December 1, 2010  

A new approach

Using the Army Guard and Reserve as an operational force

Over the past nine years, the performance and conduct of the soldiers in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve have been extraordinary. These citizens enlisted and re-enlisted to serve the nation during a time of war. They willingly transferred between units to fill shortages and deployed in harm’s way. As organizations, the Guard and Reserve have responded to combatant commander’s and Army leaders’ requirements for forces. What started in 1990 as a hesitant call for Guard and Reserve forces in Operation Desert Shield has turned into a routine expectation for even the largest brigade-size units to mobilize and deploy on a total Army timeline. All the Guard and Reserve leaders and soldiers asked was to give them as much notice as possible and the resources to train for their upcoming missions.

During the past nine years, the processes have improved to provide sufficient notice to soldiers, families and employers. Units go to combat with the same equipment as the active Army. Trust and confidence in the war-fighting ability and readiness of Guard and Reserve soldiers, leaders and units is at an all-time high.

Army leaders face decreases in future budgets that could lead to reductions in force structure, resulting in less capability. A likely question will be whether to take the reduction in the active Army, make cuts in the Guard and Reserve forces, or spread the cuts across the total force. If the cuts only affect the active Army, how can the service accomplish its operational, exercise and training commitments?

One option is to use the Guard and Reserve in an operational role. Units and individual soldiers from the Guard and Reserve are ideal for missions and exercises of relatively limited duration, such as less than 60 days. Serving on these missions would have the additional benefit of keeping reserve-component soldiers sharp in their military skills while providing them a high level of satisfaction with their decision to serve in the all-volunteer military.

One concern often heard is that the Guard and Reserve are in danger of being “put back on the shelf” and used only as a “strategic” reserve. This seems unlikely. You have to go back to the end of the Korean War to see to a truly strategic role for the Guard and Reserve.

Most people who were of age at the time can remember National Guard units being used in their state role during the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the Guard and Reserve conducted annual training as part of the Return of Forces to Germany and New Horizons exercises. These exercises provided a meaningful objective for which to train and an opportunity to put that training to use in an operational manner.

Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91 were the first large-scale mobilization of the Guard and Reserve as part of the total force. During that time, the level of trust between the active and reserve components was lower than it is today. The active Army soldiers responsible for certifying their readiness were skeptical and insisted on personally observing the training and verifying individual soldier and unit readiness. Nevertheless, more than 130,000 Guard and Reserve soldiers mobilized, trained and deployed for these operations. The performance of these soldiers, leaders and units built momentum for higher levels of trust and confidence.

In the early 1990s, the Army downsized and the Guard and Reserve competed with each other and active Army units for relevant missions. These missions included theater engagements and institutional support. Again, Guard and Reserve units were mobilized for real-world operations in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. With each mission and each year, confidence in the ability of Guard and Reserve soldiers and unit leaders increased.


The challenge is funding this operational role. For over 30 years, the majority of Guard and Reserve units have been funded for, and trained, one weekend per month and two weeks per year. While this funding and training pattern sustained a constant level of readiness, it is not compatible with the current process of Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN). Under ARFORGEN, Army units start a multiyear cycle (currently five years for Guard and Reserve units) with a focus on individual training and low expectations of collective readiness, and therefore fewer resources. The expectations — and resources — build to a final year of high readiness in all areas (training, equipment on hand, personnel, etc.).

The ARFORGEN approach is different from the tiered readiness funding construct that the Reserve experienced in the 1990s. Under tiered readiness, each unit was assigned to a tier and their resources corresponded to that tier. Lower-tiered units were seldom resourced beyond providing for the basics. However, funding for Reserve units, regardless of tier, still provided enough funding to pay soldiers for one weekend per month and two weeks of annual training. With ARFORGEN, units in all components will see progressive increases in resources (beyond pay for soldiers to train) until their available year in which they deploy to an operation or security commitment. They could also perform a meaningful support mission or exercise such as:

• Exercise with a partner nation or as part of a geographic combatant commanders engagement strategy.

• Humanitarian support, such as an engineering or medical mission in a developing nation.

• Intermittent support to the institutional Army, such as expanding the capacity of basic training during the high-demand summer or ROTC summer support.

• Homeland defense, such as crisis response.

These operational missions very likely reflect the types of future missions that will help maintain readiness while at the same time providing meaningful support for national defense priorities. In the available year of ARFORGEN, Guard and Reserve units and soldiers would be available for operational missions, joint exercises, participation in geographic commanders’ theater engagement commitments, service institutional support and other training. This solution provides the dual benefits of offsetting active-duty requirements while sustaining reserve-component readiness.

Funding to pay Guard and Reserve soldiers to serve on active duty for these missions can come from current resources but requires the Guard and Reserve to change their basic model for routine training. Using the ARFORGEN construct of building readiness progressively over five years, Guard and Reserve units could eliminate annual training and reduce the number of weekend assembly periods in the first two years. The corresponding days (and dollars) would be redistributed to years four and five of ARFORGEN. This redefined model would be in alignment with ARFORGEN, would recognize the increased readiness of soldiers from the prior cycle, would reduce the amount of time soldiers are away from families and employers for routine training and would make better use of funding.

Recent Army investments in facilities, equipment and programs show strong commitment to, and enable the future success of, the Guard and Reserve. However, overreaching by the reserve components or their supporters by insisting on additional resources for short-duration missions can negate all this good and force a complete reassessment of the value derived. Instead of focusing on more from others, now is the time for each organization to look internally at what they can do to improve its own operation and concurrently improve their value. To that end, the Guard and Reserve, as well as the active Army, must always look for ways to reduce their overhead positions and administrative costs.

The terms “operational” and “strategic” have not been helpful in defining or understanding the role of the reserve component today — or for the future. The Guard and Reserve have been performing operational missions for more than 20 years and have proven that with advance notice, a defined mission and sufficient resources they can perform as well as their active-component counterparts. When properly configured, the reserve components are a great value. They have been responsible partners within the Army and have earned a reputation for providing trained and ready units and soldiers for operations that range from combat to headquarters augmentation. As an operational force, Guard and Reserve units can accomplish many necessary missions that are currently conducted by the active Army or are unmet. Restructuring their training construct to align with ARFORGEN will be better for soldiers, families, employers, the Army and the nation. AFJ