At 100, Reserve shows operational force
ARLINGTON, Va. — Of all the forces affected by the war on terrorism, few have been affected as deeply as the Army Reserve.
As it reaches its 100th birthday, the Army Reserve is shedding its status as a strategic reserve of available military manpower, and becoming “an operational force and an integral part of the world’s greatest Army,” according to its commander, Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz.
Congress established the forerunner of the Army Reserve, the Medical Reserve Corps, on April 23, 1908. The group of 160 medical officers could be ordered to active duty by the Secretary of War during time of emergency.
Today, the Army Reserve numbers 194,000 soldiers, with an authorized end-strength goal of 205,000, Stultz said.
Planners designed the Army Reserve as a strategic reserve — there just in case the active Army was unable to provide enough boots on the ground.
As a consequence, “We were not highly trained, we were not well-equipped, we were not ready to deploy immediately, but the Army knew our numbers and our locations,” Stultz said.
Reservists joined with the expectation of committing a mere weekend each month, and two weeks in the summer, to soldiering.
They didn’t expect to be called to war “unless World War III broke out and the Russians were coming across the Fulda Gap,” Stultz said.
Sept. 11, 2001, changed all that.
Since then, more than 182,000 Army Reserve soldiers have been mobilized to serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and more than a dozen other countries, with 23,000 currently on active duty, Stultz said.
Of those troops, about 17,000 serve overseas, with 15,000 in Iraq or Afghanistan. Another 6,000 soldiers support homeland defense missions, he said.
And the Reserve, Stultz said, could be even busier in the Pentagon’s new theater: Africa.
“Indicators point to increased Army Reserve requirements in Africa, especially now that Africa Command has been established,” he said.
The Reserve also has to stand ready back in America, where the force provides two-thirds of the Defense Department’s “rapid-response” capabilities for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive attacks.
Changing roleNo mission has had the impact of Iraq, with its 12- and 15-month deployments and often-vicious combat, according to David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization and faculty member at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Operation Iraqi Freedom is “radically” redefining the role of the Reserves in the U.S. military force structure, Segal said.
It is thanks to Iraq, Segal said, that “the role of the Reserve components has been changed from a force in reserve, to one of full participation in overseas operations.”
In January, the congressionally mandated Commission on National Guard and Reserves released a report recommending that the switch from a reserve to an operational force be permanent for the Army Reserve, as well as the National Guard.
The report suggested developing an operational reserve that would be paid, trained and equipped to rotate onto active duty one year of every five or six — the same deployment tempo Stultz advocates.
He is drawing up plans that call for Army Reserve soldiers to spend four years at home, “then, every five years, you’ll be called on to mobilize and use your skill set,” Stultz said. “It might not be for a year — it might be six months, or three. But you’ll go overseas and do something somewhere.”
But critics inside and outside the military say they worry turning the Reserves into an operational Army is a mistake.
Army Reserve soldiers are now faced with the hardships only active-duty soldiers used to face, Segal said: extended family separations; stop-loss policies that keep them from leaving the Army on schedule; and involuntary occupational reclassifications.
Meanwhile, Reservists also face additional stressors, such as trying to keep a civilian career going in the face of those long deployments.
On Dec. 20, 2004, Lt. Gen. Ron Helmly, then chief of the Army Reserve, sent a memo to other Army leaders in which he warned the Reserve “is rapidly degenerating into a broken force.”
Four years later, Stultz said the force he inherited from Helmly “is definitely not broken.”
Army leaders are working to transform and reorganize the Army Reserves from a Cold War legacy force into one relevant to the current fight, Stultz said.
“And you can’t just flip a switch” and fix problems, Stultz said. “It’s a massive effort. We’re 60 to 70 percent of the way there.”
The futureStultz has big plans for what he envisions as the integrated, operational Army Reserve of the future.
It will be a force, he said, where “all soldiers will serve part of their careers on active duty and part of their careers on reserve duty.”
One plan is based on “hard-learned” lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, which showed that soldiers may need skills far beyond today’s military repertoire. Stultz wants the Army to be able to transfer a soldier to reserve status to learn civilian skills.
For example, he said, a soldier might be on reserve status “and working in a city government for four years, because she will return to active duty with the skills necessary to help build cities in countries that need U.S. assistance.”
The Army would find the city job for the reservist, he said.
Stultz also has plans for the Army Reserve to join forces with civilian businesses to provide portable health care and retirement plans.
“The military will contribute to soldiers’ plans when they’re on active duty and their civilian employers will contribute to their plans when they pursue civilian careers,” he said.