Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Call for Reserves Is the New Way of US Warfare

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Call for Reserves Is the New Way of US Warfare

Article excerpt

In a way, President Clinton's order to call up thousands of national guard and reserve troops this week is a routine way to bolster US forces in the Balkans.

But it's also a move that says much about the late 20th-century American style of war.

From World War II through Vietnam, the US military depended on large standing forces. Active-duty divisions, wings, and fleets were self-contained units that didn't didn't need aid from weekend warriors. The end of the draft changed everything. For reasons both practical and political, America's all-volunteer military has become utterly dependent on the factory workers, police officers, airline pilots, and even college students who make up the guard and reserves. By ordering them into the war, a US president is necessarily stirring up the opinions of this broad cross-section of America - as well as those of their bosses, customers, friends, parents, siblings, and offspring. "To commit the reserves is to commit the nation," says a defense department official involved in reserves planning. "And because of the impact on communities and employers, it's never done lightly." Relying on reserves has become a tenet of today's American military only in the past decade - and for two reasons. First, after several rounds of post-cold-war downsizing, the armed forces can no longer mount an effective campaign - especially an extended air war - without the reserves, as many as 33,000 of whom could be called soon. Much of the nation's ability to refuel planes in mid-flight, for instance - a crucial part of NATO's air campaign over Yugoslavia - is vested in air national guard units. Then there are the sheer numbers: In 1989, there were 2.1 million active-duty troops and 1.6 million reserve forces. Today the balance is dramatically different - and equal: 1.4 million active-duty and 1.4 million in the reserves. Second, after the public-relations meltdown during the Vietnam War, US military planners deliberately adopted the strategy of relying heavily on reserves. Never again, they vowed, would there be such a chasm between the public and the military elite. Today it's the political leaders who are largely responsible for ensuring such a gap doesn't develop. In time of war, for the nation's reserves this arrangement means a lot of last-minute preparations and talks with family. They've been signing power-of-attorney documents, arranging for someone to pay the bills and water the plants while they're gone, and working out life's other details. After all, they could ship out in as few as 24 hours after getting their orders. And they could be gone indefinitely. Brig Dauber could be one of them. He's a sophomore at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. - and a lance corporal in the Marine reserves. …

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