Small Wars Journal

Expanding Our Deep Bench: Possibilities for the Individual Ready Reserve

Sun, 07/16/2023 - 7:46pm

Expanding Our Deep Bench:

Possibilities for the Individual Ready Reserve

Martin N. Stanton

12 June 2023


The Issue:  Resourcing Personnel Replacements In Sustained High Intensity Combat


If the war in the Ukraine has shown us one thing it’s that high intensity conflict over a prolonged period is still possible and it still produces large numbers of casualties.  The US Army has not had to deal with sustained high casualty operations since the Vietnam war.  Critically, the US has no experience replacing sustained casualties in high intensity combat since the advent of the All- Volunteer Force in 1972.  Every conflict since Vietnam has either been too brief to stress the replacement system or of sufficiently low intensity that the volunteer force could still cope with the casualties incurred.

Given the current manning crisis we face the US Army is not in a good position to fight a sustained high intensity conflict.  Immediate tranches of replacements can be taken from hide – either non deployed regular units or activated National Guard ones.  But this isn’t a sustainable solution as it reduces the combat effectiveness of formations we may need.  Ostensibly, we still have the draft and the ability to induct and train conscripts with which to flesh out new units or reconstitute existing ones, but the Selective Service system is creaky will age and it will take time to implement effectively.  We are currently looking for a way to bridge the gap between relying completely on volunteers and integrating concepts from a fully functional selective service system. One way to do so is to expand the Individual Ready Reserve (IIR) and change the nature of service within it.


Todays IIR


Today’s IIR is made up solely of soldiers who have completed their active duty or active reserve time and have been relegated to an inactive status for a designated number of years that varies by individual.  Although these soldiers are subject to recall in times of national emergency, they have no other reporting or training requirements and are not paid.  They represent a “deep pool” of personnel assets, but the pool may not be as deep as all that, nor is it supervised and the actual “readiness’ of its members can vary significantly.


Proposed Changes to IIR service.


To make the IIR a better tool for sustaining the Army in high intensity conflict I recommend we make the following changes to IIR service:


  • Pay / Benefits for IIR Service.


For IIR members with prior service pay ½ the monthly rate for their grade that drilling reservists/guardsmen receive.  For IIR members with no prior service (See below) pay ½ the pay rate for an E-3.   Also explore options for TRICARE Reserve eligibility and educational benefits that could be accrued from IIR Service.  The key thing is to offer some kind of pay/benefits package for IIR members.


  • Make direct service the IRR a recruiting option: 


We can expand the IIR further by allowing people to enlist into it directly. IIR enlistees would go through BCT (10 weeks – roughly to coincide with summer months or school semesters) but not be given further MOS training and then revert to IIR status to serve their full term of enlistment (TBD, suggest 5-8 years).  This form of enlistment could also serve as a halfway house for those young people uncertain about commitment to a full enlistment term of active duty.  It would be a vehicle for those IIR enlistees who develop an interest in serving further an easy way to integrate into the Active or drilling Reserve/Guard force (IE apply for change of status – go to AIT and integrate into new unit).  Limit IIR service as a junior enlistee (E-3) without assigned MOS to a single term of IIR enlistment at the conclusion of which the servicemember either options into further MOS training and integration into a Guard/Reserve unit (or the Regular Army) or receives an honorable discharge from the IIR.  Guarantee that individuals who complete IIR service in this manner will be exempt from a future involuntary recall or draft.


  • Training required for IIR servicemembers.


In exchange for paid status IIR members should be required to adhere to minimum training standards.  These standards will be maintained by reserve Training divisions who’s job it would be to run BCT/OSUT installations during general mobilization.  The training organization would be organized regionally with as many sublocations as possible for IIR member convenience.  The training of IIR members would involve the following:


    • Readiness Muster:  IIR members should be required to muster once a year for a one-week period in order to ascertain physical fitness and to conduct select training (IE Weapons Qual/ NBC etc.).  These weeklong musters should be run by designated regional IIR Readiness Groups and should be available on a sign-up basis for maximum scheduling flexibility and convenience.  It should also be possible for individuals to travel to other locations if a particular course is unavailable.  IIR Members would of course be paid for their muster time roughly equivalent for ½ ADT period for Drilling reservists/Guardsmen.  The readiness muster would be the only required training period annually for IIR members.


    • Voluntary training:  In addition to readiness muster, IIR members should be allowed to take voluntary training in military subjects to a specified maximum of drill credit hours and payment dollars per year.  This training could be in the form of on-line courses or voluntary weekend musters at designated locations.  This training will allow participating IIR members to be placed in more advanced categories upon mobilization.



  • Tie mobilization to declared war only.


The long wars in the first two decades of the 21st century have left a bad impression on the recruiting pool of potential servicemembers.  Potential recruits and servicemembers about to ETS alike are hesitant to serve under leadership they no longer regard as competent.  To coax them to either enlist or continue to serve in the IIR there must be some kind of legal guarantee that the IIR will only be mobilized upon formal declaration of war (not just some state of “emergency”) fully ratified by the legislative and executive branches of government.  This legally binding guarantee would do much to enhance the attractiveness of IIR service.  Nor should it hamstring DOD unduly.  If the nation cannot politically demonstrate the consensus required to declare war, it has no business entering the kind of sustained high-intensity conflict that would necessitate the mobilization of the IIR to begin with.


Selling service in the new IIR:


Service in the new IIR can be promoted as a return to the days of the citizen soldiers who answered their country’s call in the desperate hours of WW2.  Emphasize the legal restrictions on mobilization, the minimal service commitments, and the benefits of service.  Stress that IIR soldiers are a vital part of our nations defense but are only mobilized in the direst of emergencies.  For those who cannot commit to a full enlistment in the Regular Army or the drilling National Guard and Reserve force, this represents another way to serve.


Integrating the IIR into the Active Force during wartime.


            In the event of war mobilized IIR members would be either sent to MOS refresher training (those with prior service) or Advanced Individual training (AIT) for those who do not yet have an assigned MOS.  From there they would be sent to units for integration and collective training.  It must be emphasized that the Army will not send activated IIR reservists as individual replacements into theater but instead will send them as part of formed replacement units that have trained together and will enter combat together.  The time from mobilization to deployment in this regard would likely be six months or longer.  IIR members must clearly understand that they are not “cannon fodder” and will be afforded the same opportunities to reach proficiency and unit cohesiveness as regular troops before being deployed.




            The Army is currently in a recruiting/retention crisis and is facing an increasingly skeptical and wary recruiting pool.  At the same time, we are seeing in realtime that the prospect of long duration high-intensity combat is not a thing of the past.  We need to be looking at ways short of implementing the draft that we can fill our ‘deep bench” of replacements to cover the first year of a high intensity conflict.  Expanding the IIR and modifying its terms of service could be one mechanism to do so.



About the Author(s)

Martin Stanton is a retired Army officer currently residing in Florida.  The opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect any official DOD or USG position.