Official Urges More Balanced Treatment for Reserve Components
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 31, 2004 With Reserve and National Guard forces now critical elements in the global war on terrorism, the Defense Department's senior reserve affairs adviser told a Senate subcommittee here today that the country must do more to care for Reserve and Guard members and their families.
Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, addressed separate sessions of the Senate Personnel Subcommittee and the House Total Force Subcommittee today. He went to Capitol Hill to provide the reserve affairs fiscal 2005 posture statement and to detail the department's budget request.
"While we ask our people to do more, we must never lose sight of the need to balance their commitment to country with their commitment to family and to their civilian employer," Hall said in prepared statements to both bodies. "That is why rebalancing of the force is so critical, the continuum of service is so crucial, and relieving the stress on the force is absolutely essential."
He said that although "morale is high" among Reserve and Guard members, increased mobilizations, longer deployments and the war on terrorism are affecting the force.
"We are in the midst of one of the longest periods of mobilization in our history," Hall told lawmakers. "However, one certainty remains: that when called upon, the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve will respond promptly and perform their duty."
Reserve components perform 46 percent of military operations, ranging from homeland defense and the global war on terrorism to peacekeeping, humanitarian relief, small- scale contingencies and major crises, he said. And the balance of capabilities in the active Army and Reserve components is "not the best for the future."
"There is a need for rebalancing to improve the responsiveness of the force and to help ease stress on units and individuals with skills in high demand," he said. "Repeated mobilizations are not a major problem -- yet."
Hall said that for DoD to achieve its policy goals of assuring allies, dissuading military competition, deterring threats against U.S. interests and decisively defeating adversaries, it must maintain integrated capabilities of the "Total Force."
"Only a well-balanced, seamlessly integrated military force is capable of dominating opponents across the full range of military operations," he said.
Hall explained that from Sept. 11, 2001, through December 2003, 319,193 reserve component personnel were mobilized for duty in the global war on terror. He said that as of Dec. 31, 181,459 were on active duty.
"They are providing a very broad range of capabilities, from special operations and civil affairs to personnel and finance support," he said.
Tour lengths for reserve components have increased for every operation since Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s, when tour lengths averaged 156 days, Hall said. For operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Southwest Asia, that average was about 200 days, and current contingency operations have averaged about 320 days, he added.
However, Hall said DoD is monitoring high-demand reserve components closely, and is identifying actions to reduce that demand. Increasing international military participation in Iraq, developing Iraqi capacity to conduct police and security tasks, and increasing actionable intelligence to disrupt threats to stability in Iraq are among the steps being taken, he said.
Other options, Hall added, call for rebalancing the active and reserve force mix and capabilities, and identifying some 100,000 manpower positions for possible restructuring over the next several years. He also said the Pentagon is hoping to "civilianize" more than 300,000 military positions.
"All these actions are high priorities for the department, since they will provide greater stability and predictability for reservists, their families and employers, and will optimize the forces available over what is anticipated to be a long war," he said.
The assistant secretary also spoke on the need for better compensation for Reserve and Guard members and their families. "The compensation system must be equitable to support the current employment of the reserve force, and it must be flexible enough to respond to any emerging or future trends that result from the increased use of the Guard and Reserve," he said.
"We strongly believe that pay and benefits must be focused on those members who are bearing the burden of mobilization and deployment," he continued, "and that the department must have the tools to respond quickly and decisively with a compensation and benefits package that supports our mobilized and deployed troops."
Hall vowed the department would continue to address areas of the compensation system that work against reservists, such as differences in housing allowances, which are generally lower for reservists on active duty for less than 140 days.
"The bottom line is that we must compensate our Guard and Reserve members fairly, ensuring comparability -- that is, equal pay for equal work -- for those who are currently sustaining the burdens of reserve service."
Hall said taking care of Guard and Reserve members and their families continues to be a top priority for the department, adding that the department is constantly examining its policies and programs to ensure that reservists do not feel "disenfranchised" and that family-support systems are in place.
"We are constantly looking for opportunities to improve the support that our Guard and Reserve members and their families need and deserve," he said. "We expect the best from them, and they should expect and get no less from us."
One improvement the department has implemented is better health care access and benefits.
He said the military's Tricare Prime health care system has been made available to the families of reservists ordered to active duty for more than 30 days, a significant improvement over the previous 179-day threshold. At the same time, Hall added, reserve component eligibility for Tricare Prime Remote has been expanded to include eligible family members who lived with the reserve member before mobilization and deployment.
Also, he said, reserve members may now be eligible for Tricare upon receipt of a "delayed effective date active duty order" of greater than 30 days in support of a contingency, or 90 days prior to mobilization, whichever date is later.
The period of transitional medical assistance for reserve members separated from active duty of more than 30 days in support of a contingency operation previously 60 or 120 day s has been extended to 180 days.
Detailing the 2005 reserve affairs budget request, which is set at $33.3 billion -- about 2.8 percent more than the last fiscal year -- Hall told the House and Senate subcommittees that Congress the country would be making a good investment.
The funding will cover reserve component personnel, operations and maintenance, military construction, and procurement accounts. Included also are increases to support about 870,900 full-time and part-time personnel, as well as sustainment of operations.
"Significantly, this is only 8.3 percent of the overall DoD budget, which represents a great return on investment," he said, citing the size of the reserve components' contributions to military operations.
Other key components of the Reserve and Guard budget include:
- $1.6 billion for equipment such as multiple-launch rocket systems for the Army and aircraft modifications for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve F-16 fighter jets, C-5 and C-130 airlift transports and HH-60 helicopters. The Naval Reserve would get additional funding for its C-40 aircraft, while the Marine Corps Reserve would invest in high-mobility artillery rocket system, night-vision equipment, and amphibious assault vehicles.
- $590 million for military construction affecting all reserve components, about 6.2 percent of DoD's overall military construction and family housing request of $9.4 billion.
- $950 million for facility sustainment, restoration and modernization.
- $253.6 million for environmental programs, including $125.2 million for environmental compliance requirements.
- $81.2 million for civil military programs.
Hall told the lawmakers his "acid test" for the Guard and Reserve remains unchanged: "Ensure that the Guard and Reserve are assigned the right mission; have the right training; possess the right equipment; are positioned in and with the correct infrastructure; are physically, medically and operationally ready to accomplish the assigned tasks; are fully integrated within the active component; and are there in the right numbers required to help fight and win any conflict."