Army Reserve Focuses On Balancing Ranks, Specialties
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2009 Satisfied that it’s increased its ranks by about 20,000 soldiers and continues to meet its recruiting goals, the Army Reserve now is focused on recruiting more troops as they leave active duty to fill gaps at the mid-level ranks and in specific specialties.
Army Brig. Gen. Leslie A. Purser, the Army Reserve’s deputy chief, praises recruiters and Army Reserve soldiers whose efforts enabled the Army Reserve to boost its numbers from about 185,00 to the current 206,000 in recent years.
The problem, she said, is that the force is bottom-heavy, particularly at the E-1 to E-4 ranks, but has shortages among mid-level commissioned and noncommissioned officers. The Army Reserve is short about 10,000 captains and majors, but has too many lieutenant colonels and colonels. Meanwhile, it’s been able to fill only 54 percent of its sergeant first class billets.
Equally troubling, the Army Reserve has too many soldiers in some specialties and too few in others. It’s currently at 170 percent strength for chaplain assistants, but has big gaps among wheeled-vehicle mechanics and, ironically, retention NCOs.
Army Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, the Army Reserve chief, summed up the problem during the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting in October.
“We have 208,000 [soldiers], but it’s not the right 208,000,” he said. “It’s not in the right rank, in the right [specialties], in the right location.”
Stultz has charged Purser to come up with a campaign plan to balance and man the force.
“We need to figure out ways to get more precise,” Purser said. “We have to look more closely at the really significant shortfalls, and not just go for blanket numbers.”
The reshaping effort is focusing on several fronts. The Army Reserve is seeking more prior-service recruits. It’s targeting slightly older recruits who bring more experience than most 18-year-olds. And it plans to offer incentives so soldiers in over-strength occupational specialties will retrain into those experiencing shortfalls.
Purser said she’s working closely with the Army’s accessions and recruiting commands to ensure recruiters know what the Army Reserve is looking for – and what it’s not.
“She must get very precise and tell them what the Army Reserve needs,” Stultz explained, using Army shorthand for unit supply specialists as an example. “No more 92 Yankees in this location, only in that location,” she said, “and no more chaplain assistants.” Then, she added, she has to figure out how to give chaplain assistants incentive to become military police.
A central front in the reshaping plan is the network of points at which active-duty soldiers begin the process of transitioning from active duty to civilian life. The Army Reserve plans to take a tip from the National Guard’s playbook, assigning recruiters directly to transition points, where they can pitch the Army Reserve to troops still on active duty.
“We need to reach these guys as early out as we can, … to make sure they understand the opportunities that we have,” Purser said. “The idea is to get there and talk with them early enough to encourage them to come over to the Reserve side so they can continue to reap the benefits [of military service], … rather than have them stop completely when they get off active duty.”
One big selling point the Army Reserve hopes to benefit from is the Employer Partnership Initiative. The program links Army reservists with civilian job opportunities in their military career field, and with employers who recognize and support their Army Reserve obligations. So far, more than 700 companies have signed on, Purser said, eager to recruit workers who bring the skills, discipline and leadership they’ve developed in the military.
Stultz said he sees the program as a way to help the Army Reserve achieve the balance it needs.
“We’ve got plenty of [employer] partners,” he said. “So we must get scientific about finding companies with opportunities we can fill with our soldiers or future soldiers. We’re satisfying corporate America, and we’re satisfying our needs.”
At the same time, recognizing that some soldiers leave active duty because they’ve grown deployment-weary, the Army Reserve is taking the novel step of guaranteeing more “dwell time” at home between deployments for some prior-service recruits.
“We have incentivized these active-component guys, saying we will guarantee a two-year dwell, at least, before they have to go again,” Purser said. “Even if they go to a unit that is scheduled to deploy, the Army Reserve will honor that commitment.”
That’s a guarantee even the Individual Ready Reserve can’t offer, she said.
Stultz calls these efforts part of a precise human capital strategy that will ensure the Army Reserve has the right people with the right skills in the right units at the right time.
“As we look ahead,” he said, “we know that building the right force is crucial for success.”