Thom Shanker has an excellent article in Sunday's New York Times
discussing the structural issues now facing America's military reserves. (Thanks to Dan Drezner
for the heads up.) Since Sept. 11, nearly 400,000 American military reservists have been mobilized for duties ranging from homeland security to combat in Iraq. (That number double-counts many who have been called up twice — or more) Mr. Shanker's article relays how the reserves have strained under this load, and some of the proposals for change now on the table.
The system for training, equipping, mobilizing and deploying reservists was not ready for the historic increase in call-ups since the Sept. 11 attacks, officials acknowledged. The Guard and Reserves clocked nearly 63 million duty days last year, a fivefold increase from the 12 million duty days recorded annually in the late 1990's. As of Wednesday, 156,236 citizen-soldiers were on active duty, with the vast majority — 130,912 — from the Army National Guard and Reserves. Analysis
That responsibility is expected only to increase. Guard and Reserve members make up approximately 40 percent of the American forces committed in Iraq and Afghanistan today, and Pentagon war planners said this week that the burden assigned to these formerly part-time soldiers is expected to push toward 50 percent in future deployments.
"When you look at the current structure of the Guard and Reserve, I think it's becoming clearer and clearer that it's not sustainable," said Derek B. Stewart, director for military personnel issues at the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress.
"It's very clear that if you're going to sustain the global war on terror, you're going to need to beef up certain specialties," he added, citing in particular military police and intelligence. "And you're going to have to restructure, and definitely take another look at the mix and configuration of what is in the Reserve component and what is in the active component."
Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, which is responsible for more than half a million Army and Air National Guard personnel, was adamant in saying that the Reserves and Guard could sustain the pace and scope required by the current mission.
"We are stretched but we are not broken," General Blum said. "I will tell you that we can sustain this if we do two things: if we give soldiers predictability on when they are going to go and when they are going to come home, and some reasonable predictability on how frequently they will be recalled."
: I have a related piece in the publication process right now, so I'll withhold comment on some of the issues raised by Mr. Shanker's article. But I will reiterate a point that I made on a military list-serv I subscribe to. There are really two ways of looking at this problem. The first perspective sees the glass as half-empty — it focuses on the ways these strains indicate the system is broken. Partisans on both sides of the aisle have made military overstretch an issue because it tends to support their arguments for a larger military, a smaller foreign policy, or some combination of the two. The essence of this argument is that the Pentagon's emergency measures — such as stop loss orders
, mass reserve mobilizations
, and now Individual Ready Reserve callups
— indicate that the force is stretched to its limit. And thus, we must either add large amounts of manpower to the force, or scale back the missions. Taken to its logical end, this argument sometimes concludes that we need to return to the draft.
On the other hand, there is an argument that the glass is half-full. I talked to several Pentagon policy officials and think-tankers last week about this argument, and I am starting to see its credibility. According to this line of thought, the emergency measures cited above are not so much signs of the force breaking, as they are signs of the force working exactly as intended.
That is, we are a nation at war. Our military needs extra personnel now
to fight this war, and probably for the next few years. Thus, it has called up reservists and used additional temporary measures to make ends meet. But when the crisis passes (assuming it does), the military reservists will be demobilized, and the military will contract. Yes, there is some hardship for the reservists who are called up. But, this argument continues, better to call up these reservists who accept the risk voluntarily, than to conscript mass numbers of citizens and compel them to kill or be killed in combat.
Moreover, Pentagon policymakers say (and I agree) that it would be tremendously inefficient and impractical to start a draft when the personnel needs are in the thousands or tens of thousands. A draft, which traces back to Napoleon's levee en masse
, is used when you need to mobilize millions
of young Americans for battle. If that cataclysmic day comes, then our Selective Service system stands ready (in mothballs) to swing into action. But until then, the Pentagon argument goes, it is far more efficient and effective to use reservists.
Where do I come out?
Well, let's stipulate first that effectiveness
matters a whole lot more in combat than efficiency
. Efficiency matters, because taxpayer dollars are not an infinite resources, and because inefficient programs deprive other DoD programs of money. However, effectiveness matters a lot more, because being effective in combat means coming home alive. That said, the current reserve mobilization system is neither effective nor efficient — although it's a whole lot better than a conscription system would be. Our nation needs to get serious about resourcing its reserves if it's going to rely on them as heavily as it has lately. This is a point that I made late last year, while writing
about the medical treatment of reservists in Georgia:
America's reserves have never achieved full equality with their active-duty counterparts. The reservists marooned at Fort Stewart — as well as their reserve brethren around the world — have long suffered from a lack of resources. America gives less to its reserve forces at every step — recruiting, training, deployment, equipment, manning, medical care, even veterans' benefits. In the Army Reserve and National Guard, the nation gets a bargain — trained soldiers with civilian experience who can be called at a moment's notice, but paid for only one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.That's the bottom line.
Even in Iraq, reservists had to make do with less than their active-duty counterparts. Reserve units typically stand last in line for new equipment, behind active-duty Army units and the Marines. National Guard and Army Reserve units deployed to Iraq with radios older than many of their soldiers — radios that could not talk securely with the active-duty units they worked with.
Many reserve units drove into Iraq with cargo trucks that were more than 30 years old. Reservists were also last in line to receive the military's new "Interceptor" body armor, specially designed to stop bullets from an AK-47.
* * *
Winston Churchill once said that reservists were "twice the citizen" because of their dual commitments to civil society and the military. We ask them to lead their lives in the knowledge that they could be called away from home and family on short notice to serve in harm's way. America's military depends on these men and women, and its combat units could not function without them.
Yet, America continues to undercut its reserve units, sending them into combat with equipment intended for other soldiers in other wars. If we expect our reservists to serve as modern-day minutemen, then we must train and equip them as such. We cannot expect them to shoulder as much of the burden as they have if we continue to treat them as second-class soldiers.
If we're going to deploy reservists as combat soldiers and expect the same things from them, then we must give them the same resources as their active duty brethren. That means giving them new weapons, new equipment, adequate training money, adequate training ammunition, and good leadership even before we call them up for duty.
When we do call them, we must quickly push resources in their direction, especially training resources, to make up for the fact that they only get 39 days a year to train. And above all else, we must ensure that reserve sergeants and officers get the leadership training they need to be able to bring their soldiers home alive. To date, we have not done this, and the results have been deadly for too many of our reservists in Iraq. We have to do this better.
Comments from the Field
: Two of my friends who read Intel Dump sent me critical notes this morning regarding this post. Both made extremely good points, and I decided to share one with the rest of my readership. It comes from an active-duty Army infantry officer now serving abroad:
"There is an old saying that the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today. We have been told we are in this war for a generation, etc. If so, you have to think beyond next month, next year, next election. That is what the grand strategists (POTUS, SECDEF, CJCS) are supposed to do. You have to anticipate the unknowable and build in your safety net. The current use of the RC is correct, but we have nothing left on the bench after the IRR and I have not detected anything to correct that. POTUS made a massive error in not pushing for a rolling active force structure build up. We are either at war or we are not. We could have met the numbers in enlistments quite easily at least up until last year and probably still today. We should have added 10-12,000 to the UMR of the Army every year starting in FY 2002. 2-3,000 for the USMC. It takes a lot of time today to put a good unit together. We would today have an additional four or five combat brigades available in the active force and another one to three ready next year."I think that's right.
The early decisions to fight this war on the cheap — and to not prepare or mobilize sufficient numbers of reservists in 2001 and 2002 — are a major source of our problems today. Whether you support this war or not, we are
at war. It takes soldiers, materiel and money to win a war; this is not a time to downsize the military, skimp on mobilizations, or be handing out tax cuts. To win, I think we all must bear some cost, whether directly through service or indirectly through taxes and the burden of supporting a nation at war. We ought not minimize this burden, because doing so will only prolong the effort.
More to follow
on this important issue...