Defense Leaders Discuss Reserve Component Role in War on Terror
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2003 National Guard and Reserve forces "have been absolutely essential" to the war on terrorism, the commander of U.S. Central Command told the Senate Appropriations Committee during a Sept. 24 hearing about the fiscal 2004 supplemental funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We couldn't get the job done without them," Army Gen. John Abizaid said. "It isn't a matter of 'nice to have,' it's a matter of 'must have.'"
But Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee that such heavy reliance on the reserve components -- which has a large percentage of the military's combat service support capabilities -- "doesn't posture us very well for the 21st century security environment we're going into."
Myers said Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has ordered a rebalancing of the force to provide a better mix of capabilities between the active and reserve components. "Because it's inevitable (that) if we're going to send an active ground component into a situation, there's going to be a reserve piece that goes with it," Myers said. "And that may be fine for some situations, but probably not all."
The Defense Department's goal is to accomplish the rebalancing within the next two years.
About 170,000 Guard and Reserve members are currently on active duty, down from a high of 223,000 during major combat operations in Iraq, Myers said, noting that the number could drop more if a third multinational division joins Operation Iraqi Freedom.
However, if no additional multinational division materializes, Myers said, planners might have to use other options to keep manning on track in Iraq -- including the possibility of more reserve component call-ups. Other options, he said, involve increasing the number of active duty troops committed to the operation or, ideally, getting enough Iraqis trained so they can assume a larger role in their defense.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops serving in or being deployed to Iraq "should expect to spend one year in Iraq," Myers said, whether they are on active duty or in the reserve components.
"There is an issue of fairness here, and I think the National Guard will be the first to tell you that they are willing to pull their fair share," he said. "They always have, and they're very proud of that."
Defense Department policy has been to issue one-year mobilization orders to the reserve components, although service secretaries have the authority to extend that period. Current Army policy, for example, is that mobilized reserve component troops will spend up to 12 months in theater, in addition to active duty time spent to train up, ship out and demobilize at the end of their tours.
And when reserve components troops are called to active duty, Myers and Rumsfeld agree they need more notice than many have been getting.
"The system that is in place is designed for an industrial age, and as a result, a number of people were only given five, six, eight, 10 days notification of their call-up," Rumsfeld told the committee. "And that's just not respectful of them and their employers and their family. And we're fixing that system. We cannot do that to the Guard and Reserve in terms of activation."
The chairman agreed. "We can do a better job in providing predictability," Myers said. "We can do a better job in communicating when people will come on active duty and when they will be leaving active duty."
Myers said reserve component units to be called to active duty for the next rotation already have been alerted and are preparing for their missions.
Reserve component troops, Abizaid told the committee, have "been doing great work all the way from combat operations to support operations. They're all over the theater."
Myers said the war on terror demands that the military make maximum use of all its assets. "We are relying heavily on the reserve component," he said. "And you would expect to do that if you're a nation at war and the stakes are high."
Myers said his meetings with reserve component troops, as well as those he met during his recent trip to Bosnia and Kosovo, confirm that they "couldn't be prouder of what they're doing," and that despite the sacrifices, they are committed to the cause.
Sen. Robert F. Bennett, an Appropriations Committee member from Utah, agreed, relaying a story about a guardsman from his state who had returned home on leave from his deployment in Iraq while his wife delivered twins.
"They were sitting there in the crowd with these two babies less than a week old, the wife holding one, the G.I. holding the other," Bennett said. "And in that meeting was a gentleman who wanted to make the point that everything (in Iraq) is disaster that nothing's going well," Bennett continued.
"This G.I holding this baby spoke up and said, 'I believe in the mission. I'm glad to be there. I'm leaving tomorrow and I'm glad to be going back.'