November 1, 2011  


Give reservists and guardsmen a true path to joint qualification

Active-duty officers have long been required to earn their joint qualifications before pinning on a flag officer’s stars; it’s time to help more reservists and guardsmen do the same.

Over the past decade, the reserve components of the U.S. armed forces have proved their worth as a critical part of the total force. Yet even as reservists and guardsmen participate ever more fully in joint operations, it remains difficult for them to obtain official credit for it. This is more than a point of individual pride; the inequities between the active and reserve requirements for joint qualification prevent the force from fully integrating and making best use of the reserve talent pool. These barriers must be dismantled.

A quarter century ago, the Goldwater-Nichols Act mandated that the secretary of defense create policies similar to the active component for reserve component joint experience and education. More recently, the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves noted that joint experience is essential for an operational force and recommended in its 2008 report that, by 2018, all reserve colonels and Navy captains should be joint qualified to be considered for promotion to flag rank.

Yet no reserve-component service has yet implemented a requirement for such assignment credit for nomination for promotion to general or flag officer. Indeed, joint qualification is not even tracked for reserve flag officers. Best estimates are that hardly any are either joint qualified or even have much recognized joint service, though nearly all these officers have served or can expect to serve in a joint or interagency capacity at some point.

Initial steps have been taken to open at least one path to reserve joint experience credit. Over the past decade, the National Guard has organized a Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ) from the Army and Air Guard command elements in each state and territory. This would seem to create an equivalent path for reserve officers to achieve the same level of joint qualification as their active-component counterparts.

It’s time to create a system to provide credit for this and other joint duty served in reserve billets.

Why Does it Matter?

Why does it matter that reservists and guardsmen can’t get joint qualified based on reserve duty? Ultimately, it hinders the total force by not capturing, then fully using the experience and abilities of reserve officers.

First, a joint-qualification system would properly record the experience gained by officers over the past decade. The reserve officer corps has served extensively in overseas contingency operations and domestic emergencies and is now experienced on par with active-component officers. Reserve joint billets would ensure that suitable credit is given, just as we do for key assignments such as command, deployments and professional military education.

The reserve officer corps has served extensively in overseas contingency operations and is experienced on par with active-component officers.

Second, it would put reserve officers on equal footing with their active-component counterparts in an era when the performance expectations of Congress and combatant commanders are the same for either component. Overseas contingency operations have demanded that all officers bear the responsibility to operate in a joint environment and in joint units. Therefore, all officers should have a realistic means to obtain the joint experience and education needed to become fully qualified.

Third, a reserve joint system would remove a major obstacle in taking advantage of reserve officers as leaders of units and staff officers as they integrate into combatant command theaters of operation. Once joint qualified similarly to active officers, reservists can be fully utilized for operational taskings and be in the wider collection of candidates for key senior leadership positions.

Fourth, it would appropriately give credit for joint and interagency duty specific to the reserve component. Back home, many reservists (guardsmen in particular) routinely serve in joint and interagency environments not otherwise accessible to active-component officers.

How Is the Path Blocked?

Among the requirements for joint qualification is serving a prescribed amount of time in a recognized joint billet. But the roster of such jobs, called the Joint Duty Assignment List (JDAL) and controlled by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, contains very few that are open to field-grade reservists.

Under DoD Instruction 1300.19, the JDAL is permitted to include reserve-component billets. Yet the list actually includes just 15 billets on the National Guard Bureau Joint Staff, and none at Joint Force Headquarters-State level, including no designation for the adjutants general who actually command Air and Army forces.

Because that requirement is essentially closed off, few reservists pursue the other major requirement: the completion of specific professional military education. The ones who do pursue it discover that they must nominate themselves for slots in educational programs and then persuade their commanders to pay for it with unit funds. Lacking the incentive of joint qualification, reservists generally choose to pursue other service demands.

In 1997, the two reserve components of the Army accepted and began to manage the requirement for completion of Army War College for promotion to brigadier general. This resulted in a markedly improved, credible and more capable Army reserve component general officer corps, and Army reserve component leaders now often have a waiting list of officers to attend the War College. A true reserve path to joint qualification would certainly have a similar impact.

Some might say that we already have a reserve joint qualification system. In 2007, the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act created a new Joint Qualification System to reflect the post-9/11 operating environment. The system offers the standard path in which credit is automatically given for service in JDAL billets. It also adds a cumbersome experienced-based path that requires reserve officers to self-nominate their experience to a review board. The system preserves most of the previous inequities in the system and does nothing to remedy the lack of reserve joint billets.

Toward A Solution

One solution is creating a JDAL-like list of reserve-component jobs. As it happens, the groundwork has been laid.

In 2002, DoD Instruction 1215.20 sought to establish a Joint Duty Assignment-Reserve (JDA-R) system to be overseen by the assistant defense secretary for reserve affairs. The JDA-R was intended to be the reserve-component counterpart to the JDAL, but for unknown reasons, the concepts developed in this instruction were never implemented.

There is no shortage of jobs that could be placed on a JDA-R list. Reservists and guardsmen have long served in billets at duty stations where joint, interagency and even coalition forces mix and work together. The past decade of war has provided ample such experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Closer to home, the state-level joint staffs routinely work with other services; local, state and federal agencies; and militaries of foreign countries through the State Partnership Program or other liaison programs. Reserve officers of all services have served on the defense coordination elements assigned to each Federal Emergency Management Agency region. Others serve on counterdrug joint task forces, joint base installation headquarters and in operations with Coast Guard units.

Another category is jobs created under the new dual-status command authority, in which Guard officers are assigned active-duty deputies for complex domestic responses that use active and Guard forces. Dual-status commanders are usually generals assigned to a state Guard force that also oversees the joint staff of the JFHQ-State. The duty comes with specific training requirements and ultimate approval at the Office of the Secretary of Defense-level.

Finally, there are the Joint Force Headquarters-State. In 2003, the adjutants general of the 50 states, territories and the District of Columbia agreed to organize JFHQs in their jurisdictions, using resources from their component headquarters. Such JFHQs are filled with joint, interagency and international duties. Imagine, if you will, a field-grade officer at a JFHQ-State. His day might start with a synchronization meeting with Army and Air staff to assign forces available for domestic operations for the coming year, to be commanded by a state joint task force and carefully deconflicted with training requirements for their federal mission. Then comes an interagency meeting with state-level emergency management and law enforcement agencies; the departments of Health, Natural Resources, Corrections, Agriculture and Transportation; and administration. Topics include budgets, future exercises, plans and recent changes to statutes for emergency responses. Someone from the joint operations center calls: A classified document from the FBI weapons of mass destruction coordinator is in the safe for review. Then a call is returned to U.S. Southern Command to discuss the bilateral affairs officer to the state’s partner country overseas, followed by drafting an email update to the director of the joint staff on a recent planning conference attended in Canada with a partner brigade.

If this is the kind of activity that takes place at state JFHQs, why aren’t reservists and guardsmen getting automatic credit for it?

Last January, the Defense Department recognized the JFHQ-State (DoD Instruction 5105.83) as a path for eligibility for joint qualification for personnel in approved billets. But this recognition means little so long as none of the officer billets at the HQs are designated as fulfilling the requirements for joint qualification.


The solution is straightforward:

• Validate and resource a joint manning document for each state’s Joint Force Headquarters and other reserve units for full implementation by the end of 2013. Without a joint manning document there is no foundation for JDA-R billets to be built.

• Complete the JDA-R list as a partner to the JDAL. This list should include positions at Joint Force Headquarters-State and all other appropriate reserve units with a recommended tour of 24 to 36 months for joint credit.

• Write an instruction or directive to communicate these new requirements to the officer corps of the reserve component.

• Establish in law the requirement for all reserve component officers to be joint qualified before being considered for promotion to flag rank.

Reserve components are expected to be part of the operational force into the foreseeable future. The creation of a reserve component joint duty qualification system will greatly increase the ability of midgrade and senior leaders to contribute in interagency and joint operations, at home and abroad. AFJ