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Defense Leaders Commentary: The Guard and Reserve Contract Has Changed

By Charles L. Cragin
National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2000 – Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness

With western portions of the nation facing the worst fire season in a decade, desperate fire crews have had to call on America's military -- active duty, National Guard and Reserve -- to help douse nature's fury and control the flames.

While many Americans might appreciate the role played by the National Guard in assisting with natural disasters here at home, they might also be surprised by the news that the Guard and Reserve are today helping put out fires of another sort in some of the most farflung regions of the globe. From the Balkans to the Middle East, from Central America to the Korean Peninsula, reservists are playing an increasingly important role in defending American security. This is a radical departure from past practice -- one that I have regarded with a positive mixture of pride and professional scrutiny.

During my 33 years in the Naval Reserve, my fellow reservists and I knew one thing was certain: Unless there was a major military event or some cataclysmic crisis, we would not be called up. The reserve was precisely that: It was reserved for use in a major war. Today, however, that premise has utterly changed. With this change has come an unheralded, but decisive, change in the contract between America and those who serve in reserve.

The old Cold War commitment for reservists, which called for duty on one weekend a month and two weeks each summer, is largely a thing of the past. Many of today's Guard and Reserve personnel are often serving far in excess of this. Indeed, in many Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units, reservists are serving eight to 12 days a month every month, year round. Similar situations exist in many other reserve units in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

Reservists today perform many vital functions, from aerial refueling to military police, from civil affairs to medical support. The bottom line is that we cannot go to war, enforce a peace agreement or undertake prolonged humanitarian missions anywhere in the world today without calling on the Guard and Reserve. The fact remains that we are deeply dependent upon the core competencies embedded in the Guard and Reserve, and we will continue to call on them to make critical contributions to missions and operations around the world.

A little history helps illustrate the point. During the Gulf War, the nation called over a quarter million reservists and guardsmen to active duty, many for six months or more. They were instrumental in ensuring our victory in Desert Storm, and their demonstrated success in answering the nation's call formed a watershed in our approach to the use of reserve forces.

This trend accelerated in the mid-1990s and continues today in the Balkans, where more than 20,000 reservists have been called involuntarily to duty in Bosnia and where another 20,000 have served as volunteers. Some 6,000 have been called for duty in Kosovo -- they, too, have been joined by large numbers of volunteers.

Currently in Bosnia, U.S. and other multinational forces are being led by the 49th Division of the Texas Army National Guard. This marks the first time since the Korean War that active duty units have been commanded by a National Guard general officer. And this is not a one-time fix or a short-term solution: The 49th will be followed in later rotations by the 28th and 29th Divisions from the Pennsylvania Guard and Virginia Guard, respectively. Over the past few years, we have also called some 2,000 reservists for continuing operations in Southwest Asia, where they are working to enforce the no-fly zones over Iraq and contain Saddam Hussein.

In recent years, and despite having to perform more missions in more places with fewer people, the Department of Defense has had considerable success in working to sustain readiness, improve pay and benefits, enhance health care and retirement, support new recruiting efforts, and improve the quality of life of our military members, active and reserve. We have also responded as new threats have emerged, from cyber attacks to terrorism, and we are successfully integrating our reserve forces into the emerging missions of the 21st century.

The scope, magnitude and duration of the contributions being made by reservists underscore their enduring value in today's world. The role of our reserve forces is changing, those changes are influencing policy in important ways, and they tell us new things about the future direction of America's military. They also help highlight the changing contract between reservists and the nation they serve. The men and women of the Guard and Reserve are not "weekend warriors" anymore -- and their increased contributions demand that we work harder to take care of them, their families and their civilian employers.

Defense Leaders Commentary is a feature of the American Forces Press Service. It provides senior DoD leaders with an opportunity to speak directly to military service members, their families and DoD civilians on subjects of current interest.

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