Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Army Reserve History -A Primer

I recently saw an article about a long time Reserve Soldier. In the article the soldier pointed out the differences in the Reserve Component born of 20 years evolution from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve. I realized that many of my readers do not appreciate the distance traveled by the Reserve component over the last 25 years so I thought I’d give a little history primer of where we were and where we are in the Army Reserve.

Keep in mind that I offer this historical review based upon my experiences and impressions resulting from 24 Years as a Active and reserve soldier and 18 years as a fulltime military technician in the Army Reserve.

1980 was the year of my first visit to a Reserve unit Drill – while in ROTC I looked into the SMP program and visited a drill at a Field Artilley Battery. The drill was held at a small reserve center in Western Pennsylvania. There was no evidence of any artillery piece in the facility… the drill consisted of the review of regulations and preparation for an upcoming trip to Ft. Indiantown Gap for one of a few training sessions with equipment. The soldiers were all local and many were untrained in artillery or even combat Arms – they were simply hanging out and plugging along as resources to train and learn the skills were not available.

1982 – I entered active Duty for 4 years – only affillitaion with the Reserve Componenbt was with the 2 National Guard units. One was a enhanced separate Brigade in the Guard – they received more dollars, equipment and assistance than regular guard units – as a result they were better trained, had higher Duty MOSQ rates and were more ameiable to train hard when we visited them. The other unit was a regular National Guard Armor Battalion – I was tasked to evaluate a company at AT training. The unit was old school – coolers on the floors of the M48A5 tanks (at that point at least 20 years old and obsolete) commanders that did not know what an operations order was and largely motivated but unskilled soldiers. It was heartbreaking to see a unit with virtually no modern equipment play at being army – the will was there but the resources were not.

1986 – having left the active Army, I had the opportunity to join one of only two Army Reserve Armor Battalions in existence at the time. Having spent 4 years on active duty and needing some additional $s I walked into the Battalion headquarters and was a company commander within two months…. Shortly thereafter I started my life as a Military Technician with that unit.

This unit again had extremely dedicated soldiers that wanted to be tankers and combat arms. The majority of the unit was volunteers and many like myself had some active duty time under our belts. Here again the resources were extremely limited. Annual training was strictly limited to 14 days and weekends could not exceed 2 days on average. Despite tremendous amounts of G&C time there were considerable gaps in what could be accomplished annually in the way of training. For Combat Arms – training in maneuver and operating and completing a live fire gunnery qualification were forced to every other year. There was never enough time, dollars or ammunition allocated to do both tasks in the same year. This forced the organization to a “gunnery” year and a “maneuver” year. Slowly, however, the pace and attitudes changed. In the late eighties the active component was assigned to mentor the Army Reserve units. Affiliations were required and in our case we had the Army’s only airborne Armor Battailon as our mentor. Annual training was a jointly planned event with Active component soldiers mentoring, not grading – they took interest in our success and provided valuable training assistance.

In 1993 my assignment took me to an Mech Infantry Battalion and we participated in an NTC rotation – indicating the evolution in funding for annual training to provide more realistic events that was the result of Desert Storm. As the Active componet Army was pared down, increased emphasis was placed upon the Reserves and their capabilities.

1995 was a dark year – as I was part of a M1 Transition team condiucting new equipment training for my Armor Battalion we learned of the deal between the Army Reserve and National guard to divest the Army Reserve of Combat Arms. A blow felt directly to the mid-section of us combat arms soldiers that were now finally much better equipped and better trained. We were offered a modicum of assignments in the ensuing restructure to units of company size. (I actually saw infantrymen offered jobs as Quartermaster fabric repairmen). Many were displaced and the taste in our mouths as combat arms soldiers was bitter. Frankly the Army Reserve screwed up and lost many a talented soldier in that blunder.

1995-2001 was a period of adjustment, AC/RC program and other programs that strengthened the ties between active and Reserve component soldiers. It was also in this period that many active component soldiers joined the reserves as they departed the Active force further improving the training expectations and staffing for reserve units. This was probably the most productive growth years for the capabilities of the Reserve units. I was assigned to a unit that had a year round real training mission and shared tasks with active component organizations. The unit wasn’t equal perhaps, but certainly more respected and capable to complete its assigned missions. Training dollars, facility improvements, changes to installation support, issue of near modern equipment made the difference as Reserve soldiers felt much more a part of the total force in this period.

2001-present – this was the utilization phase for the Reserve Component. All of the sudden our soldiers were being assigned to active duty assignments, tours and mobilizations. In my case, I was deployed with a month’s time from alert to actual assignment in a combat theater on an active component unit’s staff. Was I prepared? Yes – I actually found that I was able to quickly assume the duties required. I had to learn some new tools of the trade that were not yet issued to the Reserve component (FBCB2, Squad Radios, etc…) but that did not take long to do. The basics of soldier tasks were easily updated and refreshed and I believe I provided a plausible performance in Iraq when I was called in 2004. The reason for the success was the push to a partnership with active component resources. Installations, trainers, assigned Active component soldiers, equipment were pushed to units and the mantra of Reserve soldiers as second class was largly forgotten.

What is the recipe in this dynamic relationship between Active and reserve components? I like to use an analogy to illustrate - Being in the Reserve Component is like being on a minor league baseball team. You practice and develop skills to play the same game played in the Major League. The rules are the same, same standards, same playing field. In the minors you won’t have the same dollars, your equipment may be a little older, some of the players may be a little past their prime, and you don’t play on TV or in front of the big crowds. But – you never know when you will be called up to play in the major league, in front of a bigger audience. In fact, your whole team may be called up together. Right at that moment, your skills have to be as sharp as possible, honed in a less glamorous locale under more austere conditions. You won’t get the luxury of more training, practice or mentoring – this is it – do the job now. That is life in the Reserve Component today.

We should endeavor to continue to make sure we resource the Reserve component soldier for success when he/she steps up to the big league playing field – we don’t have a lot of alternatives on the bench… make sure that soldier given the job has had ample opportunity to hone their skills to bring us the win on the global playing surface. And maybe we need to attend more of the minor league games, follow the roster a bit more and cheer the successes at that level – knowing that we need to appreciate and support the effort at that level that we have come to rely upon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reserve Mobilization - work to be done

The Reserve components have been in a continuous state of mobilization since 1995 in support of missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Operations Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle. We can expect that the Army Reserve will continue to meet national security requirements, and any vertical escalation from the Global War on Terrorism will necessitate increased mobilization of the Army Reserve into the foreseeable future.

To be effective partners to the Active Component Force – the Reserve Mobilization process needs some major work. I can vouch from personal experience that the process facing a mobilized and deployed Reserve soldier is highly confusing, stressful and fraught with issues not experienced by our Active Component Brethren.

It has been established that mobilization is not an end state, it is a process conducted prior to deployment. In that process the present procedures for authorizing and directing mobilization are unduly burdensome, restrictive and time-consuming. Streamlining the process to bring Reserve Components soldiers to active duty with minimum required administrative, personnel transactions will increase the agility of the force while enhancing integration.

Following that there must be a standard personnel policies and procedures in accessing RC personnel after mobilization. Accessing reservists to the AC version of the Standard Installation/Division Personnel System (SIDPERS), while simultaneously keeping the individuals on theRC database, creates personnel accounting problems. We need to fix the ongoing systems problem attributed to the inability of automatic data processing (ADP) systems used by the AC, ARNG, and USAR to interface.

During the mobilization process Reserve units struggle with the cross-leveling of personnel which is accomplished at the MOBSTA. Paradoxically, during premobilization or immediately after mobilization while still at home station; cross-leveling of personnel must come from available RC unit assets depending upon the requirements which may not be complete or clear. In my organization’s deployment the constant shuffle of multiple individuals to individual mobilization requests created massive complications to both Active and Reserve component missions.

In essence, Reserve commands "rob Peter to pay Paul" in an effort to fill mobilization needs and continue Reserve tasks (in my unit – conducting MOS qualification training for Reserve and NG soldiers). As a result of the individual mobilizations in force in OIF early on many units were rendered ineffective in key tasks with the loss of 25-40% of Reserve soldiers to individual missions.
There was help possible for the reserve tasks in the IRR and IMA but that was inaccessible to the left behind reserve unit as well. HQDA should propose legislation that would allow augmentation of the Selected Reserve with soldiers from the Ready Reserve (e.g., RT-12s, IMAs, etc.) during a Presidential call-up under Title 10, U.S.C. 673b.

My mobilization was the exception in training – I had 5 days at CRC then sent directly to Iraq. I was able to quickly assume duties thanks to years of pretty effective training in the Reserves. But, unfortunately for many soldiers, after arriving at MOBSTAs, some RC units had to repeat training previously conducted at home stations. Some Readiness Group (RG) personnel and/or MOBSTA personnel did not coordinate with RC unit commanders in developing the MOBSTA training plan. Optimum readiness would dictate that the Reserve Commander should have the best picture of the state of training for his/her unit and thus the Mob station should not mandate redundant training as a prerequisite for validation.

Published validation criteria which apply equally to all components improve training, raise enthusiasm, increase confidence, and improve morale. Giving credit for previously conducted and validated training increases "espirit de corps" and negates parochialism among components. Published validation criteria follow the principles and tenants of training doctrine, i.e., EM 25-100, Training the Force, and EM 25-101, Battle Focused Training. All personnel of the Total Force Army are required follow the published guidance of training documents.

Streamlining the mobilization and deployment event is in essence mandated by the continued needs of national security requirements. The Global War on Terrorism will necessitate ongoing mobilization of the Army Reserve into the foreseeable future. Every effort to work with the Reserve Component leadership as opposed to the parent /child relationship of the past will render improved readiness for both the active and Reserve components. It is necessary that the systems, policies and leadership of the Active and Reserve components address the differences and embrace the similarities in training, warrior ethos and commitment to the effort to improve the result of the mobilization process.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Petraeus got it right

At the risk of appearing to idolize Gen Petraeus, I wanted to note some of the comments which appear lost in the general haze of contention between the factions in his report to Congress.

Gen Petraeus provided highly anticipated testimony to congress that was gritty, honest and, I believe, an honest assessment on Iraq conditions regardless of what political forces wanted to hear. Gen Petraeus provided a soldier’s answer to the question posed regarding the situation which will be debated and bashed for its content as viewed by diverse sides and factions but there were a couple points that stand beyond that fate.

General Petraeus closed with observations on the funding provided by congress – accurate in that we have enjoyed funds necessary to operate. Perhaps a little tip of the hat to the hand that feeds the force…

The advances you have underwritten in weapons systems and individual equipment; in munitions; in command, control, and communications systems; in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities; in vehicles and counter-IED systems and programs; and in manned and unmanned aircraft have proven invaluable in Iraq. The capabilities that you have funded most recently – especially the vehicles that will provide greater protection against improvised explosive devices – are also of enormous importance. Additionally, your funding of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program has given our leaders a critical tool with which to prosecute the counterinsurgency campaign. Finally, we appreciate as well your funding of our new detention programs and rule of law initiatives in Iraq.

But the point that I hope will eventually get some attention as the dust settles is General Petraeus comments for the congressional record - those regarding the military force today;

The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen with whom I’m honored to serve are the best equipped and, very likely, the most professional force in our nation’s history. Impressively, despite all that has been asked of them in recent years, they continue to raise their right hands and volunteer to stay in uniform.
In closing, it remains an enormous privilege to soldier again in Iraq with America’s new “Greatest Generation.” Our country’s men and women in uniform have done a magnificent job in the most complex and challenging environment imaginable. All Americans should be very proud of their sons and daughters serving in Iraq today.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Iraqi Security Force Training

The News from Iraq reflects the reports from an independent Commission created by congress that estimates it will take at least 12-18 Months before Iraq’s Army and Police can take charge of their country.

A report by an independent commission created by Congress says that it will be at least 12 to 18 months before Iraq’s army and police can take charge of the country’s security. The 20-member commission, headed by Gen. James L. Jones of the Marines, now retired, found that the Iraqi armed forces, especially the army, were steadily improving but still suffering from “limited operational effectiveness, according to a copy of the panel’s report that was being circulated Wednesday in advance of its formal release. David Cloud, New York Times, September 6, 2007

In my mind, that assessment bears some correlation to my own observations that we continue to train countless Iraqis and don’t witness their effective utilization. MNSTC-I effectively trains candidates for these forces but there exists a revolving door in units for the soldiers who often do not last at duty locations in the field when placed under local (Iraqi) control. We don’t control implementation and retention of the number of Police and soldiers already trained in country. That remains under Iraqi control entirely. The losses and continued waste of trained Iraqi Soldiers and Police is due to continued sectarian purging of the ranks, corruption of the government and Interior Ministries and to a lesser extent the Ministry of Defense in Iraq.

Its easy to be critical of the senior Iraqi Military and its establishment until you realize that it was formed from absolutely nothing. What we take for granted – senior well experienced and seasoned officer and NCOs in our forces does not exist in large scale in Iraq in the Military or Police. The basic command and control functions, to include logistical planning and support were vaporized and will take time to re-establish. All of these tasks have been approached concurrent with the fight in Iraq by MNSTC-I. as quoted to many in MNSTC-I “its like building an airplane while in flight”

Couple the nascent infrastructure difficulties with a “less than capable and new government subjected to serious rifts and divides” and you have a significant challenge within any timeline.

Is the assessment correct? Probably understates the time required if Iraqi institutional issues are not resolved quickly. Replacing large blocks of the Iraqi security forces and retraining new will result in the same inefficiencies if the handover of newly trained forces continues to a government that is unable to resolve sectarian and corruption difficulties. That is the root of the issue that must be addressed to improve the effectiveness of the security forces in Iraq.