Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Reserve Chief on Retaining Reserve Soldiers

Recently LTG Stultz the chief of the Army Reserve has championed the idea that retaining soldiers in the Army Reserve is a idea that has increased importance to our defense posture. With the change to an operational Reserve, the reduced transition times for citizen soldiers and the increased skill set required from Reserve units – retention of soldiers who have experienced the lessons of combat becomes even more critical. This issue of retention becomes extremely important to a military's force structure and effectiveness and has traditionally been of minor importance when peacetime demands provided no incentive to keep soldiers in uniform for extended periods. LTG Stultz has provided some new ideas as well as previously attempted but failed offerings for retaining Reserve soldiers.

As he is quoted here from a recent article by American Force Press Service Army Reserve Chief Applies Business Lessons to Military Force By Donna Miles; he offers some new and old concepts – some notes on each…

He likes the concept of a “continuum of service” that would enable soldiers to move between the active and reserve component during their military careers. This would enable soldiers to continuing serving as their life situation changes.

This concept is a good one – the vehicle for going from Reserves to Active Component has been virtually impossible or non-existent in the past – what better way to retain, gain one force mentality than to have continued rotation of personnel between active and reserve environments. The flexibilities offered could help retain active and Reserve soldiers for a longer duration.

He is troubled over the issue of reserve medical benefits – that maze of changes in medical insurance Reservists must undergo with each deployment and re-deployment – with regard to the medical changes endured he had this thought and what is a great idea;

If we are truly going to have an operational force in the reserve components, if we are truly going to say to expect to be mobilized on a repeated basis on a regular frequency, we can’t keep requiring the soldier to change medical plans every five years,” he said. “We just can’t keep doing that.” Stultz noted that changing medical plans affects entire families. “That is too much turmoil and stress on the family,” he said.

He’s considered ways to prevent this, possibly by having the military work with employers to share the cost of continuing corporate health-care benefits while a soldier is mobilized. Another option might be for the military to extend Tricare benefits for reservists to reservists who don’t have health insurance elsewhere or at a lower cost than they can get it from their employers.

That could be a big enticement for civilian employers, particularly those in small business, to want to hire reservists, he said.

This effort would be a new avenue and could be taken up quickly for Federal employees that are Reserve soldiers – should be easy to adapt a shared medical burden for soldiers that are also Feds.

Finally the rehashed idea – seen by inside observers of the Reserve component and struck down by the Pentagon every year. There has been several attempts to get a reduced retirement age provision tied to either greater longevity or combat zone experience. These are often championed by congress and dismissed by the Pentagon…

He’s intrigued by the concept of allowing reservists to draw retirement six months early for every year they serve beyond 20. Based on this formula, troops who served 22 years could draw it at age 59. Those with 26 years of service could draw it at 57. Those who stay 30 years – which Stultz recommends as the cap – could draw their retirement at age 55.

“So I would get 10 more years of service out of that individual, for five years of early retirement,” he said.

LTG Stultz is thinking and working some good points – reflecting a point of view shared by many within the rank and File of the Reserves – he is a reserve soldier with a civilian job and knows the trials of such an arrangement. His comments reflect a refreshing air of concern for soldier readiness and retention not seen for many years . Unfortunately he will struggle first with the Active component machine to make these necessary improvements – I would like to see him prevail and I wish him luck.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Guard and Reserve Family Support

New Flash - update

I wrote this article based largely on the experience of my familiy support group - it seems there are resources out there - though not well or universally publicized that do exactly what I was asking for with my article - I am happy to note that I recieved a response from a former Family Support Coordinator that provided the DoD one source location - it can be found at Military one source I stand unofficially educated and corrected - thanks to Chuck for setting me straight.

News Flash - update

All told, more than 417,000 National Guard and Reservists, or about 80 percent of the members of the Guard and Reserve, have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, with an average of 18 months per mobilization. Of these, more than 84,200, or 20 percent, have been deployed more than once. Army National Guard and Reserve families are subjected to the greatest stress concerning the length of deployment due to remote location relative to military installations. The Army has moved to a 12 month deployment model which will partially address the duration of stress but there remains a glaring inadequacy in addressing support for families. The Guard and Reserve remain inadequately staffed to provide assistance on a consistent basis for deployed unit member families.

What is needed is round the clock access to resources – readily available –for the Reserve and Guard family member to one stop shop for support while their loved ones are deployed? Presently the Family Support program falls far short of this requirement. At most units, Family support is provided by volunteers (often the Cdr’s spouse) to members. The effort carried out by these volunteers is heroic but there is a morale responsibility on the Military to provide something more substantive than an adhoc volunteer group to aid family members that are located great distances from military installations and services.

One method we may harness is providing Family support services via the Internet. Most people have some form of access to the internet and deployed soldiers families could use this mode as a portal to aid and assistance when needed. Using a secure AKO platform and a live response element could enable the military to provide a place to turn when a Tricare issue, power of attorney problem, household question or other issue turns up. Imagine what a single site, oriented towards helping deployed soldiers families with all questions would do to reinforce the notion that the military establishment believes in the Army Family.

Internet search for relevant Family Support sites for Guard and Reserve offers a lot of PR to the effort but few hard stops (action agencies or officials) for real needs that families can experience. Don’t interpret sentence above to reflect that there is no value in the links out there – but they are not Army or DoD action sites that can step forward with assistance for remote families…. In reality, families in need must get themselves to an installation for any chance at assistance - not always possible.

Presently, the military provides ample staff for public affairs activities to talk and interact with the press, but nothing near equivalent to work with Reserve and Guard families – what does that say about us?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Flags for our predecessors

On Saturday, in what is an annual ritual around the country, I participated in placing flags on veteran’s graves as I have been honored to do for over 10 years now. This is done in all military and civilian cemeteries alike, by soldiers and volunteers. The Flags are provided by the county, service organizations or Federal government – one for each deceased veteran’s grave. Each flag is placed in Broze or aluminum holders pre-placed at each grave site for the purpose.

Americans regard Memorial Day as a day set aside for cookouts, opening the pool, lazy summer days start, afternoon naps, or other summertime pursuits. In today’s high impact lifestyles it often just represents another Monday holiday. The holiday doesn’t have the same spit and polish it did 138 years ago, when Decoration Day, the forerunner of Memorial Day, was established by Union veterans of the Civil War.
Accounts from that time describe:

Citizens were called to "gather around (the veterans') sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime," the official order read. "Let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and to assist those whom they have left among us as a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude.

Locally, Memorial Day and the tradition of putting flags on veterans' graves gets harder every year as veteran’s organizations get smaller, and older. The roster of members placing the flags are just as resolute in their determination to see the gratitude of our country is still communicated directly to veteran families and survivors. Placing a 12 x 18 Flag on a deceased veteran’s grave is a small token of acknowledgement that we remember and appreciate the veteran’s service to this country.

So Readers – on this Memorial Day – consider putting up a flag – wherever you are… enjoy the holiday and give a minute or two reflection on the soldiers that served. Many are living among us and will enjoy the holiday as well but as any veteran can attest - All give some, some gave all.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Oasis in the Desert

On my way back from Iraq in September 2004 I had to stop to await transportation in Kuwait. We were tired and relieved to be going home from a year long tour in Iraq from assignments throughout the country. However, the dusty hot post in Kuwait was yet another delay in boarding the Freedom bird for the States for our Reserve unit members. While in the Kuwait camp I discovered the paradise that was the USO tent…. Imagine a tent with big screen TVs, recliners, books, magazines and cold air conditioning…. Take off your boots and settle in to a living room setting…I will attest it was a slice of heaven in the middle of that camp.

The USO is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide morale, welfare and recreation-type services to our men and women in uniform. The original intent of Congress — and enduring style of USO delivery — is to represent the American people by extending a touch of home to the military. The USO currently operates more than 130 centers worldwide, including ten mobile canteens located in the continental United States and overseas. Overseas centers are located in Germany, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Qatar, Korea, Afghanistan, Guam, and Kuwait. Service members and their families visit USO centers more than 4.7 million times each year. They also provide some sundries to soldiers going to theater and in airports around the globe. USO volunteers organize the reception and departure at gateway airports for soldiers on R&R and overseas travel as well. This is an organization I see making a difference and really providing for soldiers and their families.

When I got back I looked at their site to discover that the USO is a congressionally chartered, nonprofit organization, and is not a part of the federal government. I know a good organization when I se it... and this is one to note. When people ask me what they can send to soldiers or do for soldiers I always suggest a contribution to the USO ; that organization that impressed me on that hot day on my way out of country. If you are so inclined dear readers – consider a donation, become a partner or volunteer for this organization.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Army National Guard and Reserve Readiness

The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves continues to work as directed by Congress to recommend needed changes in law and policy to ensure that the Guard and Reserves are organized, trained, equipped, compensated, and supported to best meet the national security requirements of the United States. This committee continues to meet with senior officials, Active and Reserve Soldiers down to the Major (O-4) level and civilians in its attempt to determine recommendations covering the Guard and Reserves' roles and missions, capabilities, organization and structure, training and readiness, compensation and benefits, career paths, and the funding they receive.

This effort is long overdue for the Reserve Components – it’s a shame it took so long and comes after much of the National Guard and Reserve has already served in the crucible of war with the materials on hand and the minimum support of the past. It is with pride that I can state we have met the missions assigned thus far with the tools at hand in the Reserve Component and did so with pretty fair result. It appears that real change for the better is on the horizon with respect to support for the Reserve Component soldiers, training, funding and equipment. Endearing at the moment is the recent announcement by the Secretary that reflects a new commitment to improving the lot of Guard and Reserve organizations:

May 16, 2007 – The Department of Defense announced today that Secretary Robert M. Gates agrees with the 23 recommendations of the independent Commission on the National Guard and Reserves delivered to Congress on March 1.
The Commission’s report, a requirement of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act, examined the advisability and feasibility of implementing provisions of the pending National Defense Enhancement and National Guard Empowerment Act of 2007, including proposals intended to improve the National Guard’s ability to support both overseas military operations and civilian response to domestic disasters, increase the Guard’s status and resources, and make other changes in Guard leadership, organization, and funding.

As stated in the commission’s web page the high operational tempo of the military over the past four years has significantly increased stress on resources that support the readiness of the National Guard and Reserves to carry out missions at home and abroad. The impacts of resourcing policy, programming, and budgeting on the readiness of reserve components—and the impacts of frequent and lengthy deployments on employers and families—are the subjects of two full days of hearings to be conducted May 16 and 17 by the independent Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.

In these upcoming hearings testimony on Resourcing and Readiness as well as Employer and Family Support will be provided. Employer and Family Support have received scant attention and absolutely minimum resources as an imposed volunteer effort placed upon deployed soldier families in the past and work is required to assist those needs.

The final report of the Commission, to be submitted to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the Secretary of Defense in January 2008, will include recommendations covering the Guard and Reserves' roles and missions, capabilities, organization and structure, training and readiness, compensation and benefits, career paths, and the funding they receive. The recommendations won’t be easy or inexpensive for the Active Component key holders, but they are essential to continued sustainment of a Reserve force for use in time of need domestically and in the ongoing global war on terror.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

OPSEC or Censure?

Well now, there are clouds of dust stirred up by the new Army Regulation 530-1 which deals with OPSEC and the restrictions that regulation places on Military Bloggers. You can see notes on the restriction below. These restrictions are broad and have the potential to significantly handcuff Military Blogger freedom to report and discuss issues as there is a stated requirement for any Army Soldier, Civilian or contractor to obtain approval for any posts with their unit commander and OPSEC representative. The Regulation is classified…but the specifics can be found with a simple Google search as the topic is getting significant exposure lately.

Many such as Blackfive and Dadmanly and others have reacted to this controversy being noticed in public this week with Noah Shachtman’s article on the OPSEC update in Wired. Since that piece came out, MILBLOGS and other conservative bloggers have reacted, appropriately, in alarm to the new Regulations. What remains to be seen is the myriad of command’s reaction to the OPSEC draconian sounding guidelines. It’s a sure bet they will be far from uniform.

Even though I am retired, and my Blog is maintained from my home, dear reader – it seems my civilian occupation with the Army requires me to get such approval as well with my command. I don’t recall that as a Civilian, I was required to have infringed 1st Amendment rights… it remains to be seen how this will play out in the near future. In the interim I have followed the subsequent guidelines provided by the Army and taken heart in the response from the Regulation’s writer MAJ Ceralde. Lets wait and see how this plays out.

Army Operations Security: Soldier Blogging Unchanged Summary:
America's Army respects every Soldier's First Amendment rights while also adhering to Operations Security (OPSEC) considerations to ensure their safety on the battlefield.

Soldiers and Army family members agree that safety of our Soldiers are of utmost importance.

Soldiers, Civilians, contractors and Family Members all play an integral role in maintaining Operations Security, just as in previous wars.

In no way will every blog post/update a Soldier makes on his or her blog need to be monitored or first approved by an immediate supervisor and Operations Security (OPSEC) officer. After receiving guidance and awareness training from the appointed OPSEC officer, that Soldier blogger is entrusted to practice OPSEC when posting in a public forum.

Army Regulation 350-1, "Operations Security," was updated April 17, 2007 - but the wording and policies on blogging remain the same from the July 2005 guidance first put out by the U.S. Army in Iraq for battlefield blogging. Since not every post/update in a public forum can be monitored, this regulation places trust in the Soldier, Civilian Employee, Family Member and contractor that they will use proper judgment to ensure OPSEC.

Much of the information contained in the 2007 version of AR 530-1 already was included in the 2005 version of AR 530-1. For example, Soldiers have been required since 2005 to report to their immediate supervisor and OPSEC officer about their wishes to publish military-related content in public forums.

Army Regulation 530-1 simply lays out measures to help ensure operations security issues are not published in public forums (i.e., blogs) by Army personnel. Soldiers do not have to seek permission from a supervisor to send personal E-mails. Personal E-mails are considered private communication. However, AR 530-1 does mention if someone later posts an E-mail in a public forum containing information sensitive to OPSEC considerations, an issue may then arise.

Soldiers may also have a blog without needing to consult with their immediate supervisor and OPSEC officer if the following conditions are met:
1. The blog's topic is not military-related (i.e., Sgt. Doe publishes a blog about his favorite basketball team).
2. The Soldier doesn't represent or act on behalf of the Army in any way.
3. The Soldier doesn't use government equipment when on his or her personal blog.

* Army Family Members are not mandated by commanders to practice OPSEC. Commanders cannot order military Family Members to adhere to OPSEC. AR 530-1 simply says Family Members need to be aware of OPSEC to help safeguard potentially critical and sensitive information. This helps to ensure Soldiers' safety, technologies and present and future operations will not be compromised.

* Just as in 2005 and 2006, a Soldier should inform his or her OPSEC officer and immediate supervisor when establishing a blog for two primary reasons:
1. To provide the command situational awareness.
2. To allow the OPSEC officer an opportunity to explain to the Soldier matters to be aware of when posting military-related content in a public, global forum.

* A Soldier who already has a military-related blog that has not yet consulted with his or her immediate supervisor and OPSEC officer should do so.

* Commands have the authority to enact local regulations in addition to what AR 530-1 stipulates on this topic.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

When is a Veteran not a Veteran

Here is a quiz, dear reader – guess which individual(s) qualify for Veteran’s preference in hiring and retention for Federal jobs in accordance with OPM guidelines

Person 1 – Retired, from the Active Army after a 20 year career, as a Major

Person 2 – Discharged from Active Duty with an Honorable Discharge after 2 years enlisted service 1974-1976.

Person 3 – Army Reserve soldier enters Retired Reserve after 28 years Reserve service (never selected for deployment)

Who did you pick – all three? The answer is: only person 2 qualifies for veteran’s preference. Seems incredible that the two retirees are both excluded - one due to status as a retiree in the grade of Major from Active Duty the other due to the fact that the individual was never called to participate (although trained and maintained readiness) in a campaign awarding a medal or active duty during a covered period.

Military retirees at the rank of major, lieutenant commander, or higher are not eligible for preference in appointment unless they are disabled veterans. (This does not apply to Reservists who will not begin drawing military retired pay until age 60.)

Active duty for training or inactive duty by National Guard or Reserve soldiers does not qualify as "active duty" for preference

The rules are maintained by the Office of Personnel Management which is the HR agency for the Federal Government – as you can guess, we have a hodgepodge of rules that includes some members of the military that served during covered periods of time and excludes others that devote entire careers to serving our country whether active or Reserve.

Today we make costly enticements to our youth to serve, while we snub those that have served with respect to offering them improved consideration for government positions – what kind of message does that send? I believe there is a need and value for continued service member representation throughout the Federal Government. We should at least offer a token to those that have done so much for this country by improving or equitably setting policies for hiring opportunities and retention rights within the Federal Government.

You can see other rules at the US Office of Personnel Management at their Vet Guide