Officials Paint Picture of Guard, Reserve Matters
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 14, 2005 Mission-ready National Guard and Reserve forces are a critical element of U.S. national security strategy, the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee here today.
Thomas F. Hall testified before the Subcommittee on Personnel in review of the Pentagon's fiscal 2006 budget request.
"Our Guard and Reserve men and women perform, in a superb fashion, vital security functions at home and around the world and are closely interlocked with the states, cities, towns and communities in America," Hall said in a prepared statement. "As you already know, the stress on the force has increased, and we are continuing to closely monitor the impact of that stress on our Guard and Reserve members, on their families and their employers."
Since the beginning of the global war on terrorism, Guard and Reserve forces' purpose has changed significantly, Hall said. They are no longer a strategic reserve to be used only in the event of a major war.
"They are an operational reserve that supports day-to-day defense requirements," he said. "They have been an operational reserve ever since we called them up for Operation Desert Shield."
This new role comes with an increase in operational tempo that includes nontraditional missions, including the training of Iraqi and Afghan armies, he said. Reserve components account for 46 percent of the troops in the Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom theaters of operation. They likely will furnish 39 percent in the next rotation, Hall said.
"They will remain an integral player in homeland defense in Operation Noble Eagle, and the National Guard will remain a dual-missioned force under both Titles 10 and 32," he said.
Titles 10 and 32 of the U.S. Code spell out how the military and the Army, respectively, will be organized.
This expanded role has had an impact in several areas including force utilization, recruiting efforts, retention and employee/reservist relations. Several strategies have been employed to ease these stresses on the force, Hall said. The first is a rebalancing of the force.
Rebalancing shifts skill sets between active duty and reserve components, ensuring each has the right mix of skills. "The purpose of rebalancing is to fashion the force to be responsive, producing the capabilities we need today," Hall said. "Rebalancing improves responsiveness and eases stress on units and individuals by building up capabilities in high demand units and skills."
The Defense Department also is converting military positions to DoD civilian or contractor positions, he said. In fiscal 2004, 8,400 military spaces converted to civilian manning. Plans for fiscal 2005 are to convert an additional 16,000 spaces, Hall said.
Measures also have been taken to reduce the stress of frequent and extended mobilizations.
"Predictability and reasonable limits on frequency and duration of mobilization are key elements of our policies, which are designed to not only support reservists, but also sustain the support of employers and families and ultimately enable the components to meet recruitment and retention objectives," Hall said.
Knowing what to expect makes it much easier for the servicemember, his or her family and employer to plan to accommodate the situation, he added.
"We should state up front that the broad-based, nationwide support for our troops by employers has been and continues to be superb," Hall said. "We owe our employers a debt of gratitude."
Lt. Gen. Roger C. Schultz, director of the Army National Guard, agrees and thinks that gratitude should go a step further.
"We are in favor of tax credits for small businesses owned by or hiring Guard soldiers," he said in a statement prepared for the Senate subcommittee. "We are examining a number of other potential tax incentives for mobilized Guard soldiers, all of which would serve to alleviate the financial stresses experienced by some personnel."
Advance notice of mobilizations and a fixed duration for the mobilizations also help employers, he said.
As for retention and recruiting, the expanded role of the Guard and Reserve in the global war on terrorism has definitely had an effect.
"The high usage of the reserve component force has been characterized as having a negative effect on reserve component recruiting and retention," Hall said. "Empirical and anecdotal data support the conclusion that he extremely high usage rates will have some negative effects."
But the same data also show that low levels of mobilization have the same effects, he noted. To combat this, Congress has allowed for an increase in some in bonuses and incentives.
"Congress has supported the development of greatly enhanced enlistment bonuses, which will positively affect our strength numbers," said Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau. "Of particular note is the authority included in the FY 2005 supplemental, which provided for a variety of enhanced bonuses, including bonus increases for prior-service soldiers contracting for six-year enlistments."
Similar bonuses also are available for non-prior service enlistments as well as re-enlistments and those wishing to extend their obligation.
"We are already beginning to see some signs of a turnaround in our recruiting and retention numbers," Blum said. Service reserve officials echoed that opinion, thanking the members of the subcommittee and Congress for their efforts.
"The 2005 National Defense Authorization Act provided several significant, positive benefits that will help us recruit and retain our talented sailors to better support the Navy and joint commands," said Vice Adm. John G. Cotton, chief of the Naval Reserve, in his statement.
While Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, chief of the Air Force Reserve, agreed, he also noted that the Air Force Reserve is not experiencing the same recruiting and retention woes as the other services.
"Retention in both officer and enlisted categories has remained strong," he said. "Fiscal 2004 ended with officer retention at 92.3 percent and overall enlisted retention at 88.4 percent. These retention rates are in line with averages over the last five years." He put recruiting figures at 114 percent of the Air Force Reserve's recruiting goal.
The Defense Authorization Act also expanded Tricare health care benefits for reserve component members. Reserve servicemembers and their families now are eligible for coverage as soon as orders are received, and coverage extends beyond the servicemember's release from active duty. This is coupled with improved support resources available by telephone or on the Web, Hall noted.
Modernization of the reserve component force's equipment is a high priority, Hall said.
"The services are looking at the combined effects of high wartime usage rates of equipment along with the harsh operating environment (of Iraq and Afghanistan)," Hall said. "These factors are causing higher operations and sustainment costs."
Army depots are working to develop comprehensive repair-and-rebuild programs to extend the service life of this equipment, he said.
Hall said reserve component servicemembers are at the beginning of their expanded role as part of the total force.
"The requirement for our reserve components has not and will not lessen," he said. "Our reserve components will continue with their expanded roles in all facets of the total force. We cannot lose sight of the need to balance their commitment to family and civilian employers. That is why relieving stress on the force is absolutely essential, rebalancing is so crucial, and ensuring utilization not turn into overutilization (is) so critical."