Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is the US Army ready to move the Reserve Component from a "strategic reserve" to an "operational force?"

We've all heard it many times now. The US military is in a "persistent state of conflict," and General Casey, the Chief of Staff of the US Army, has said that the Army Reserve will be transitioned from its Cold War legacy of a "strategic reserve" to an "operational force." Why is that? Well - the Army didn't wake up last night and figure this out. The constant callup of Reservists began before our current Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. in the late 1990's Army Reservists were frequently tapped for peacekeeping rotations in the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo when these commitments caused a drain on the resources of the Active Army.
Has the Army thought through the implications of this new policy shift? I don't think so. Is it going to eventually cause an impact on enlistments into the Army Reserve and Army National Guard? I think it will if changes aren't made.
With the Army's current ARFORGEN (Army Force Generation) plan a Reserve Component (Army Reserve or Army National Guard) unit will be called up for one year once every 5 years. If not handled correctly this plan will drive trained Soldiers to retire early or to stop re-enlisting in the Reserve Component.
While most employers are required by Federal law to give a Reservist his job back after a deployment this causes a strain on most companies - and the Reservist. The company must hire a temporary replacement and often train him. Finding the right replacement who's willing to work for only a year can be hard - not to mention the cost of their training. The Reservist can easily lose touch with the requirements of their civilian job during a deployment and must "catch up" when they return. If a Reservist does this too frequently its easy to imagine their employer seeing them in an unfavorable light.

When a Reservist gets activated he and his family's medical expenses are covered by Tricare. Switching medical coverage every 5 years can be painful - especially for the family that has to deal with it when the Soldier is deployed. What if the family lives in a rural location far from Tricare approved doctors?

What about National Guard Soldiers who are already called up more frequently then their Army Reserve counterparts? National Guard Soldiers in California are often called on for fire-fighting and other state related disasters. What employer would want to hire an employee who will be gone every fifth year, two weeks in the summer, and two weeks whenever the fire season happens?

The United States prematurely drew down its Army after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The constant demands on the US military in this era of persistent conflict and global concerns has strained our Active forces. The Army has done the wise thing by reaching into the Reserve Component often to give it a "deeper bench." A conversation must happen soon at the highest levels of our military to reduce the strain on our Reserve Soldiers before the quality of those forces begins to suffer.

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