Innovative Training Benefits Troops, Communities
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 1999 DoD's Civil-Military Innovative Readiness Training is a "win-win" proposition for the military and the American public, according to defense officials here.
Active and reserve component combat support and combat service support units get hands-on experience performing mission-essential tasks and local communities get needed services and support, they said. Military members provide engineering support for infrastructure projects and provide medical and dental services.
Title 10 of the U.S. Code, Section 2012, authorizes unit commanders to work with other federal, state and local agencies outside the Defense Department, according to Air Force Col. Diana Fleek, program manager, Office of the Assistant Defense Secretary for Reserve Affairs. As a result, the military is learning to form interagency and interdepartmental partnerships.
"It's an actual win-win situation for everybody," said the colonel, who gives the program an "A plus" for what it does for the public and particularly for the military. The bottom line, she said, is that military skills are enhanced when they are exercised and military readiness is strengthened when combat mission capabilities are used.
Service members participated in 178 projects in 39 states in fiscal 1998 and in more than 200 projects during fiscal 1999. They helped build roads in the northern wilds of Alaska and drilled wells in southern Texas. They helped prepare ball field complexes in Alabama and moved critically needed hay throughout Oklahoma. They provided medical, dental and veterinary care at remote sites throughout the country.
"The feedback we get from the combat support and the combat service support folks who never get to go anywhere is that this is the best training they've ever had," Fleek said.
The Innovative Readiness Training program, established in 1993, began as part of the Clinton administration's effort to rebuild America. The Senate Armed Services Committee echoed the president's support for the program.
"The American people have made an enormous investment in developing the military's skills, capabilities and resources," a 1993 Senate committee report stated. "These resources, if properly matched to local needs and coordinated with civilian efforts, can be a useful contribution to addressing the serious domestic needs of the United States."
The National Guard is involved in the majority of the program's projects because they do very small projects in different locations within a state, Fleek noted. "The reserve and the active forces are actually leading many of the joint task force projects," she said. The colonel estimated active duty service members account for about 12 percent of the program participants.
"Units participate in this program because it gives them another avenue to do readiness training," she said. "Instead of going overseas, like they do with civil assistance and humanitarian relief, they stay in the continental United States and work with the local community."
Historically, for example, engineering units have done similar projects in South America and other overseas locations. Back at home base, however, they may be limited to such assignments as moving a berm from Point A to Point B on base, Fleek noted. The Innovative Readiness Program allows them to train in a real-world, hands-on environment, she said.
"Now they have an opportunity to actually go out to a community and do road building on Native American reservations in the Great Plains, or in remote communities in Alaska or down on the border with the counter-drug folks," she said. "They're actually doing the road-grading. They're not just moving earth from one place to another. They find that extremely rewarding."
The program spotlights the military in the communities from which the services recruit. As a result, Fleek said, units benefit from increased retention and recruiting. "That has then brought the whole thing full circle to become a benefit to the military," she said.
The program also provides opportunities for joint efforts that demonstrate the active and reserve components' ability to work as a total force. "This program is a mirror image to what's going on overseas with major exercises," she said. "It's just happening in the United States. It's actually giving back. We're getting a double bang for the taxpayers' buck."
More units are becoming aware of the opportunities available through the program. "We're seeing an increase in the program, which means more units are understanding what it's about and are taking advantage of interagency cooperation," Fleek said. "I think the program has shown that it has the potential to grow."
The current DoD budget allocates $20 million for the effort; the services also spend training funds. "So we're actually seeing about a $60 million to $80 million program that is working for readiness training here in the United States," she said.
Fleek said she expects to see more partnerships with other federal and local agencies in the future.
"We're going to see this tremendous onset of benefit to agencies like Coastal America, which is a DoD environmental policy program responsible for the entire U.S. coastline," she said. "They're very busy with environmental projects, either rehabbing dams or dealing with environmental issues on BRAC-closed bases along the coastline."
Administrative initiatives with Native Americans have taken the forefront this year, Fleek added. "We're finding that the program is a perfect fit for those type of interagency infrastructure to underserved communities."