Small Wars Journal

Maintaining the Operational Reserve

Sat, 01/16/2016 - 12:50pm

Maintaining the Operational Reserve

Brad Striegel

“I don't think you in the United States could produce a well-trained National Guard Division fit to leave this country and go and fight a good enemy under about 5 or 6 months. I don't believe you could do it. I put that question in Washington to various high-level people that I was discussing with and they agreed. To get mobilized, trained—you see it's training that counts when you go fighting—you must be trained.  And then to go fight somebody it would take about 5 or 6 months. And that's no good.  While you are training you lose the war.”

-Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, then, Deputy SACEUR, speech to the Army Command and General Staff College Class at Fort Leavenworth, KS, 1 April 1953

Since the initiation of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in 2001 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2003 National Command Authorities (NCA), consisting of the President and the Secretary of Defense, has mobilized significant numbers of Army’s Reserve Component (RC) forces in both the Army National Guard (ARNG) and the U.S. Army Reserve (USAR).  This persistent use of RC forces is referred to as the Operational Reserve (OR).  For the last several years there has been much debate on what the OR is, or is not, as well as its role in current and future operations.  While this paper will attempt to look objectively at the issues and concerns of the OR, its ultimate intent is to postulate that the Army's RC forces should continue to serve as an OR with readiness and experience maintained as follows:  first, keep RC mobilization to dwell time at 1:5 ratio during peace time or periods of low intensity conflict; second, rotate ARNG brigade combat teams (BCT) and other RC units either as deterrence forces or to augment/relieve Active Component (AC) forces; third, increase the number and activity of AC and RC units in the Total Force Partnership Program; fourth, scrutinize the development and utilization of Multi-Component Units; and fifth, emphasize tough and realistic training and unit administration.


“On 27 February 1942, the first elements of the 27th Infantry Division boarded ships headed for Hawaii, making it the first division to go to the Pacific after Pearl Harbor and the longest wartime overseas serving National Guard unit of the war.”

 - Sharon Tosi Lacey, “Pacific Blitzkrieg”

The Army’s Reserve Components are an integral part of Army operations at home and abroad and have been since their inception. Combined with their AC counterparts, these forces constitute the Total Army.  The last 14 years of conflict has shifted the RC from a Strategic Reserve (SR) to an OR.  This shift has led to discussions in defense circles on what the OR is.  Joint Publication 1-02 defines the OR as, “An emergency reserve of men and/or materiel established for the support of a specific operation.”[1]  Department of Defense Directive 1200.17 states that, “The RCs provide operational capabilities and strategic depth to meet U.S. defense requirements across the full spectrum of conflict. In their operational roles, RCs participate in a full range of missions according to their Services’ force generation plans.  Units and individuals participate in missions in an established cyclic or periodic manner that provides predictability for the combatant commands, the Services, Service members, their families, and employers. In their strategic roles, RC units and individuals train or are available for missions in accordance with the national defense strategy. As such, the RCs provide strategic depth and are available to transition to operational roles as needed.”[2]

To paraphrase this, the Department of Defense (DoD) recognizes both a SR and an OR that exist simultaneously.  The OR utilizes smaller, pre-planned mobilization cycles of select RC units across the range of military operations (ROMO) while use of the SR is less predictable and is rarely used but for dire, large-scale contingencies, like full mobilization for world war. While DoDD 1200.17 only mentions the RC only supports national defense strategy in its strategic role, the fact is both the SR and the OR support national defense strategy and provide more military options to NCA.  Some advocates of the OR have stated we cannot, or should not, go back to a SR but the reality is the SR is an enduring capability while smaller elements of the SR are utilized in the form of the OR.  Figure 1 below visually depicts the simultaneous existence of the SR and the OR juxtaposed to the 7 Army Warfighting Functions and the ARFORGEN process.

The OR is often thought of as a new application of RC forces but the OR is actually older then America itself. Official USAR history puts the birth of the OR in 1990,[3] however, based on the RC’s historical utilization it can be argued RC utilization as an OR goes back as far as 1636 when the colonial American militia, the predecessor of the ARNG, fought in the Pequot Indian war. Since then, “The ARNG has fought in every American present combat in Afghanistan and has mobilized more than 500,000 soldiers for federal missions since Sept. 11, 2001.[4]  The ARNGs Domestic Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) is also another use of the OR that is documented as far back to the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.[5]    

The USAR’s birth as a Federal Reserve force, “traces it’s...establishment by Congress in 1908 under the designation of the Medical Reserve Corps which created a pool of medical personnel that were recruited from the civilian sector and available for call up to active duty when needed.”[6]  The National Defense Authorization Act of 1916 then expanded the USAR. In that year, “…the infant [Federal] Reserve was mobilized for the first time as part of the expedition into Mexico led by Brigadier General John J. Pershing to pursue Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa.  Approximately 3,000 reservists participated in that operation.”[7]  This is one of the first major uses of the USAR as an OR for combat operations.  The inter-war years were a time of budget cuts and a much smaller Army.  However, there was opportunity for the OR under the New Deal programs of the Great Depression.  One of these, “the Civilian Conservation Corps, placed young men in barracks and military-style organizations to work in national forests and other outdoor projects. Between 1933 and 1939, more than 30,000 Army Reserve officers served as commanders or staff officers at the 2,700 conservation corps camps.”[8]  This is one of the earliest utilizations of the USAR as a peacetime OR for DSCA.  Most notably, the last 14 years of persistent conflict have seen, “more than 300,000 Army Reserve Soldiers mobilized and routinely deployed across the globe, to include every major combat zone.”[9]

“Boots on Ground” to Dwell Time

“The Reservist is Twice the Citizen”

–Winston Churchill

In November 2003, Army Reserve Civil Affairs Captain Steve McAlpin and 16 other soldiers from the Army Reserve’s 401st Civil Affairs Battalion received nationwide media attention when they refused to sign a waiver that would put him and other members of the 401st, “back in a combat zone after 11 months at home.”  McAlpin questioned the legality of the waiver stating the military should, "honor soldiers that have gone already" by giving them "a break from the hazards of combat."[10]  As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq became enduring commitments for RC forces, the mobilization issues of RC soldiers like Captain McAlpin became more commonplace among RC personnel.  Reserve Component personnel were, and still are, being mobilized under Partial Mobilization authority that is stipulated under Title 10 United States Code, Section 12302. Partial Mobilization requires a Presidential Declaration of National Emergency and it authorizes the mobilization of up to 1,000,000 reservists to active duty for not more than 24 months of consecutive months.  

To address the growing issue of RC mobilization time, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued guidance in January of 2007 that specified the amount of dwell time RC personnel should have at their home station before they could be mobilized again.  The memorandum entitled “Utilization of the Total Force” established that for every one year RC personnel were involuntarily mobilized they would be demobilized for five years. This provided a “Boots on Ground” (BOG) to dwell time ratio of 1:5 for all RC personnel.  However, the memorandum also states that the 1:5 BOG/dwell ratio is a “goal” and that “global demands will require a number of selected Guard/Reserve units to be mobilized sooner than this standard.”[11]  This policy effectively made the 1:5 BOG/dwell ratio a “red line” that would only be broken by exception.  While the ideal BOG/dwell ratio is debatable, combatant commander requirements and the size of the Total Army certainly affect BOG/dwell. To address the BOG/dwell issue Congress directed the Defense Science Board to establish a Task Force to study the “Deployment of Members of the National Guard and Reserve in the Global War on Terrorism.”  The Task Force published their results in September 2007 and found that, “discussions with representatives of the National Guard, the reserves, employers, family members, and the state governors demonstrated a consensus that 1:5 dwell time would satisfy their needs for predictability and sustainability.”  However, the Task Force also noted that, “Given current [2007] levels of operational demand, today’s Army active, National Guard, and reserve force structure will not support DoD’s policy mandating dwell times of one year deployed and two years not deployed (1:2) for the active force and one year mobilized and five years not mobilized (1:5) for the reserve components.”[12]  With this finding, the Task Force indirectly reinforced Gates’ guidance that the 1:5 BOG/dwell ratio would be broken if the situation requires it.

The Task Forces findings illustrate that the size of Total Army force structure, coupled with combatant commander requirements, will ultimately determine how many and how long RC personnel will be mobilized.  During times of global conflict like World War II, RC personnel, like their AC comrades, were mostly conscripts who generally remained mobilized and deployed until the war was won or they became seriously wounded or ill.  Since the inception of the All Volunteer Force, RC soldiers voluntarily join the ARNG and the USAR for many reasons, including the adventure aspect.  However, their voluntary status as RC soldiers indicates they generally do not want the higher operations tempo of AC soldiers.  Captain McAlpin’s action exemplifies this mindset.  Reserve component soldiers have civilian careers or full time civilian education they must balance with their military commitment. This is why during peacetime or times of low intensity conflict, NCA should strive for a 1:5 BOG/dwell ratio. This ratio allows RC personnel time to attend to their civilian careers and civil schooling while also serve their country.  The 1:5 BOG/dwell ratio also allows RC units and individual personnel to maintain a higher degree of proficiency and helps avoid a “cold start” for any potential RC force applications to current and future operations.  However, the RC must realize that if the AC maintains a 1:2 BOG/dell ratio then it is less likely RC forces will be mobilized as an OR due to budget constraints and additive mobilization costs.     

Rotating RC Units as Deterrence Forces or to Augment AC Forces

“When you want to do battle, muster all your force, not neglecting any of them; a battalion sometimes decides a battle.”

-Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

As the Total Army continues to drawdown to 980,000 soldiers, and possibly 920,000 soldiers, the utilization of RC forces as an OR becomes more critical to support our national defense strategy. The Army’s drawdown provides RC forces the best opportunity to maintain an OR with a higher degree of readiness as combatant commanders continue to submit Requests for Forces (RFF) to meet their operational requirements.  U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) exemplifies such opportunities. The new security dilemma that USAREUR must address with fewer AC forces stationed there represents an opportunity to rotate RC forces as either a deterrent or augmentation forces to AC forces in USAREUR.  Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in August of 2014 caused U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) to initiate a new European deterrence mission called OPERATION ATLANTIC RESOLVE (OAR).  The purpose of OAR is to, “demonstrate solidarity with our NATO allies, such as augmenting the air, ground and naval presence in the region, and enhancing previously scheduled exercises.”[13] Not only does USAREUR have fewer AC troops but it also does not have any assigned Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ABCTs) to support the deterrence mission.  “USAREUR has reduced from more than 213,000 Soldiers in 1989 to a current force of about 29,000 and is focused on the 51 countries in U.S. European Command’s area of responsibility, including Russia, Turkey, Israel and the Caucasus.”[14]  As a result of these reductions, the only maneuver units that remain assigned to USAREUR are the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment and the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne).  To fill USAREUR’s ABCT capability gap the Army now rotates AC ABCTs from the Continental United States (CONUS) to USAREUR. The problem with this is that there are only 9 ABCTs in the AC and they are all committed due to their status in the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) Process. The Army currently rotates one ABCT to Europe, one to Kuwait and one to the Republic of South Korea. Concurrently, three additional ABCTs are in the ARFORGEN Train/Ready phase and preparing to replace the three ABCTs already deployed, while the last three ABCTs are in the ARGORGEN Reset phase.  This situation presents little flexibility for NCA should a contingency arise requiring multiple AC ABCTs on short notice and this shortage of AC forces in USAREUR led its Commanding General, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, to proclaim, “I’ve got to get as much of the Guard and Reserve as we can.”[15]                                                                  

One solution to mitigate the AC ABCT issue is to consistently rotate ARNG ABCTs into the three current worldwide Army ABCT commitments. The ARNG has seven ABCTs that could be deployed and utilized as an OR. Utilization of the ARNG’s ABCTs for pre-planned rotational requirements helps sustain the experience RC soldiers have gained in the last 14 years of war and also provides a degree of relief for the AC ABCTs. In addition to rotating ARNG units to Europe, USAREUR has its own assigned USAR force, the 7th Mission Support Command (7th MSC), which can be utilized for operational requirements. Unlike the ARNG, the USAR is a Title 10 Federal force, which allows NCA to assign USAR units overseas. Most of the USAR soldiers in the 7th MSC are expatriates with civilian jobs in Europe.  The 7th MSC “has nearly 1,000 Soldiers assigned to 22 reserve units, stationed throughout Germany and in Vicenza, Italy.”[16]  These RC soldiers could be utilized operationally in either Annual Training (AT) status or mobilized for active duty.  However, one of the issues in utilizing the OR is getting mobilization authority. Only NCA can authorize mobilization of RC forces and a named operation must exist for RC mobilization to occur. OPERATION ATLANTIC RESOLVE is not a DoD named operation. The USAREUR Commanding General recently highlighted this issue by stating, “You get a formally named operation, you move up in priority for resources, for funding, access to the reserve component, those kinds of things.”[17]  In lieu of mobilization authority to access RC forces, RC forces can only be used operationally in AT or Inactive Duty Training (IDT)”drill” status.  While this method generally provides no more than 39 days of active duty training, 15 days of AT and 24 days of IDT, it can still be effective.  In the summer of 2015 the ARNG deployed and rotated numerous elements of Tennessee’s 194th Engineer Brigade and Alabama’s 877th Engineer Battalion while in AT status to Eastern Europe to support OAR. These ARNG units worked on infrastructure projects for their AT. Additionally those same ARNG units are aligned to the countries they worked in through the ARNG’s State Partnership Program (SPP).[18]  The 7th MSC’s subordinate 451st Civil Affairs Battalion also conducted a Humanitarian Civic Assistance mission in support of the ARNG engineers’ SPP construction activities in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Georgia with only two and a half weeks’ notice.  These RC soldiers demonstrated the speed, agility and capability of the OR in AT status.[19]  Reserve Component support to Europe continues to grow.  “More than 10,000 National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers will cycle through Europe in the year ahead, nearly double the number last year. For now, funding for rotations is aided by the European Reassurance Initiative, a $1 billion annual program that has enabled the Pentagon to bolster its activities across the Continent, with a special focus on Eastern Europe.  Military leaders say such funding must continue to maintain the pace of rotations and exercises in Europe, all designed to reassure allies and act as a deterrent to potential adversaries”[20]  By rotating RC units into current operational requirements in AT status in lieu of mobilization, RC readiness can still be enhanced by participating in training they cannot get at home station while simultaneously meeting combatant commander requirements.  

Emphasize the Total Force Partnership Program (TFPP)

Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”

-Alexander the Great

In September of 2012, Secretary of the Army John McHugh published Army Directive 2012-12, Army Total Force Policy (ATFP)    in order to, “ensure that the Total Force is organized, trained and sustained, equipped and employed to support combatant commander requirements as force packages tailored to achieve anticipated objectives.” In support of this policy, Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) subsequently published its interim guidance on ATFP by establishing the TFPP.  FORSCOM defines success of the TFPP as, “increased Total Force collaboration, partnership, and team work; increased multi-component integrated training; and streamlined pre-deployment coordination resulting in maximized levels of trained and ready forces generated at minimized costs.” The TFPP creates partnership alignments between AC and RC forces to plan and integrate training events together as one Total Force. The TFPP has no specific funding assigned to it and its underlying intent is to build a collaborative training network between the AC and RC components.[21]

Partnering RC units with AC units is a great opportunity for Army leaders to enhance the OR, however, the TFPP concept is not entirely new and it has progenitors that followed the Total Force Policy established by DoD in 1973. Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger stated that the “Total Force Policy integrates the Active, Guard, and Reserve Force into a homogeneous whole.”  In support of the Total Force Policy an affiliation program was, “approved in 1973 as a way to improve RC readiness by fostering stronger relationships between AC and RC units.”   The Chief of staff of the Army at the time, General Creighton Abrams, also implemented the Roundout Strategy, which aligned ARNG maneuver brigades as the third maneuver brigade to AC Army Divisions.  To further enhance readiness of the RC units, “the Army also gave the roundout brigades higher priority to receive modernized weapons and equipment.” In 1979 the Army launched the CAPSTONE program which aligned AC with RC units and where, “Each reserve unit was designated a wartime chain of command, probable wartime mission, and probable area of employment.”[22] General Dennis Reimer later established the WARTRACE program in 1995, which superseded the CAPSTONE program.[23] The roundout concept itself was judged as at least a partial failure when 3 ARNG maneuver (roundout) brigades were activated for OPERATION DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM and could not be validated as combat ready and deployed before the war ended. Congress responded to this roundout brigade issue by establishing Title XI of the National Defense Authorization Act in 1993, “which mandates the number of AC personnel to be assigned to support RC training, among other provisions designed to improve RC readiness and training.”[24]  Title XI is not a panacea that solves all RC readiness issues. The FORSCOM interim guidance that establishes the TFPP is evidence of this.  However, such policy directives also have their limits.  This is why the TFPP must be ingrained at all echelons in the Total Army regardless if such partnerships are specified on paper. Army leaders in all components and at all echelons must initiate partnerships wherever and whenever possible. A recent joint exercise conducted at Fort Bragg in August 2015 exemplifies such initiative.  The North Carolina National Guard planned and executed a joint collective training exercise called CAROLINA THUNDER that aptly demonstrated how the TFPP could be enabled. Over 900 service members, including those from the North and South Carolina National Guard, the 82nd Airborne Division and the 3rd Special Forces group, trained over a 3-day period utilizing rocket artillery and numerous Army aviation platforms.[25]  Although the AC and RC units involved CAROLINA THUNDER were not aligned on paper, the collaborative and decentralized approach to planning the exercise, along with the initiative and cooperative spirit of all Army leaders involved, shows that quality Total Army training can be done in a fiscally constrained environment.  Leadership, initiative and persistent collaboration is key to the success to the TFPP. Army leaders at all echelons must not wait to be told what to do regarding AC/RC partnering but must get out and develop relationships with their Total Army partners without being specifically told to do so.  The bottom line is ALL AC and RC SOLDIERS, REGARDLESS OF RANK, MUST ACT AS ATFP COORDINATORS in the same way that all soldiers are shooters and sensors in any operational environment.  Active Component Company grade officers and enlisted personnel should be researching who the RC company grade officers and enlisted personnel are in their local area.  The conduct of each soldier in Total Army, from the team level to Department of the Army, will determine the fate of the TFPP.  The Army needs move away from its centralized “Command” hierarchy and move to a “Team” network like Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) did in the last several years to counter Al-Qaeda.  To paraphrase French vice-admiral Villenuve comment on decentralized control and success Admiral Horatio Nelson’s British fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, “Every Captain in the Army needs to be a Nelson” if the TFPP is going to be a success.  Each and every soldier needs to be talking to each other and building their personal ATFP networks…they must build their “Team of Teams.”[26]  Otherwise, the TFPP will wither and vanish into obscurity like its CAPSTONE and WARTRACE predecessors.    

Scrutinize Multi-Component Units

“We tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

 – Charlton Ogburn, author of “Merrill’s Marauders” and former Marauder

Multi-Component Units, or MCUs, have recently become the subject of significant force structure initiatives in the Army.  A subcommittee on The National Commission on the Future of the Army (NCFA) recently stated, "The Operational Subcommittee believes the most important role of MCUs is to foster integration of the Total Force."[27]  When discussing MCUs it’s important to know what an MCU is composed of and how they are organized and resourced.  “An MCU is made up of sub-units from two or three manned components, with one component designated as the "flag" holder. The intent of the MCU initiative concept is to integrate, to the maximum extent within statutory and regulatory constraints, resources from more than one component into a cohesive fully capable Army unit. Its purpose is to enhance the integration of the Army’s manned components, improve the resource and readiness posture of the Army by eliminating cadre-level organizations, optimize the  capabilities of each participating component, and improve Army documentation procedures by allowing previously separately documented units to be combined into a single MTOE, AUGTDA or TDA document.”  Nominations for MCU’s can be submitted by any of the 3 Army components.  However, an MCU “must contain an AC element and be mutually beneficial for all resourcing components.”  The resourcing/organizational options for an MCU consist of three configurations:  The first configuration is an organic unit structure, which allows a component to resource a separate unit element such as a company, a battalion or a brigade.  The Round- out brigades are an example of this configuration; the second configuration is a separate and non-organic unit structure which consists of specific individual MTOE authorizations in units at battalion level or higher that are resourced by different components; the third configuration is a hybrid of the first two configurations.[28]

The most recent Army MCU initiative is the division and corps headquarters MCU pilot program.  The 18th Airborne Corps headquarters converted to a MCU in March of 2015 while the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) headquarters converted to a MCU on June 2015.  The main driving force behind the division/corps headquarters MCU is cost savings. In February 2014, “CSA directed U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) to lead an Operational Planning Team (OPT) to examine options for creating an RC “plug” for the Corps/Division headquarters to offset AC reductions.  Earlier guidance from November 2012 also directed the Army to, “Find ways to reduce AC end strength without reducing quality or quantity of capabilities.[29]  While this reduces resources for the AC it increases resource requirements for the RC.  The justification for the division/corps headquarters MCU is arguably flawed as recognized by the NCFA operational subcommittee November of 2015 who “warned the Army against using multicomponent units solely for the purpose of achieving active-component "savings" in end strength.”  Any AC “savings” in the division/corps MCU is also offset to some degree by a cost to the RC who has to source the additive MCU requirement. How effective the division/corps MCU will be remains to be seen but a similar MCU initiative conducted by U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) in 2014 to convert AC Theater Sustainment Command headquarters to MCUs proved so problematic it was abandoned.  Interestingly, the much larger and more complicated division/corps MCU effort continues.

Two major limiting factors in all MCUs are training access and mobilization authority of the RC personnel.  With the exception of full time support personnel like Active/Guard Reserve (AGR) soldiers, the part time soldiers assigned to the MCU are still only required to perform no less than 39 training days, including weekend drills.  Senior Army leadership has advocated for more RC training days but adding more training days is bereft with issues.  First, there is an increase to the base budget for the RC, who is already being forced to cut resources due to sequestration.  Second, more RC training days will cause even more conflicts with the civilian careers, civilian education and family life activities of RC personnel.  The end result could have a disastrous effect on RC recruiting.  Only a small portion of RC soldiers can train significantly above and beyond the regulatory training requirements and the USAR and ARNG both budget for a small amount of extra training days for RC soldiers.  However, civilian employers may be less likely to hire RC soldiers if they give less attention to their civilian careers.  Select individual RC soldiers, usually the unemployed, the under employed or citizen-soldiers who just hate their civilian jobs, will remain the best candidates for training above 39 day requirement.  Levying more AT requirements across the RC, or on large RC units is probably not feasible, acceptable or suitable to DoD, citizen-soldiers and civilian employers respectively.     

More problematic is mobilization authority for the RC personnel in the MCU. If an AC “flagged” MCU is deployed and no RC mobilization authority is granted then the MCU will deploy without its full complement of personnel which could inhibit mission success.  This is one of the major problems with the division and corps headquarters MCU concept.  Additionally, post-mobilization training issues may delay deployment of the RC component if the MCU and an AC solution may have to be sources to fill the gap.  This is what occurred with the ARNG roundout brigades during DESERT STORM.

The development of MCUs requires careful planning and consideration as to how it will be utilized, the constraints in utilizing it and the benefits to each Army component.  Not only does current legislation and regulations make them problematic, but so do institutional cultures and biases in the Total Army.  As such, it probably makes much more sense for organizations like 1st Army, whose primary mission is to train RC formations, to be an MCU.  It is not as practical or suitable to make AC operational units, like division/corps headquarters, MCUs due to the higher training requirements and rapid deployment expectations of an AC force which is not constrained by RC mobilization authorities.  An MCU therefore may not necessarily make the RC more operational or make the AC more effective and this is why MCUs should be heavily scrutinized with a critical eye before they are implemented as force structure.

Emphasize Tough, Realistic Training and Administration

“Leadership is intangible and therefore no weapon ever designed can replace it.”

– General Omar Bradley

Army RC units, especially large ones like ARNG BCTs, have major disadvantages in conducting collective training above company level.  Large RC units are dispersed over wide geographic areas which inhibit large collective training exercises.  This “tyranny of distance” along with time and resource constraints on the conduct collective training for ARNG BCTs is so great that only 1-2 combat training center (CTCs) rotations are conducted yearly for the ARNG BCTs.  Good RC unit leadership that ensures quality training is conducted during unit training assemblies and AT is the key to mitigate the time and resource training constraints of RC units.  Enforcement of accountability, standards and discipline are even more paramount in an RC unit because there is never enough time to get everything done in a weekend drill.  Unlike AC units who have the luxury to reach out to an individual soldier to complete a requirement the next day, RC units have no such luxury.  The next “day” will often be 30 days later. 

A critical administrative requirement for RC units is soldier attendance required training.  Unsatisfactory participants (UNSATS) and other non-available RC soldiers degrade readiness and operational capability.  An UNSAT is a technical way to state an RC soldier has been “fired” for missing 9 unit training assemblies but is still on the rolls, ostensibly pending discharge.  After 90 days without being paid the UNSATs become non-participants who then become non-available for deployment.  Unfortunately many UNSATs/NPs can remain on the unit rolls where they become “ghost soldiers,” a phenomenon that commonly plagues many RC units and gets attention when the RC unit is mobilized.  “Unsatisfactory Participants (UNSAT) in the Unites States Army Reserve (USAR) wastes approximately $150.4 million per year.”[30]  These costs do not include the money wasted on USATs in the ARNG.  A recent GAO report on RC soldier availability found that,  “In January 2015, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard reported overall non-availability rates of 22 and 21 percent, respectively.”[31]  Quite often the culprit in tracking and eliminating non-available soldiers is poor unit leadership, and/or cumbersome bureaucracy.  In one reserve unit I was assigned to, a soldier who was “fired” for being UNSAT wanted to come back to the unit.  I was directed to take him back regardless of my protest not to.  Fortunately, the problem soldier did not show up for the next unit training assembly and was “fired” again.  In another situation, it commonly took 1 year for my command to remove “ghost soldiers.”  A packet of paperwork a half an inch thick had to be created and submitted to the command for review and approval of soldiers who were already discharged yet remained on the unit rolls as “ghost soldiers,”  Even though they had been discharged for a year?”

Good leadership that enforces tough and realistic training and administration is not rhetoric, it actually works.  An excellent case study of an RC unit the outperformed its AC peers is the Marine Corp’s Bravo Company, 4th Tank Battalion during DESERT STORM. The extract below from the Bravo Company website shows how an RC combat unit outperformed their AC peers:

“Is it possible that the reserve unit of farmers, plumbers, salesman, and college students, Bravo Company 4th Tank Battalion, was the United States Marine Corps “Dream Team” during Desert Storm 1991… or possibly the “Dream Team” of all Wars?  Consider the points below:

1.  At the time, Bravo Company 4th, Tank Battalion had a top notch training record and was chosen by the Marine Corps upper staff to use the brand new tank, the M1A1 Abrams, built by General Dynamics Land Systems.

2. General Dynamics Land Systems watched and filmed Bravo Company 4th Tank Battalion’s M1A1 Abrams tank training exercises held at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. Afterwards, a short film was created by General Dynamics Land Systems about Bravo Company, 4th Tank Battalion’s extraordinary efforts.

3. NETT members marveled at the excellent gunnery skills and quick learning exhibited by Bravo Company. When NETT training ended with a formal graduation on Jan 13, 1991, there was a consensus among the NETT instructors that Bravo Company was the finest company they had trained, Army or Marine. Major Thaler, OIC of the NETT, emphasized the excellence of Bravo Company and sent a letter to General Keys of 2nd Marine Division noting that Bravo Company was the best he’d had to deal with. The Company itself was eager to prove themselves on the battlefield, so-called “Table 13.”

4. On February 25th, 1991, Day 2 of the Desert Storm ground war, Bravo Company 4th Tank Battalion was in a coil formation and awakened from a 25% watch to find 35 Iraqi Republican Guard tanks angling across their front, not realizing at the time that they were outnumbered 3-1. With their 13 M1A1 Abrams tanks, Bravo Company 4th Tank Battalion moved online to take out the 35 Iraqi Republican Guard tanks in LESS THAN 90 seconds. This battle was named the “Reveille Engagement” and went on to be the Biggest and Fastest tank battle in United States Marine Corps history!

5. During the 100 hour war of Desert Storm, Bravo Company 4th Tank Battalion is known for the most confirmed live kills, more than any Marine Corps combat unit in operation in Desert Storm. Further more, Bravo Company 4th Tank Battalion is known to destroyed more armor than any other unit in the history of the Marine Corps with such a small force.

  • 59 – Iraqi Tanks
  • 35 – BMP’s, BTR’s, MTLB’s
  • 1 – ZSU-23-4
  • 24 – Trucks/Jeeps
  • For a total of 119 destroyed.
  • Over 800 Enemy POW’s who surrendered
  • Marine Corps Record Books – “Stepchild” has the longest confirmed live kill (Iraqi BMP) by a tank at 3,750 meters (2.33 miles).

6. Overall, Bravo Company 4th Tank Battalion, with their 13 M1-A1 Abrams tanks, spearheaded the 2nd Marine Division while attached to 1st Battalion 8th Marines.  They were unstoppable, taking out everything in their path, all the way to Kuwait City and not losing ONE MARINE!”[32]

Bravo Company’s exemplary performance can be perplexing to those who question the capability of RC combat units.  The unit was mobilized in December of 1990, trained on brand new equipment then engaged in combat on 25 February 1991, just a few days after their arrival in Kuwait.  Upon arrival they found their new M1-A1 tanks had already been stripped of their equipment by other units.  Additionally, they were discriminated by their AC Marine counterparts for being reservists.  Why was Bravo Company so successful?  Part of the reason could be contributed to the Marine’s warrior culture and “esprit de corps.”  It begins at Marine recruit training, which is longer than the Army’s. After recruit training all male Marines attend the School of Infantry because every Marine is considered riflemen, regardless of Military Occupational Specialty.  Training standards are high, individuals Marines have to do a timed 3 mile run and qualify with the M-16 at 500 meters.  In comparison, U.S. Army soldiers have to do a 2 mile timed run and qualify with the M-16 at 300 meters.  The RC Marines of Bravo Company clearly had a solid institutional training base to build upon, but there are other reasons for their success; good leadership, tough training and attitude.  Bravo Company already had a top notch training record before the M1-A1 NETT occurred.  “The reservists had trained hard in once-a-month exercises so they could outperform regulars. They would report at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday at the Yakima firing center, load up and get ready to shoot, a process that usually took until dawn. They would sleep on their tanks, then practice firing during the day Saturday and into Sunday morning, returning their tanks for maintenance late Sunday night.”[33]  Bravo Company’s attitude to prove they were better than anyone else, Army or Marine, pushed the RC Marines to excel.  “It was a matter of pride,” a Bravo tanker said.  “We knew changes were coming. Certain units would get the ax in the defense budget and we wanted to remain a tank company.  The best way was to outperform any other tank company.”[34]

A major lesson here is Bravo company did not need extra training days beyond their statute requirement to become successful.  Leadership ensured they used the time they had wisely.  The other lesson here is that it may be easier to train smaller RC units for combat than larger ones.  A valuable lesson, especially since the Army may consider using ARNG armor companies as Roundouts for AC BCTs.           


“There is only one Army. ... We are not 10 divisions, we are 18 divisions. We're not 32 brigades; we're 60 brigades. And we're not 490,000 Soldiers; we are 980,000 Soldiers.”

– General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the Army

The global security environment is increasingly complex and uncertain. The current operational environment is stressing our AC forces and potential future threats will only exacerbate this stress. As the Total Army draws down to 980,000 troops by 2018, our NCA have little option but to rely more on the RC.  The RC is a reliable operational force as Lieutenant General Jeffrey Talley, Chief of the Army Reserve noted, “The Army Reserve has never failed to have a unit ready before the date it was needed to execute a mission,”[35] As budget cuts continue to increase risk to readiness, the RC leadership must get more focused on cutting costs by eliminating irrelevant capabilities. The USAR, for example, has several airborne civil affairs battalions that require additional funding to maintain. The airborne civil affairs capability is not used operationally or needed in such units.  The USAR can take the funding for this airborne capability and reinvest it elsewhere to enhance readiness, like Readiness Management Assemblies (RMAs) for USAR soldiers.  This is notable because the USAR had to reduce RMAs in the fourth quarter of FY15 due to budget constraints.[36]  Significant hyperbole on the capabilities of the RC has been bandied about as discussions of the OR continue.  The former Chief of Staff of the Army, General Ray Odierno recently stated, “The [AC/RC] capabilities are not interchangeable.  There’s a reason why the active component is more expensive. It brings you a higher level of readiness, because they’re full time. They are trained and ready to do things at a higher level because they spend every day focused on that.”[37]  While the later statement on AC readiness is fairly true, the former statement on RC interchangeability is not.  Throughout Army history RC units have conducted numerous Reliefs-in-Place/Transfers-of-Authority (RIP/TOA) with AC units of the same type.  An ABCT in the ARNG, for example, is nearly identical in organization and capability as an AC ABCT.  They are therefore interchangeable.  However, rapidly mobilizing and deploying an ARNG BCT and having it ready to conduct combat operations in under 120 days at the same level of readiness of an AC BCT is extremely difficult to achieve without significant resourcing and time.  Deploying any unit at lower readiness levels automatically assumes a high level of risk to the unit.  Deploying an ARNG BCT in under 120 days can be done, but there may be a higher price to pay to the “butcher” on the battlefield and this why RC leadership must also be careful not to oversell RC capabilities, specifically in terms of readiness and rapid deployment.  While there are some RC units, like medical units that may be as capable and as ready as their AC counterparts, an ARNG BCT is often dispersed over several states and rarely conducts collective training above company level on a persistent basis.  Additionally, the cost of persistent mobilization of RC units becomes about the same as the cost of activating and maintaining AC units of the same kind.  When this occurs, the “economy of force” aspect of the RC becomes marginalized.  The point is that both the AC and RC communities must recognize the advantages, disadvantages, capabilities and limitations of all Army components and avoid the parochial hyperbole.

Finally, the defense enterprise should deemphasize the terms “Strategic Reserve” and “Operational Reserve” and just use the term “Reserve.”  It is irrelevant if we label the term “Reserve” with descriptive adjectives because the RC will be called on as needed by NCA regardless.  The basic definition of reserves still applies to the RC, that is to say the RC is ultimately, “a supply of a commodity not needed for immediate use but available if required.”  Never the less, there are substantial arguments why RC forces should continue to serve as an OR as the capability is currently understood.  Readiness and experience for the OR can be maintained by setting the RC mobilization to dwell time at 1:5 ratio during peace time or periods of low intensity conflict, rotating ARNG brigade combat teams (BCT) and other RC units either as deterrence forces or to augment AC deterrence forces and by increasing the number and activity of RC units in the TFPP.  Multi-Component Units should be analyzed and developed with caution as there are several limiting factors to them that can inhibit their effectiveness.  Reserve component units who implement tough, and realistic training and administration can be as good as AC units and even outperform them, but it requires good leadership and proper resourcing to do so.  All of these actions can enable a more effective RC, facilitate a “one team, one fight” mindset and help enable the Total Army concept.  A key recommendation from the Army IG report resulting from the Roundout Brigade issues during DESERT STORM is still as valid today as it was in 1991, “...the Active Component (AC) and Army National Guard (ARNG) link must be strong.  A TOTAL COMITTMENT from both AC and ARNG will be required.”[38]     

End Notes

[1] Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Washington, D.C., GPO, 15 October 2015), p180.

[2] Department of Defense Directive 1200.17, SUBJECT: “Managing the Reserves as an Operational Force,” 29 October 2008.

[3] Army Reserve: A Concise History, Office of Army Reserve History, U.S. Army Reserve Command, p12.

[4] Army National Guard Fact Sheet, National Guard Bureau, March 2013.

[6] Army Logistician: The Army Reserve at 100: An Emerging Operational Force, PB 700-08-06 Volume 40, Issue 6, November-December 2008.

[7] Army Reserve: A Concise History, Office of Army Reserve History, U.S. Army Reserve Command, p6.

[8] Ibid, p6.

[9] U.S. Army Reserve homepage: A Global Force.  Accessed 9 November 2015.

[10] “Reservist Faces Punishment after Questioning a Waiver” The New York Times/Associated Press. Accessed 9 November 2015.

[11] Secretary of Defense Memorandum: “Utilization of the Total Force,” 19 January 2007.

[12] “Defense Science Board Task Force on Deployment of Members of the National Guard and Reserve in the Global War on Terrorism,” Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. Washington, D.C., September 2007, pvii.

[13] Operation Atlantic Resolve Fact Sheet, U.S. Army Europe.  Accessed 9 November 2015.

[14] U.S. Army Europe in Transformation Fact Sheet.  Accessed 9 November 2015.

[15] Tan, Michelle. “Army looks to rotating and reserve forces for Europe missions” Army Times, 6 October 2015.

[16] 7th Mission Support Command homepage. “7th CSC Unit History.”

[17] Tan, Michelle. “Army looks to rotating and reserve forces for Europe missions” Army Times.  October 6, 2015.

[18]  Army homepage. “US Army Engineers Contribute to Operation Atlantic Resolve.”

[19] 7th Mission Support Command homepage. “Short notice, big mission: Civil affairs battalion takes part in projects in three countries.”

[20] Vandiver, John.  “Army Guard and Reserve deployments to Europe on the rise.” Stars and Stripes. 11 January 2016.

[21] Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces Command Memorandum. “Army Total Force Policy Implementation-FORSCOM Interim Guidance,” 10 December 2013.

[22] Ellen M. Pint, Matthew W. Lewis, Thomas F. Lippiatt, Philip Hall-Partyka, Jonathan P. Wong, Tony Puharic.  Active Component Responsibility in Reserve Component Pre- and Post mobilization Training, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015.

[23]AR 11-30, Army WARTRACE Program (Headquarters, Department of the Army, July 28, 1995).

[24] Ellen M. Pint, Matthew W. Lewis, Thomas F. Lippiatt, Philip Hall-Partyka, Jonathan P. Wong, Tony Puharic.  Active Component Responsibility in Reserve Component Pre- and Post mobilization Training, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

[25] Brooks, D. “Fort Bragg site of joint N.C.-S.C. National Guard exercise this weekend.” The Fayetteville Observer, July 31, 2015.

[26]  General Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman and Chris Fussell, Team of Teams, Penguin Publishing Group, New York, NY. 2015

[27] Sprenger, Sebastion.  “Group praises multicomponent units as means to build Army cohesion.”  Inside Defense, 8 January 2015.

[28] AR 71-32, Force Development and Documentation (Headquarters, Department of the Army, 1 July 2013).

[29]  National Commission on the Future of the Army website. “Multi-Component Unit (MCU) National Commission on the Future of the Army 17 Aug 2015.”  Submitted by U.S. Army Forces Command.

[30] MAJ Douglas A. Ludwick, “DIFFERENTIAL ATTENDANCE IN THE RESERVE COMPONENT: CAUSATION AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT.” School of Advanced Military Studies United States Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, January 2014.

[31]  Lori Atkinson (Assistant Director), Rebecca Beale, Caitlin Dardenne, Mae Jones, Amie Steele-Lesser, Terry Richardson, Jerry Sandau, Paul Seely,  Sabrina Streagle, Brenda S. Farrell,  “ARMY RESERVE COMPONENTS Improvements Needed to Data Quality and Management Procedures to Better Report Soldier Availability.” Government Accounting Office-15-626, July 2015.

[32] Bravo Company, 4th Tank Battalion homepage, “History of Bravo Company, 4th Tank Battalion - Desert Storm 1991.”  Accessed 14 January 15.

[33] David Evans, William Neikirk, David Elsner and Linnet Myers.  “Weekend Warriors Prove Their Mettle.”  Chicago Tribune, 16 December 1991.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Tan, Michelle.  “Reserve chief: Budget cuts affecting readiness, modernization.”  Army Times, 7 October 2015.

[36]  U.S. Army Reserve Command Memorandum, SUBJECT: “Reduction in Funding Authority for Additional Training Assemblies (ATA) Code 41 and Readiness Management Assemblies (RMA) Code 91.” 15 June 2015.  

[37] National Guard Association of the United States website. “Odierno: Right Balance Sought for Active, Reserve Components.” Accessed 14 January 2016.

[38] Department of the Army Inspector General, “Special Assessment National Guard Brigades Mobilization.” June 1991.


About the Author(s)

Brad Striegel is a U.S. Army (Active Guard Reserve) Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve who is currently serving as a Functional Area 50 - Force Manager. His articles are the author's opinions and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of Defense or U.S. Army.


Biggs Darklighter

Mon, 01/18/2016 - 11:27pm

To your point Luddite, it is always dangerous to extrapolate historical examples into today and tomorrows policies...if we DO NOT keep the historical examples IN CONTEXT with the present situation. It can otherwise be more dangerous not extrapolate historical examples in to present and future policies. The U.S. Navy, for example, found this out the hard way when German U-boats sunk U.S. ships at their leisure off the East Coast in the beginning of WW2, just as they did in WW1.

The 27th ID was indeed mobilized in 1940, but the Army had 9 AC Infantry Divisions and 1 Cavalry Division to deploy as well. AC strength was about 245K in 1940 and 7 of the AC Divisions were "hollow" having about 3000-4500K each. That said, isn't it odd we did not deploy an AC division first?

While the USMCR is 1/3rd the size of the AC Marine Corps, keep in mind the AC Marine Corps is less than half the size of the AC Army. Additionally, a larger proportion of AC Marines support RC units in their Inspector and Instructor program. Most AC/RC support in the Army is confined to 1st Army units.

Your right about the Marine Corps experience in the USMCR, quite often a platoon leader will be a CPT.


Mon, 01/18/2016 - 8:08pm

The reserve components provide outstanding capability to US military at great economy to the tax payer. However, it is always dangerous to extrapolate historical examples into today and tomorrows policies.

The 27th Infantry Division of WWII was mobilized in mid-October 1940 and deployed in February 1942, after both 16 months of mobilization training and following the cross leveling of active and professionally qualified reserve officer across the force. Both a time horizon that we would find unacceptable today, and a movement of personnel we would find unworkable politically and professionally. (One of the major issues in mobilizing units in the early years of OIF was the plethora of MOS/branch qualified NCOs/Officer due to individual training shortfalls in the RC.

While the achievements of 4th Tank Battalion are commendable, it is important to note the two major differences between the USMCR and the ARNG/USAR, namely that the USMCR is 1/3d the size of the active component (which makes providing support/mentorship easier), the USMC does not have a "direct to RC commissioning program" which means that unit leadership generally is much more senior and experience than their active counterparts (my USMCR platoon leader years ago was a Capt.), and lastly the fact that the active support structure (unit resident Inspector/Instructor staff) has some command authority beyond that provided to the active Army Training Support Units.