Weekend Warriors No More
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2004 The term "weekend warriors" no longer applies to today's National Guardsmen and reservists, the Defense Department's top reserve affairs official said.
In many cases, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas Hall said in an interview Nov. 4, today's reservists and guardsmen are nearly full- time participants in the war on terror.
Deployment rates for current operations are changing the way the reserve components go about advertising and recruiting. It's all about managing expectations, Hall said.
"You really don't want to set an expectation and then not meet it," he said. "You want to tell people up front that this is what it's all about."
Recruiters today need to create a different expectation among prospective guardsmen and reservists, their families and employers. "That expectation is you're not going to be a weekend warrior," Hall said. "We're going to have to use you in a more robust way in the future."
He explained that officials are now working to determine what exactly "more robust" means. "Will we need you once in every five years? Once in every six years? Will we need you for a year at a time? How will that affect your lifestyle? How will that affect your decision to come into the Guard and Reserve?" Hall asked. "Does your particular type of job allow you that flexibility? And what will be your employer's reaction to that?"
Recruiters are also selling service in the National Guard and Reserve to families much more than in the past. "One of the things (recruiters) will tell you is they're recruiting the mothers and fathers and grandfathers and family. You used to recruit the individual. But now, you need to convince the mother or father or the grandfather or the grandmother that their son or grandson or granddaughter ought to serve. So you need to talk to the whole family," Hall said. "So the advertising of the Guard and Reserve and the way in which we produce these different advertisements and talk to people is different than it used to be."
Another key to keeping recruiting and retention numbers up is to keep benefits at an attractive level. The 2005 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Bush Oct. 28, contains a slew of new and increased medical and education benefits for reserve component servicemembers, as well as increases in certain bonuses and allowances.
"The (Defense) Department is committed to continuing to work on benefits and making it very attractive to serve," Hall said. "So I think people will continue. We need to watch it, and we'll continue to watch our recruiting and retention to make sure it's OK."
So far it has been OK for manning the Guard and Reserve. With one exception, the reserve components met their recruiting and retention goals for fiscal 2004. The Army National Guard finished the year 2 percent below its end- strength target of 350,000 soldiers. The Army Guard came in with 342,000 soldiers at the end of fiscal 2004.
And, Hall said, he prefers to look at that figure as 98 percent successful rather than 2 percent failure.
Benefits and recruiting efforts aside, Hall said he believes what keeps the U.S. military's reserve components stocked with willing and able troops is the dedication, resolve and patriotism of Americans.
"This country is at war. Every citizen is at war. We had international terrorists come and murder our citizens and families and children in this country," he said. "We're all committed, so I think this nation has always responded collectively to the call to colors."
He said record turnout at Nov. 2's national elections is a great example that Americans want to be involved in their country. "Basically, down deep, I find people are patriotic," Hall said. "And part of that involvement is service in the armed forces. And I think we'll continue to get the people that we need."