The Reserves: Their Present and Their Future

This came across my desk the other day– a CBO report titled, The Effects of Reserve Call-ups on Civilian Employers. It’s almost two years old, but the points it raises are still valid, and possibly more so.

It made me think of some of the larger reserve issues in this war, and how the reserves and Guard are probably going to have to be re-structured to meet the challenge of a 50- or 100-year war.

Yes, it’s the campaign in Iraq that is putting the pressure on the reserve components today, but to enact a massive policy change based on what has been and is happening in one case is not a good practice. I believe the Constitutional term is, “pissing up a rope.”

No, I think the implication is how we can structure the reserve component to meet growing homeland defense and civil support tasks, Iraq now, Afghanistan now, another Iraq later, another Afghanistan later, and who knows what else, like NoKo, Iran, Red China… the list goes on. To build an active duty force large enough to handle all those would be costly and not cost-effective. The answer remains a total force comprised active duty units and their service reserve components, and a robust Guard force.

My immediate concern is the reserve. As it’s structured today, the reserve (or at least my part of it) remains rooted in a Cold-War structure. (That it is proving mentally and physically agile despite those restrictions is much to its credit.) By this I mean that the policies governing its use are designed to call up units, deploy them, win the campaign, then bring them home and demobilize them. Mobilization for war was to have been the exception, not the rule.

Today, however, the exception is proving the rule. Units and individuals are being called up, and then called up again. And then again, with a promise of more. I’m not complaining, mind you– this is why I signed up– but I think it deserves some thought if we’re to maintain our reserves’ relevance to the fight, and keep reserve service as a separate and attractive career path, instead of a frying-pan-into-the-fire substitute for active duty. I wonder if we ought not look to the IDF and the old South African Defense Force to see how well they did (and did not) address the requirements of maintaining a ready and capable citizen force in an open-ended shooting war.

Again, not complaining, just thinking. My career, however long it goes from here on out, is on the descending leg of its trajectory. I’m concerned about the reserves ten years from now.

How say you?


  1. Joel says:

    I've always felt that units in the Reserve/Guard should be called up on a basis of time, rather than "rotation". For example, the Army is expanding because (quite obviously) it needs to. Knowing that 50,000 additional troops simply don't appear overnight, they can call up several brigades from the Guard for, say, a three or four year period, and base them at a base CONUS. Then, train them and have them available for deployment during that time frame. It buys time for an expansion of the active component that is necessary for this. This constant coming and going will simply lead to people not staying in the Reserves by either getting out or (like myself) opting to simply cross over to the active component because, really, what's the point of being a Reservist right now? It's pretty much wrecked my civilian career, so I may as well just go active duty.

    I don't think this is going to last for one hundred years. God, I hope not. For one, the American people simply will not tolerate a sustained military effort for that amount of time. At some point, a President will declare victory (whatever that means) and simply stop sending troops on Operation Enduring Rotation.

    War is… must be… a total effort. And, quite simply, our leadership failed to mobilize and gird the civilian populace for the fight. This coupled with a bad start to our show in Iraq has created a lot of political trouble at home that will only make things worse (John, politics is a continuation of war by other means).

  2. bullnav says:

    Yes, my part of the reserve (the Navy Reserve, that is) is also still structured for the Cold War. Granted, we are not supporting to the extent our brothers in the Marine Corps or Army are, but we still have around 6000 folks called up.

    There are a fair percentage of units designed to augment staffs (Squadrons/Groups/#ed Fleets) in time of war…but we are not.

    Yes, we need a major rethinking as to what we want to do with the reserves and how they can fit into the role of the citizen soldier. Now more than ever.

  3. Judge says:

    Joel, unfortunately, this will be a 50 or 100 year war – the only question is will we be in the fight?

    There are new generations being taught hatred of America, mothers taught to hate Christian and Jews more than they love their own children.

    This is our enemy,you can't negotiate with someone of that mindset/religious belief. Our only victory is to convince them that their god is a false god and does not support their effort – continuing to fight against us is futile, or to kill them all. Neither will be done in a few years or even a decade. They started the fight, but will we finish it?

  4. John says:

    I concur with Joel on this much. War absolutey has to be conducted with the full support and backing of the people.

    I know that invoking "the people" is totally communist and gay, but the fact of the matter is….America is not acting like a nation at war right now.

  5. Joel says:

    Judge, if this war is going to last that long, I will tell you right now that we will lose. Our progressive western mindset is incapable of defeating a people that considers a hundred years in the same way we consider thirty seconds. Their birthrate is higher than ours, so simple math will catch up with us at some point

    I also was not aware that we were in the business of convincing them that their god is a false god. I'm in the business of protecting the national security interests of this country as defined by the Nat'l Command Authority of the United States, not in religious crusades.

    I could give two shits who the Arabs worship, so long as my society at home is left alone and we continue to receive the resources we need (read "oil") in order for our nation to continue to survive.

    The goals, as you define them, are unachievable. Perhaps, if a totalitarian regime took over the United States, threw out the lawyers, and went about a mass campaign of genocide in the Middle East, we could win. As it stands now, we will not.

  6. nate zuckerman says:

    Perhaps we ought not have so many wars that seem unncessary? We have troops stationed all over Europe. Why?

    You are not going to get people into the reserves if they have to lose families jobs, careers and be rotated in a countyry undergoing civil war. There is no appeal. (yes: I had been both in the Reserves and in the active army)

  7. Mike Rentner says:

    I disagree with the suggestion that a larger active force is too expensive.

    The USMC, for instance, is still 10% smaller than it was in the 80's and 90's. At that time, not only were we not at war, the Marines had the decidedly smallest role in the cold war.

    Now, we're in a long term "hot" war, the Marines are a huge part of that war, and we're smaller than ever.

    Also, although I certainly appreciate the deployments being kept short, it's no way to fight a war. Both the active and reserve forces are rotated in and out when they should be there for the duration, or at least a much longer time.

    I wonder if we didn't keep bringing Marines home every 7 months and army every 14 months, if there would be a better long term approach to the war.

    We need a bigger military and we need to take this war more seriously or we will never win it. The administration has been, since the beginning, trying to win this war on the cheap, putting only just enough forces to do a minimal job.

    But war is not like a business. You win in business by minimizing costs. You win in war by minimizing risk of losing, and that rarely coincides with minimizing costs.

    The Reserves need fixing and always need fixing by their part time nature. But the answer to the problem is much bigger than that.

  8. blaster says:

    The current reserve structure is less "Cold War" oriented and more "Post-Vietnam" oriented. A distinction with a difference.

    GEN Creighton Abrams explicitly created the "Total Army" with the idea that a President could not fight a long war without the support of the American people – i.e., you can't get another Vietnam fought by conscripts and not so much by Guard and Reserve (though there was some participation). Critical pieces that the Army needs to fight are in Guard and Reserve units in order to hobble a future Johnson or Nixon (Nixon was held in very low esteem by the military).

    It seems to have not worked exactly that way. Bush was not prevented from executing a war that has turned out to be long and unpopular, but the Army is paying the price.

    A lot of senior Army officers who hold Abrams in very high esteem take this plan as Holy Writ. Rumsfeld was working to change that, and that was part of the transformation culture clash between the SecDef and the Army generals.

    Gates won't change it, and the National Guard is a huge lobbying force – it wants to have vital portions of the Army in order to keep the funding up – if the Army didn't really need the Guard, many billions of dollars wouldn't go to the states.

    The states and Guard want to have their cake and eat it too – be vital, and yet not deployed.

    Unfortunately, there is noone with the political will or power to resolve it all.

  9. Mike Rentner says:

    Those are the significant differences between the Marine Reserves and the Army Reserves.

  10. j-boy says:

    I agree that the way we're treating the reserves is wrong. Longterm foreign duty shouldn't be a part of reserve duty. Either the active military should be made bigger or a new level of reserves created, where you volunteer specially for lots of duty abroad. This has been going on ever since the end of the Cold War, at least, and it's too hard on families.

    The other big error we're making is failing to plan and train adequately for occupation and peacekeeping duties. I know, there are plenty of people who say there's a difference between a soldier and a policeman, and that it's a mistake to confuse them. Well, most of our soldiers have been either on peacekeeping or occupation duty for many years. This is now what a soldier does.

  11. Don NYC says:

    I am 51 years of age. Reasonably good shape. I am upset that 20 yr old kids are over there doing "my" dirty work. I tried to sign up after 911. I was "too old" they say, but I see they send reservists my age over there all the time.Not that I am itching to go. I have another idea for Homeland/Port and Border security.

    I have written to GW. To Rumsfield, to various newspapers..None have published my idea or taken up my offer..Here it is..

    I am former cop in NJ. 9 years.

    I have years of police experience//CriminaL,Civil, and Emergency medical experience.I have a BS in Criminal Justice and a MBA in Finance.

    My idea is for the states to form a State Militia to respond to future attacks,civil disturbance, or natural disasters. Comprise this militia of former cops,firemen, FBI and Secret Service agents, former military men. For heavens sake, there has to be thousands and thousands of people with credentials like mine. or put us on the border for 2 weeks a year.This is a trained, mature,ready pool of professionals. I am now a salesman on Wall St. I can give weekends, evenings and 2 weeks a year. More, God forbid, we have another 911. Can anyone get this ball moving? We need to take the pressure off the Guard and Reserves.

  12. Rex says:

    Speaking for the Marines only, I can tell you that we don't have enough active duty types. A commenter above said that the Marines had the smallest role in the cold war–that may be true, but we were still tasked with more than we could eralistically do well. In fact, that's why I left active duty after 11 years and joined the reserves–I was due for another deployment overseas, without wife and children. I had already done two deployments, one of 12 months duration and one of six months duration. The Navy also had a lot of deployments, but I constantly met Air Force and Army types who never had an unaccompanied tour during their entire career!

    And the Marines never saw a "peace dividend." Measuring from DESERT STORM, the Marines (of at least MEU size or greater) were deployed over 30 times in less than two years.

    Speaking as a former reservist (I'm now retired reserve), I can tell you that any sort of extensive deployments are not conducive to building up a civilian career. Many employers look askance at the two weeks over the summer, which they have to give you in addition to your normal vacation time. This is not so much a problem for blue collar workers, or even clerical level white collar workers, but it is a real problem for management level workers. Government workers, state and federal, have it the easiest.

    It's a serious problem–the current reserve system was not constructed for a limited war of long duration. If you know NOW that we will be fighting a long war, which I believe was the premise of this tread, then the solution is to increase the size of the active duty forces. Nothing less will get the job done.

  13. js says:

    I have served both on Active Duty and as a Reservist for a fair number of years (since 1980, but who's counting?) including a tour in Iraq and a spin on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. A couple of points.

    First, the Army Reserve is not adequately structured to handle any post-Korean conflict. The emphasis remains on providing numbers of bodies rather than on using whatever smarts we have acquired to win this thing. We have quite a few senior guys with lots of civilian expertise that could be better employed.

    Second, we're going to get our backsides handed to us due to DOPMA/ROPMA. Those acts place a limit on the time an officer can serve after he's commissioned. It's the "up or out" reg. Several of us are happy to go back as many times as necessary, but we're bucking up against the time limit, and can't continue to do the job.

    So far as the size of the Active force is concerned, we need a significantly bigger force for the long term. Technology is good, but it's just not going to do the job when we deal with asshats fresh from the Middle Ages, unless we're willing to employ MOABs in large numbers. That's perfectly OK by me, but it's a conversation we're going to have to have.

    It isn't easy, and whatever ideas are put forward will have to make their way through the military and political system. That's a pretty harsh environment.

  14. charmquark says:

    There is a lot to cover on this subject, and we could all collectively write a book.

    The first point I'd like to make, is that as reservists, we might not train all the time, but we still train to be warriors in heart and spirit for the most part. Deep down, if the country is in the fight, we want to be in the fight. Most of the folks who could not support the effort at that level have already left or retired. Deployments are having a greater effect on those left holding the bag, which I think was the original point.

    Unit cohesion is an enormous factor on troop moral, especially when deployed. It's one of the reasons why the federal reserves have had a lot more problems retaining and recruiting people as opposed to the guard units. If the federal reserves could make improvements where units and teams are mobilized together instead of as individuals, it would help out.

    In hind sight, longer reserve deployments would have been a much better approach. When I deployed to OIF-1, I was expecting WWII as far as the rotation, basically there for the duration. Right now, about 40% of a nunits deployed time isn't even spent in country, which has to stop. I would have much rather have stayed another year than come home to assume my civilian job and family life, knowing it was just a matter of time. The on-again off-again flipping is hardest of all.

    I even pondered returning to active duty, but I have grown fond of living as a civilian while not deployed and dealing with troops who'll actually say, "you know sir, that's about the dumbest thing I've heard in a while." While the units I have served in while in the guard haven't exactly been high speed, elite formations, there is a very tight comraderie that I personally have't seen anywhere else.

    In the end, we are in a major conflict and planning a future force structure based solely on the current situation might not make the most sense. A larger Active Duty force would probably help out. Then again, things might get worse before they are better if world events keep going down the crapper. Who knows, if some politicians get their way, I might be able to fight the global war on terrorism from my front yard, without even having to get deployed to Iraq again.

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