The Army Reserve at 100

By Brown, John S. | Army, April 2008 | Go to article overview

The Army Reserve at 100


Brown, John S., Army


April 23 marks the 100th anniversary of Senate Bill 1424, which authorized a small reserve corps of medical officers to be called to the colors in times of emergency. From this tiny seed grew the Army Reserve, an essential component of our national defense through a century of war and peace. From its beginning, the Army Reserve has both illustrated and advanced issues as old as the republic. What should be the relationship between citizens who don the uniform on occasion and citizens who are soldiers by profession? By extension, what should be the relationship between the militia and the standing Army? How can the public best be mobilized to support our soldiers? Understandably, answers to these questions have changed with time and circumstance.

The Founding Fathers were generally suspicious of professional soldiers, seeing them as instruments of the tyranny they fought so hard to escape. Well-regulated militia seemed to them more reliable as defenders of freedom. Well before 1908, this prejudice against professional soldiers had reversed itself, fueled by the dominance of West Pointers as senior leaders in the Civil War and thereafter; expectations of professionalism in other lines of work; the increasing complexity of warfare; and enduring military requirements along the frontier and overseas. Within the Army, post-Civil War introspection by such theorists as Emory Upton led to the exaltation of professional status and a corresponding denigration of "militia." Ironically, this very exaltation of professional status opened yet another door for the citizen-soldier. Medical professionals could not be developed or sustained in sufficient numbers in a peacetime Army. Senate Bill 1424 addressed this concern; in little more than a year, 364 men were commissioned in the fledgling Medical Reserve Corps.

By 1908, the United States had emerged as a world power, and the prospect of mobilizations to defend broadening interests forced another round of debate concerning the relationship of the militia to the standing Army.

Uptonians believed the militia-increasingly referred to as National Guard in most states-would require substantial retraining upon federalization were they to stand up to a modern opponent. They also believed Regular Army units should be expansible, designed to readily absorb substantial enlisted "fillers." National Guard and Regular Army units alike would benefit from a ready supply of individual Reservists trained to federal standards, as would Reserve divisions that were skeletal or did not yet exist.

During World War I, camps for training junior officers evolved from a civilian preparedness initiative into the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), feeding the Officers' Reserve Corps (ORC). During World War II, the ORC fielded 200,000 commissioned officers at its peak and dominated the Army's intermediate officer ranks. A study of five representative divisions, for example, established that 52 percent of the lieutenant colonels, 82.5 percent of the majors and 70 percent of the captains were Organized Reservists. In another such division, 62.5 percent of the battalion commanders and 84.5 percent of the company commanders were Organized Reservists.

The World War II success of the Organized Reserve in supplying talented individuals was not mirrored in supplying combat-ready units. Early deploying Regular Army units generated huge demands for individual replacements and sucked dry skeletal Organized Reserve units intended as mobilization framework. When these Army of the United States (AUS) divisions subsequently activated, it was with new cadre and draftee enlisted fillers. They related to prewar organizations in name only. All but the earliest deploying National Guard divisions experienced similar, albeit somewhat less devastating, turbulence. By the end of the war, Regular, National Guard and Army of the United States divisions alike consisted of tiny cadres of prewar professional soldiers, somewhat larger contingents of prewar Guardsmen and Reservists, and a great mass of draftees. …

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