Changing Face of War Means Morphing Guard, Reserve
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
SAN DIEGO, Jan. 11, 2006 The days of the weekend warrior are over, a top defense official said here yesterday.
Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, said the country has entered the era of an operational reserve force vs. a strategic one.
Hall spoke at WEST 2006, a technology, communication and national security conference co-sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the U.S. Naval Institute.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 500,000 reserve component servicemembers have been mobilized, Hall said. Mobilized guardsmen and reservists currently number 130,000.
Though the number of mobilized reserve component servicemembers is on the decline 50,000 less than a year ago the unprecedented and extended reliance on these forces brings to the forefront a number of issues. These include methods of mobilization, support systems and benefits, Hall said.
He pointed to successes in changing reserve component mobilization policies put in place during the Cold War. But there is still much to do, Hall said.
Support systems for these changing reserve forces are in place, but they need refining, he said, citing an example. "We have some 37 categories by which we can pay guardsmen and reservists," he said. "It's very flexible, but it's very confusing. We probably need three or four categories."
Equipment also raises concerns, he said. Equipment that returns from Iraq and Afghanistan will need repair, and what is left behind must be replaced. And considering the reserve components' recent stateside humanitarian activities, such as with Hurricane Katrina, what equipment is appropriate for their missions becomes an issue. It all carries quite a tab.
"We must have the kinds of equipment that (reserve components) can train on and use," Hall said. "There's a big bill involved with that, but we're going to have to face that."
One important issue is benefits, he said. He used the analogy of an active duty servicemember, a guardsman and a reservist in a foxhole.
"They look at each other and say, 'Are your benefits the same? The same bullet's going to get us,'" Hall said. The benefits are not the same, he noted, adding that efforts are being made to change this.
Just as important as benefits is consideration for the reserve component servicemembers' civilian lives.
The Guard and Reserve become less attractive if a military employee has to worry about possibly losing out on a job opportunity because of service. And the loss of income because of mobilization also can be worrisome.
Hall requested that defense industry leaders attending the conference help other employers understand the value of hiring a guardsman or reservist. He pointed to Home Depot's philosophy on hiring reserve component servicemembers as a positive example, naming the qualities that Robert Nardelli, the company's chairman, president and chief executive officer, said he sees in military employees.
Nardelli, Hall said, has found former servicemembers his company's sought to be model employees: They're drug-free, they're honest, and they're team leaders.
Hall called Nardelli's hiring actions both the "patriotic ...(and) economic thing to do."
In working toward the goals of restructuring the Guard and Reserve so that they better meet the country's needs, Hall said, the military is building a new institution.
"I believe history is going to write that this is the next Greatest Generation, and we need to support them," he said.
WEST 2006 will continue through tomorrow.