ARLINGTON, Va. — With just days remaining in his four-year tenure as chief of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly blasted the Pentagon’s mobilization process as “fraught with friction,” “highly political” and “harmful to soldiers.”
“We’ve probably lost through attrition as many soldiers from how we mobilize — we’ve probably lost more — than the mere act of mobilization,” Helmly said Wednesday.
“There are a lot of people who have probably said, ‘I will do anything for my country, but I don’t need to torture myself’,” Helmly said. “And this process has been almost torturous in some cases.”
Helmly, who took his post in May 2002, said he was frustrated that “one area I’ve been unable to influence in any successful way is the mobilization process.
“It remains a really industrial-age, monolithic process that is anything but smooth, anything but responsive,” he said, recalling a Texas maintenance company that was preparing to report to its mobilization station when its orders were canceled.
“And it wasn’t like, ‘cancel it a month in advance,’ it was like, ‘boom,’” Helmly said.
And “this particular unit, I could recreate a hundred times over,” he said.
Helmly’s criticism of the Pentagon’s mobilization policies date back to a leaked memo dated Jan. 6, 2005.
In that memo, which was written to other military leaders, Helmly said the Army Reserve were “rapidly degenerating into a ‘broken’ force” because of “dysfunctional” management and mobilization policies.
Helmly said the memo “was never intended for public consumption,” and that while the Army Reserve has challenges, “we have not lost the capability to regenerate ourselves.”
Nevertheless, Helmly said, a lot of the requests for change he outlined in the memo have not been adopted, including changes to the mobilization policy.
“We’ve not changed the process,” he said. “What we’ve learned to do is learned how to endure the pain.”
Helmly’s last day as head of the Army Reserve is May 19.
He said he plans to take leave this summer before beginning his August appointment as chief of the Office of Defense Representative-Pakistan at the United States Central Command, Pakistan, a position for a major general.
Although Helmly had to agree to the highly unusual step of removing his third star in order to accept the job, he did so “proudly,” he said.
“I’m not terribly rank conscious,” Helmly said. “I’ve probably stepped on a few people’s toes around here because I’m not terribly rank conscious, and so be it.”
Besides, he said, working in the Pentagon “has its share of frustrations.”
It can be “a challenge [to feel] like you’re really contributing, sometimes, to the efforts of our country,” Helmly said.
The Pakistan job “is an opportunity to close out my time in the Army … with a taste in my mouth of having participated in more direct way.”