No Easy Answer for Army’s Mix of Active and Reserve Forces

By Valerie Insinna

Army leaders have sought to avoid an internal fight among the active-duty, Reserves and National Guard components. But a competition for resources is inevitable, officials said at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting.

"It's no secret that the size of the total Army and the mix of the active component and the reserve component troops are among the biggest issues facing us right now,” said Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram, Jr., director of the Army National Guard, said Oct. 22.

According to its 2012 strategic plan, the Army National Guard needs an end strength of at least 350,200 soldiers and 28 brigade combat teams to maintain operational capability. 

With rapidly declining resources and pressures on force strength and structure, it’s possible the components could soon “be at each other’s throats,” said Retired Lt. Gen. Ron Helmly, former commander of the U.S. Army Reserve.

“I caution you against that. The amount of unproductive time in this town wasted on arguing and studies that lead to no where, we can take that amount of time and spend it training our soldiers," he said. "It is not necessary that we all like each other and get along. It is necessary that we respect the right of each component to argue its case in a factually based manner."

Retired Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, former director of the Army National Guard, spoke against decreasing the size of both the active and reserve force. "Be careful with wishing away the active component end strength. ... Our active force can be too small."

But with no consensus on Capitol Hill on the Pentagon’s budget, it will be imperative for components to trim down and accomplish their missions more efficiently, panelists said.

The Army and its reserve corps find themselves in uncharted fiscal territory and need to reexamine the basic working assumptions of the Guard-active relationship, said Dave Barno, a retired Army lieutenant general and current senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security.

“We’re moving to very new territory in terms of how many dollars we have available to spend, and our goal collectively has got to be to maximize the military capability that we can squeeze out of those dollars, and I think the Guard in that respect in particular has a compelling argument,” he said.

With limited deployments and less training time for the National Guard, the military needs to figure out what it should be doing differently to keep Guardsmen ready, said Maj. Gen John Rossi, director of the Army’s Quadrennial Defense Review office. He cautioned against significantly altering the relationship between active and reserve component.

The right mix of active and reserve forces will ultimately boil down to whatever number enables commanders to accomplish the strategy with the least cost and least risk to soldiers, Rossi continued.

"From a QDR perspective, I really don't see an ACRC [active component reserve component] quagmire about to happen, unless they want to make one."

The military should revisit the idea of blended units at the brigade level that would contain both active and reserve soldiers, Barno said. 

In the past decade, the Army National Guard has trained soldiers far beyond the 39-days-per-year requirement, but it may be forced to revert to that schedule in coming years. That training can be improved through the use of simulations and multiplayer online games, Barno said.

AUSA panelists called for the service's leadership to publicly march in step despite any behind-the-scenes disagreements.

"There's a tendency for some of the family fights around the dinner table … to turn into a giant bloodbath on the front page of the newspaper. We had one service already go through this and demonstrate how not to do it,” Barno said, referring to the highly publicized disputes between the Air Force and Air National Guard. "I have a lot of worries that we're going down this path."

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Policy

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