The Reserve Component: Trained and Ready? Lessons of History

Article excerpt

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I RECENTLY ATTENDED a change of command for an Army Reserve sustainment headquarters, with one tour as a flagged command in Southwest Asia. The outgoing commander expressed overwhelming satisfaction with his unit's war record and proudly stated he was leaving behind a great unit "trained and ready" for any mission at any time. His successor confirmed this understandable expression of confidence and promised to increase readiness and train to proficiency in accordance with the Army's Force Generation Model and progressive resourcing process (ARFORGEN). This senior logistics command entered the ARFORGEN cycle upon redeployment three years ago. There has been a 70 percent turnover of personnel of all ranks and a 95 percent turnover of key leaders. At the end of the round of speeches, the massed formation shouted out, "Trained and Ready!"

The strategic question for the Army in the second decade of this century, as it faces the challenge of continuing and emerging threats across the full spectrum of engagements under increasingly constrained resources, is whether that "shout-out," "Trained and Ready," is true, partially true, or just plain bravado. To support the demands of a decade-long war, the U.S. Armed Forces, and the Army in particular, have turned to the Reserve Component (RC)--the National Guard and Army Reserve-for direct personnel augmentation to Active Component (AC) units and for the needed capabilities RC units offer from combat to combat service support and from brigade combat teams to dog handlers. With over one million RC soldiers and their units deployed during this period of "persistent conflict," many within and outside the defense establishment have optimistically concluded that the National Guard and Army Reserve are truly a "trained and ready operational reserve force," as opposed to a "strategic reserve force" employed only in periods of dire national emergency and after lengthy post-mobilization training. The expectation is that by reason of vigorously executed pre-mobilization training, these "operational" reserve units no longer require long periods of post-mobilization training, either to prepare for programmed deployments to a theater of war (as a deployment expeditionary force) or for commitment to contingency missions at home and abroad (as a contingency expeditionary force).

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The operational reserve concept is Department of Defense (DOD) policy in DOD Directive 1200.17, "Managing the Reserve Components as an Operational Force." (1) As expressed in the widely circulated "Independent Panel Review of Reserve Component Employment in an Era of Persistent Conflict," dated 2 November 2010, the objective is an RC force that is manned, trained, and equipped for recurrent mobilization and for employment as cohesive units. This is in accordance with the ARFORGEN model, the all-volunteer force, and the citizen-soldier ethos. (2)

This is not the first time nor will it be the last in which the United States seeks to maximize the value of its investment in its Reserve Components. What observations can we distill from the last 100-year history of the mobilization and deployment of Guard and Reserve soldiers for our nation's wars and emergencies as we move ahead to an Operation Enduring Freedom post-conflict environment that remains even more dangerous with the emergence of near-peer military competitors? Must we relearn the lessons of conflicts past? How can we leverage the experience and best practices of a century of Reserve Component training and engagement?

World War I

On the eve of World War I, Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1916, which provided for federal recognition of the National Guard, consisting of 48 state Guard units--some of which had illustrious histories as state militias reaching back to before the American Revolution. With the entry of the United States into its first truly global conflict, many Guard units and soldiers were amalgamated into new division echelons, such as the 42nd Infantry Division--the heralded Rainbow Division--consisting of Guard soldiers from 26 states. …