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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Broken Reserves?

Lieutenant General Helmly, the Chief of the Army Reserve wrote this MEMORANDUM: Readiness of the United States Army Reserve to point out what happens to your force when don't use it the way it was designed. The General is rightly vexed that he is in charge of part of a system that is poorly designed for the use to which it is being put and also right to be concerned about the consequences of awkwardly bending that system to do things differently than the way they were planned. His position is somewhat like trying to use the butt of a revolver as a hammer. It may work in the short term, but it's not the right tool with which to build a house.

Here are my thoughts on his comments (numbered paragraphs are General Helmly's):

1. Continuance of Presidential Selected Reserve Call-up Authority (PSRC) after Partial Mobilization had been declared by the President including deploying Soldiers to Kuwait under PSRC as late as December 2002; PSRC carries a maximum limit of nine months call-up time whereas the Partial Mob authority was originally enacted using a 12-month limit.

Translation: Can we use just one form of recall? Using 2 different forms means that our ability to plan is being screwed up. Are people being recalled for 9 or 12 months? And, by the way, longer is better.

2. Continuance of different deployment policies including nine months in Guantanamo Bay, six months for OEF, six months for Sinai, and, until recently, six months for the Balkans. The effect of using PSRC and differing deployment policies has been to provide multiples of mobilization and deployment combinations between them and CONUS mobilizations, often within the same unit. Requirements to then limit mobilization time based on these various combinations cause additional cross-leveling--a practice that weakens and ultimately breaks our units.

Translation: In addition to the problems caused by using two different forms of recall, we are not being consistent in how long any given deployment is. Because of differing standards and the two forms of recall, the number of combinations and permutations is really making it tough for us to manage the reserve force, since it's hard for us to know who is going to be where and when they will be there.

3. Over one half of mobilization taskings within the USAR since 9/11 have been for groups of six of fewer Soldiers to fill individual requirements, not identifiable as a "task organized" unit. Further, those taskings for units have more often been incrementally mobilized over a longer period of time, e.g. the Headquarters, 800th MP PW Brigade was mobilized in seven different increments over an approximate three-month period providing for even greater combinations of mobilization time.

Translation: We train the reserves as units. This gives them unit cohesion and a certain amount of unit esprit. They are not, however, being called up as units, but soldiers are being called to fill specific requirements that may or may not be related to what their unit has trained them to do. This is a waste of valuable training and destroys unit cohesion and morale - after all why train to be a subject matter expert in one thing when you may get called to do something else? And, by not calling the units all at once, you have added to the combinations and permutation problems established above.

4. Failure to extend RC Soldiers' orders to allow 12 months BOG in a timely manner, even after the 12 month BOG decision had been made, caused multiple last minute extensions and harmed Soldiers, families, and employers.

Translation: It's easier to call people up for an year and then cut them loose early if they are not needed than it is to call them up for 6 or 9 months and then extend them at the last minute. It also allows them and their civilian employers to plan better. (BOG= "Boots on Ground")

5. DOD issuance and enactment of a policy which precludes RC Soldiers from performing inactive duty training for 60 days and annual training for six months or the remainder of a training year after demobilization. This precludes use of AT for OES and NCOES and precludes timely initiation of resetting actions. Further it fails to renew the Soldiers' bond with his or her unit, thus harming retention.

6. Reluctance to issue mobilization orders in a timely manner caused initial mobilizations for OIF 1 to be delayed resulting in over 10,000 Soldiers receiving as little as 3-5 days notice. Further, insistence on demobilizing RC Soldiers before the situation in Iraq cleared caused the demobilization of over 8,000 Soldiers who then had to be remobilized within three months of demobilization.

7. Because of the demand for less than whole units and the Army Reserve's strength/structure imbalance, not only have we had to cross-level some 43,000 Soldiers out of an OIF 1 cohort strength of 71,000 but many units in the Army Reserve were "broken" just to provide individuals, not as "fillers" to other units.

8. As Soldiers are now returning from OIF and OEF, they are often returning to find that the unit from which they were drawn has now been mobilized.

Translation for 5, 6, 7, and 8: The Reserves train in units. Each such unit may train together on weekends (one weekend a month) for years and attend a two week annual training as a unit. If they do what they should be doing, they are training to fulfill their mission as a team. After a few years, the team works pretty well together and everyone knows their job. These units are designed to be called up (activated) as units. Everyone is supposed to go and work like the team they are. "Train like you'll fight and fight like you train" is the appropriate historical quote.

In many cases today, however, when reservists are being called to duty they are not being called as part of their own unit. They may be called as individuals to fill a certain position. They may be called in small groups to fill a need. Thus, some portion of the unit, perhaps those who volunteer, are being called up while the remainder of their unit continues to drill at home. Let's say that 20% of a unit ("Unit A") gets activated and 80% doesn't. Now you no longer have a team. You have 80% of your troops doing one thing and 20% doing something else with some other unit at some other time. In fact, given the needs of the service, that 20% may not be doing anything remotely related to what Unit A is trained to do.

In time, that 20% will hit a point where they are due to come off active duty. The reserves are tasked to replace them. So, they look for another set of volunteers. Let's say another 15% of Unit A gets activated. As the original 20% comes off active duty, the policy holds that Reserve Component (RC) soldiers aren't allowed to attend drill for 6 months after coming off active duty and cannot perform Annual Training for "six months or the remainder of the training year after demobilization." So, those 20% are unavailable for drill or AT, as are the 15% who just got activated. Unit A, however, still has 100% of its mission to accomplish, albeit with 65% of its troops. And the policy is such that the number of troops available could drop to 50% or less.

9. In an effort to reduce short notice mobilization actions there is a requirement to obtain a "volunteer statement" from each Soldier who is receiving orders with less than 30 days notice. This masks the slowness of decision making in Army, FORSCOM, and DOD, places the "burden" of service on the Soldiers' back, and slows an already slow, burdened, and redundant process even more.

Translation: Get your planning act together. Our soldiers are willing to serve but need to be treated with some common sense. Last minute orders and the need for "volunteer statements" are not helping. The authority exists to order these troops to active duty. Use it in a timely manner.

10. The most recent decision to include any PSRC time in computation of mobilization time and to regard all Soldiers who have been mobilized for any period of time since 9/11 the same, regardless of amount of cumulative time mobilized, has now exacerbated the situation to the breaking point, and will create second and third order negative affects of potentially immense proportions. I wish to register my strongest possible objection to the various courses of action under consideration to avoid "remobilization." My objections include:

a. The potential "sociological" damage done to the all-volunteer force by trying to incentivize "volunteers" for remobilization by paying them $1,000 extra per month. We must consider the point at which we confuse "volunteer to become an American Soldier" with "mercenary." Use of pay to induce "volunteerism" will cause the expectation of always receiving such financial incentives in future conflicts.

Translation 10.a.: We have system that would work if we used it properly. All these goofy efforts to make things "fair" are causing more problems than just recalling people as they are needed.

b. Use of other service forces and members is a worthy initiative which deserves additional effort. However, I strongly object to a proposal that would "cobble together" units comprised of "financially induced volunteers" from the various services to take the place of units that we might otherwise have to remobilize. This is dangerous and irresponsible with regard to placing combinations of various service members in groups to perform collective missions under dangerous, lethal, volatile conditions when they are incentivized solely by financial inducements and have not trained extensively together as a single team.

Translation 10.b.: The American soldier, sailor, Marine and airman can probably do anything if asked. However, there are easy ways to get things done and hard ways. The easy way is to maintain unit integrity and put the square peg in the square hole. Creating units out of whole cloth and letting them learn on the job is not a sound idea and is the equivalent of trying to smash the round peg into the square hole. You can make it work, but there are a lot of splinters and broken pieces as a result. Use the system we already have.

c. Organization of provisional organizations to assume missions for which existing units have trained and prepared will serve as a disincentive for future recruitment and retention in career specialties for which members were originally recruited. Further, it will be perceived as a professional affront to the various communities affected. Example: An idea has been put forth to provisionally organize Civil Affairs units from the other services. The only other service with civil Affairs structures are the USMC and most of that force is also in the USMCR and has been heavily mobilized. The Army Reserve created has nurtured Civil Affairs since its inception. As DOD tabled the notion of "AC-RC balance" I argued that we should create additional Civil Affairs structure in the USAR to provide a rotational capability and additional depth; that has not been accepted, believing mistakenly, that somehow we can create an "easy" way out of relying on the RC. The Army Reserve will perceive it as a direct affront to its existence, if "provisional" civil affairs units are established to try tot replace the experienced, highly-skilled professionals who inhabit that force today.

Translation: See translation 10.b. above. If we need more Civil Affairs people, then let me have the money and personnel slots to go recruit people for the job. Then we can train them the right way instead of making it up as we go. Again, use the system. If the fact that there are no active duty Civil Affairs units is a problem, address the problem by creating some, not by making up new "provisional' units out of God know what.

11. No military force in use was created on the spot. Similarly, the policies and procedures which govern the Army Reserve's very existence as a military force have evolved over time, all in the last century. These would be dysfunctional if there were not mobilization and war today; their dysfunction is made more acute and hurtful by the strain of wartime use on the USAR today. I have proposed changes, too numerous to recount here, to many policies. With the sole exception of those which we have unilaterally violated Army policy (on promotion of mobilized Soldiers) or initiated through direct coordination with eth Congress (recognition program for returning mobilized Soldiers), we have received no action or support. Continuance of a "business as usual mindset" when it pertains to even the slightest changes to Army policy is effectively precluding an energetic, focused, and robustly executed retention and recruiting effort in the Army Reserve, designed to mitigate the harmful affects of the above mobilization policies.

Translation: We need policy changes to make the organization and use of the reserves match the real world.

Contrary to MSM reports and to leftward blogs (see for an example of both this), Lt Gen Helmly is not asserting that the Iraq war has "broken" the reserves. He is saying that the manner in which the reserves has been called up does cause problems and he suggests some fixes, like recalling units instead of individual soldiers. Underlying all this is the fact that the system put in place to recall reserves is based on some old ideas not reflective of the way in which the reserves really operate and are trained. It holds true for the Navy, too, based on my experience with recalls for Desert Storm and Kosovo. The war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Balkan duty and the other on-going events have just brought this underlying issue to the fore. Most of these issues are easy fixes if some common sense is applied.

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