WASHINGTON — Reserve and National Guard units that leave equipment behind in Iraq and Afghanistan will have to wait more than a year before they get replacement gear, according to the civilian chief of the Reserve components.
Cash to buy the gear is earmarked in the Pentagon’s budget request for next year, as well as the supplemental request for this year’s war spending, Tom Hall, assistant Defense Secretary for Reserve Affairs, told a gathering of reporters Thursday in Washington.
Both requests are now being debated in Congress.
If approved, that money will allow unit commanders “to start resetting … the equipment left behind,” said Hall.
But even if both requests are approved in short order, it will take 12 to 18 months before the new gear shows up, said Hall. And even then, he added, “there are questions about whether that will be enough.”
Most Guard and Reserve units serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have been handing off everything from trucks and Humvees to tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles to follow-on forces.
Hall said the equipment gap between when units return from the war zones and are able to begin training again back in their home station is fueling readiness concerns.
“If you leave your equipment in Iraq,” said Hall, that means, “you don’t have equipment … to train on.”
Asked about the issue during testimony on Capitol Hill, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers noted the same problem.
“There will be a lag time where units are below the desired levels of readiness,” said Myers.
“It also impacts the training of units going forward,” added Myers, explaining that in many cases units now downrange had to cobble together equipment from other units now facing their own deployments.
Also, he said, the equipment shuffle complicates Pentagon promises that troops “will train with the equipment they’re going to use in country.”
Meanwhile, said Hall, the majority of the Reserve components are struggling with recruiting efforts.
“The ground truth on where we stand right now, in first four months of the fiscal year, is that only the Marine Corps Reserve has met its recruiting goals,” said Hall.
Hall said he expects the Army Guard and Reserve in particular “will continue to have a challenging year.”
The Army National Guard is currently at 95 percent of its authorized strength and the Army Reserve has dipped to 97 percent.
When asked about Reserve recruiting, Myers told Congressional leaders Thursday that he was keeping a careful eye on the trends.
“While we ought to be concerned about this, it’s not a time to panic at this point,” Myers told senators. “We’re going to watch this very closely because the last thing we want to end up with is a hollow force.”
To help turn the tide, said Hall, the services have surged an additional 2,300 Guard and Reserve recruiters into communities.
Hall said he’s also backing efforts to offer new enlistment bonuses for as much as $15,000.
“If we can go from $2,400 to $15,000 I think that could make a bit of difference,” said Hall.