DOD planning ways to make Guard, Reserves more responsive, flexible
August 20, 2003
STUTTGART, Germany — Plans are being made to make the National Guard and Reserves more responsive and flexible to the United States’ defense needs.
Possible changes include more intensive training and stateside drills, and a rebalancing of jobs so that a small percentage of guardsmen and reservists is no longer relied on to do most of the work.
At the same time, Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, said he wants to prevent the best of the Reserves from getting burned out and leaving the service.
“My biggest concern,” Hall said Monday, “is that if we overuse the Guard and Reserve — mobilize the same people two, three, four times — we might lose the support of the employers and families, and we might have recruiting and retention problems.”
Hall, who is visiting Guard and Reserve troops during a tour of Europe, told Stars and Stripes that he is preparing a plan for Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld on the future of the nation’s part-time troops.
“By the end of September we want to have compiled as many of the lessons learned since the mobilization after [Sept. 11, 2001],” Hall said.
Guardsmen and reservists are civilians who train part-time but can be called into full-time duty to support U.S. military operations.
Guardsmen are generally given combat roles, such as with artillery units. Reservists usually perform support duties in areas such as transportation, maintenance and supplies.
Hall said one option is to disband the “weekend warrior” habit of training for one weekend per month and two weeks during the spring or summer.
“Why not combine some of those drill schedules together?” Hall said. “You could go 20 days in a row, do a lot of your drills and get a lot of your training done that you couldn’t do in only two days — kind of a flexible drill schedule.
“It would be depending on your schedule and your employer,” said Hall. Many people might prefer to meet their service obligation during one larger time frame, spanning several weeks, than one weekend every month, he added.
There are currently 186,000 guardsmen and reservists on active duty around the world, said Hall, a retired Navy rear admiral. He declined to say how many were in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“They’re everywhere,” Hall said. “They’re contributing to all operations and not just Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Hall said the National Guard and Reserves for years have been geared to support a Cold War-style battle pitting large numbers of troops against each other.
That led to some shortcomings in the deployments since Sept. 11. Troops were slow to mobilize. The same ones — air traffic controllers, security forces, morticians and others — were being used over and over.
For example, in June 2002, members of the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard were called up to guard U.S. bases in Germany.
They returned home in November, but some members were called up again in January and sent to Bosnia and Herzegovina. They returned home in April and May only to be tapped again in July for guard duty in Kosovo.
Hall said that since Sept. 11, only about 18 percent of the nation’s 1.2 million guardsmen and reservists have been mobilized for active duty.
“About 80 percent have not been used,” he said. “We have to take a look at the people who have not been used and see what they’re doing.”
Most guardsmen and reservists like their jobs, Hall said. He said a recent survey showed 78 percent planned to re-enlist, compared with 79 percent who were surveyed three years ago.
“The primary thing they look for is predictability,” Hall said. “‘When will we be mobilized? How will we be used? What will be our mission in 4 to 5 years? Can you give us a rotation plan?’”
Rumsfeld has asked for a rotation plan, Hall said.
Hall said that the role of guardsmen and reservists in Iraq has not been determined. Contractors will likely do some jobs and troops from other nations will do others.
The U.S. military will fill in the gaps, he said.
“Will those jobs be best-sourced by active duty [personnel] or by Reserves?” Hall said. “It’s a little premature to say, for instance, that there’ll be 5,000 guardsmen and reservists there over the next two years.
“We have to determine the requirement and then decide how we [staff] that.”
Better balance, better training
Some of the lessons learned by the National Guard and Reserves since Sept. 11, 2001, according to Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs:
¶ Mobilization of National Guard troops and reservists is too slow. They need to be ready for full-time duty in a few days, not in weeks or months.
¶ Stateside training and drill schedules need to be changed to better prepare troops for quick call-ups.
¶ A small percentage of guardsmen and reservists is being called up too often, while the large majority has not been called up at all. The roles within today’s Guard and Reserve need to be rebalanced to better accommodate today’s needs.