, 2007

Changes planned for the Reserves

The Defense Department’s service personnel chiefs are presenting insights on better ways to integrate Guard and Reserve members into the total force to the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves. In prepared statements the common theme was a need for the seamless integration of the active and reserve military, civilian employees and support contractors into a cohesive and rapidly tailorable force.

The personnel chiefs' testimony reflected comments offered the previous day by Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. He urged more flexibility for reserve-component members that enables them to better balance their military and civilian obligations and encourages them to serve. Mr. Dominguez joined the service chiefs in endorsing a "continuum of service" that enables military members to shift between the active and reserve components, more full-time support for Guard and Reserve units, expanded opportunities for joint training and qualifications and a more competitive compensation package.

I have stated in this blog previously that there is a real need for more full-time support to guard and reserve units – having been a part of that structure for 18 years as a military technician. Reserve units are really busy and all critical tasks cannot be accomplished by short handed staffs.

The fact that the services have discussions and seem to be working to fix the gap in the continuum of service for the reserve components is encouraging. I can attest to the bureaucratic tangle required to switch from active Reserve status to active duty caused by everything from TRICARE paperwork to orders to report. I have proposed here as well that an easy transition between Reserve and active component service should be sought as an alternative to current practice to allow a full time part time work schedule as life’s events may require.

What I did not see mentioned is training – the active community has the training resources but they are seldom available to Reserve units on an equal basis. Improve the dynamic of pushing training to Reservists will greatly improve the efficiency of reserve drill periods.

To achieve a balance between military and civilian obligations is perhaps the toughest task facing the commission. Every Reservist is essentially a little at the mercy of civilian employers to hire the reserve soldier or provide support. In reality the enforcement of employer support to the Guard and reserve is not up to the challenge to resolve the hard to prove discriminations which inevitably occur. Additionally – we ask a lot of employers when we take their reserve employees for 2+ years in a 5 year employment cycle – you won’t see that as a recipe for success in any business plan.

Finally – the compensation package – achieving a balance to keep the soldier in uniform as a guard or reserve member. I believe we are doing a passable job now as retention rates seem to be good… but that conveyor has to be fed new soldiers which we are lagging in the Army Reserve.

We do ourselves little positive incentive advertising with deployment rule changes that have changed the conditions of deployment. We make the news with ill advised stop loss policies that hold soldiers past contractual agreements. We must avoid making the Reserve forces career one of deployments on an irregular basis for a changeable period to every need from Homeland defense, emergencies to warfighting. We cannot think that all employers are patriots first and observe the impact of Reservists on the bottom-line second. Reserve and Guard must have some predictability to perform in civilian positions, complete school and serve as well. To keep the best and brightest – those reserve soldiers going somewhere in their civilian lives - we must offer an established path to success in the reserve environment that has the flexibility to compliment civilian and military careers.

Friday, June 22, 2007

It is AT Season

I started waxing poetic the other day when I realized that this time of year was when my last unit had its regularly scheduled Annual Training. I realized that in a circadian rhythm I had always been scheduled for significant events for the summertime period – many annual training cycles, but also my R&R from Iraq, my wedding 25 years ago. I guess this year for the first time I really had nothing planned and I was only jarred into that realization as I passed a convoy of vehicles heading for Ft. Drum for an annual training cycle…that annual summertime event I shared for 18 or so years.

I remember the planning, increased buzz of activity at the Reserve Center that preceded the big day that the Convoy was assembled and set off for the AT location – usually several states away. The ride in Jeeps or later HUMMVs on the interstate and the swelling of chest as cars would pass by the vehicle and waved, cheered, kids with faces pressed forward to see soldiers. The training time would be a flurry of overtasked days to complete every imaginable training task prior to the end of training period. The ride home and the cleaning, repacking and tired satisfaction that came from knowing that once again AT was successful and our skills were re-sharpened.

I have always given the analogy that serving in the Reserves was like Minor League Baseball. Provided older equipment, fewer resources and less pay, the game we played was the same as the Active duties (Major league) – The rules were the same, the playing field was essentially the same – Minor league players may not have had the flair or polish but they understand the fundamentals of the game. Occasionally we would get called up to play in an active duty assignment and all that we had was going to be required when playing on the bigger field.

Today, much of the reserve force has deployed to a bigger event, the amateur feel of Annual Training seems like we were just playing a game when we went to Pickett, Dix, Drum, etc…. But it was the basis for many part time soldiers stepping to the plate when called. Those bucolic summers somehow enabled the thinking green mindset and can do ability for the Reservist that I served with in Iraq. Now I guess I see the annual training event in a different light – I miss the fun and enjoyment of the annual event and know that our efforts really mattered to our country – So when you see those Reserve and Guard soldiers heading for Annual Training – wave and let them know how we appreciate what they are doing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

IRR - no more Shell Game

The Associated Press reports that the Army is notifying 5000 Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) soldiers to report to RRC locations for medical screening and administrative tasks. IRR is a category of soldiers that have no remaining active duty or active reserve obligation (paid status) but are awaiting expiration of service – it also is the catch all location for soldiers administratively separated from active reserve units for Physical fitness failure or overweight. IRR soldiers are not putting on uniforms, going to drill, or being administered in any way in the Army as it stands today. Many IRR members are people who were honorably discharged after finishing their active-duty service but have not yet completed the eight-year commitment they made when they joined the Army. Some are former officers who chose not to resign their commission and thus remained on the IRR rolls.

The recall of 5000 IRR soldiers should be viewed as a required repair of the IRR system which has absolutely abandoned and neglected Active and Reserve soldiers assigned to its ranks for the last 5-10 years. The Army Reserve has expended little effort in the recent past to assist IRR soldiers, encourage them to join units, maintain adequate contact or even acknowledge their service. The Army Reserve has admitted an inability to contact many of its IRR members and that comes as no suprise given a former soldiers expected life's events following service. For some IRR soldiers the effort was the Army Reserve sending one letter every year to the last known address – hardly an appreciable effort likely to sustain the IRR resource.

The effort to complete annual visit to a Reserve location was done in the 80s and 90s with some success, but it was abandoned because of cost. Typically IRR soldiers were sent a notice to report to a center for address and administrative screening and paid for one day of duty commensurate with their grade.

In the past – the IRR was really a category that reserve and former Active soldiers were placed when no longer “soldiering” and no efforts were expended to keep in touch or assist that group. In cases – IRR soldiers that were dead, imprisoned, no longer physically capable were being carried in the overall IRR count. The numbers in the IRR pool were reported but to say the least its capabilities were not accurately assessable by looking at the figures.

With the increased need and use of the Army Reserve this long neglected category of soldiers is now receiving some attention… calling them back to determine status and conducting administrative actions with IRR soldiers is a good start. The Army Reserve can do more –

As is normal for this blog – some ideas;

- paid part-time drill status – Reserve units need help and some IRR soldiers may be available for a portion of the training year at a local active reserve unit – allow a local commander to bring IRR soldiers in for as needed part-time paid drills. IRR soldiers can serve as adjunct members of local reserve units and may come to join on a more permanent basis as a result.

- Medical screenings/ follow-ups for former active duty soldiers – offer a follow-up program for former active component soldiers that encompasses a paid IRR medical screening – use VA assistance to the effort.

- send a $ check for online annual or semi-annual registration by IRR soldiers – update administrative information, address, e-mail contact info, phone, etc and pay for the effort a small amount. IRR soldiers unable to travel to RSC sites on dates times could still remain locatable within the system with little effort.

- Enable Reservists to conduct screening at a local Reserve recruiting station instead of at RSC location. (Who wants to travel to the Bronx for a whole day and fight that traffic – 50 miles or not).

- Streamline separation of soldiers that are unsuitable (morale, criminal, health, etc) for further service – do not deposit them into IRR and expend efforts on them in the future…. Local commander makes the call… not the far removed division retention NCO.

These efforts will improve the quality of information on IRR assigned soldiers. Used in whole or part they will reduce the population of the IRR to manageable numbers and improve efficiencies in call ups when necessary. These are not cost free ideas – but remember you get what you pay for.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My Baby is going to Basic

My daughter graduates High School tomorrow and is scheduled to ship to Basic training on 2 July. As a father I am pleased with her graduation and applaud her choice to go into the Army in the footsteps of her Father. I know the risks of deployment for her with her unit and accept that she knows I will worry about her no matter what course she takes.

I haven’t heard much about Cindy Sheehan lately … she lost her son to the war in Iraq and used that loss as a platform for political activism. I don’t care for her methods, but I understand the parental desire to nurture and protect loved ones and resist their exposure to danger and I'm sad she felt the loss for a cause she does not support.

It’s a fine line to walk – support the service to country and wish the best for your child. In my case – I know the experience the Army will provide will make my daughter a stronger, more confident individual. The experience will serve her for years into the future. If she is deployed, I will send her boxes of support and never let her think I waiver in my wholehearted support of what she is doing to serve her country. As with any soldier – we serve Civilian authority – which is not always infallible – but with our efforts intended to provide for our countrymen – there are few higher callings.

So with that – we’ll celebrate the graduation – we will have our tearful goodbyes as she heads to Ft Leonard Wood for Basic Training and AIT. She will come back in the winter and start school a changed individual – putting forth a desire to serve that noble calling with her Reserve Unit and as her Father – I couldn’t be more proud. With that comes the specter of deployment and there again I will be the proud and worried dad – but I know the price of Freedom is not cheap and I would be a hypocrite if I was not supportive of my little soldier.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Marine IRR member fight for rights

The Marines have recommended a general discharge for an Iraq war veteran who wore part of a uniform during a war protest and later responded with an obscenity to a superior who told him he might have violated military rules. Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh participated in the protest in March, clad in a uniform that had no name tag and other insignia removed.

There has been a stir recently caused by this Marine from the IRR that has exercised the right to free speech in participating in demonstrations in Washington. He was wearing a uniform with patches removed and voiced his opposition to the war. He was contacted by the Marines as a result and informed that he may have violated a rule prohibiting troops from wearing uniforms without authorization. Following that the Marine voiced his objection to the fact that he was contacted by the Marines on the matter in terms which gained him additional charges. There are several matters here - let me sort some of them out

I can buy the exact uniform and patches that marine wore on that day at any of a thousand military surplus stores. Look anywhere and you'll find the wear of camouflage is an urban clothing item - why is it an issue here?

The Marine assigned to the IRR receives no pay, no benefits and does not report regularly to any chain of command. He is subject to recall to active duty, but won't get a nickel to maintain uniforms, health care is not offered, and in fact from all outward appearances, he is essentially a civilian.

Our Forefathers granted all freedom of Speech in the constitution - the military establishment practicing a censure under the guise of military law and order in this case is very selective when Major Generals identified by rank, service affiliation and former assignments are broadcasting disagreement on the airwaves on a regular basis with impunity.

I don't agree with this Marine's sentiment in protest, but I was impressed with the guts and thought in his letter to the Marine Corp. Simply put, this Marine - no longer materially participating in organized military voiced his opposition to the Iraq War. Frankly the action to attempt to permanently stain this marine's record with a change in discharge is wholly inappropriate in that he served and is no longer on the active roles. His method of responding did result in inappropriate remarks to an officer - and wasn't necessary to make the point - but it would not have been precipitated except for a charge leveled for the sake of Marine Corp decorum. The effort by the Marines here is indicative of continued efforts to muzzle dissention and opinion from the ranks. Even the VFW has seen the issue as one for response urging the military to

"exercise a little common sense" and call off its investigation of a group of Iraq war veterans who wore their uniforms during anti-war protests.

"Trying to hush up and punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic right we're trying to instill in Iraq is not what we're all about,"

The Marines claim that the protest was a political event, at which personnel are not allowed to wear their uniforms without authorization. In closing arguments, Marine Capt. Jeremy Sibert said that military personnel can be punished if their civilian behavior "directly affects the performance of military duties and is service-related." He said Kokesh's actions could affect how people view the Marine Corps and discourage recruits. I'm struck by the expanse of actions already done by senior military officers that are retired that could fit this description - and frankly now that the Marines have chosen to prosecute this IRR soldier - couldn't Capt Sibert be accused of doing the same thing?