The U.S. Army Reserve: Transforming While at War-Instilling a Culture of Change

By Helmly, James R. | Army, October 2002 | Go to article overview

The U.S. Army Reserve: Transforming While at War-Instilling a Culture of Change


Helmly, James R., Army


During this time of such profound importance for our nation and our Army, during this time of war, the Army Reserve is responding forcefully and professionally, carrying out its multifaceted responsibilities in the global war on terrorism while simultaneously charting a distinct course in the campaign plan to transform the Army.

Our current situation is not unlike that which faced the U.S. Army a century ago. Then, the United States was a newly emerging world power with global commitments, commitments that included an ongoing overseas guerrilla war. The Army, little more than a frontier-based constabulary throughout the latter half of the 19th century, was engaged in a major transformation to incorporate new technologies and to change itself into a 20th-century force, able to accomplish its ever-evolving global responsibilities, and to be prepared to take on future challenges that the new century was sure to bring.

It was this environment that led to the birth of the Army Reserve. The driving impetus in creating the nation's first federal reserve was the recognition of deficiencies in medical care during the Spanish-American War in 1898. To address these shortcomings, the Medical Reserve Corps was created in 1908. It consisted of medical professionals who accepted reserve commissions and became available for call-up in wartime or during other contingencies, but who would not cut into the Army's lean peacetime funding.

The creation of what would soon become the Organized Reserve and eventually the Army Reserve was a victory for those military visionaries who had long foreseen a need to better harness the patriotism of America's citizen volunteers. These volunteers had always been quick to answer their country's call during time of crisis but needed considerable training.

The consequences of throwing these amateur soldiers into battle without sufficient training, as often happened, resulted in military disaster, such as the Union Army's defeat at First Bull Run in 1861. With the increasing complexity of modern warfare, the training time needed for new soldiers to master warfighting skills increased.

With the newly established Army Reserve, the Army now consisted of three distinctive components, each possessing unique characteristics within the Army culture but all united in a commonality of purpose. The separate strengths and capabilities of the three components combined to form a single force of extraordinary power.

As the Army evolved and transformed in the 20th century, so, too, did the Army Reserve. Eligibility to serve expanded to the enlisted ranks. Reservists were able to serve in an increasing variety of military specialties.

By 1920, congressional legislation-the National Defense Act of 1920-defined the Army as consisting of three components: the Regular Army, the National Guard and the Organized Reserves. It further outlined the organization of the Army, including the formation of Organized Reserve units.

For the remainder of the century, the Army Reserve fulfilled a number of roles as it continually transformed. Army reservists were a trained pool of manpower, often combat-experienced manpower, available to augment the Army in time of crisis, as the Army Reserve did during the Great Depression, World War II, Korea and every other 20th-century conflict. Army Reserve units-such as the pre-World War II Organized Reserve divisions-were used as building blocks for the war-winning combat divisions of World War II. As the Army Reserve evolved into a specialized combat support/combat service support force, the Army Reserve continuously reorganized to augment the Army with both unit capability and individual soldier skills.

Regardless of the many changes that took place throughout Army Reserve history, there were a number of constant values. There was the ever-growing heritage of service to the nation, in peace and war, to which all reservists could claim title. …

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