War on Terror Creates New Paradigm for Guard, Reserve
By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 17, 2005 The global war on terror has created a new paradigm for the nation's National Guard and Army Reserve warriors, the Defense Department's senior reserve official said here today.
No longer a strategic reserve, today's Guard and Reserve are "true operational forces" that are making a critical difference in Iraq and other places around the world, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas Hall said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.
Hall recently returned from a tour of U.S. forces and facilities in Qatar and Kuwait, where he met with more than 2,000 personnel in nine locations.
Of the total 1.4 million active duty forces, Hall said, 1.2 million -- or 46 percent of the total force -- are Guard or Reserve personnel. Today, 178,000 are currently serving in some capacity in the global war on terror. About 400,000 have been mobilized since the attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001.
"That tells you we are using the Guard and Reserve in unprecedented ways," Hall said. But while the number is large, he said, it represents only 35 percent of the Guard and Reserve -- which means that 65 percent are not being used. Stress on the force, he said, is primarily a result of "low density, high-use" career fields. "We are not out of people, but out of balance," he said. "So we are rebalancing."
The Army is adding more military police and civil affairs personnel and converting other personnel, such as artillery, into more needed skill sets, he explained.
Hall said the military also must ensure that the Guard and Reserve are totally integrated into the overall force, with the same training, the same pay, and the same personnel system. "We are moving towards that now," he said, "and are halfway there."
Hall said the move to develop a common pay system will eliminate many of the problems that result from transitioning personnel from inactive service to active service and then back again. "That's where pay often gets fouled up," he said.
He also praised Congress for authorizing expanded Tricare health coverage last year for Guard and Reserve personnel. He explained that service personnel and their families now are eligible for benefits 90 days prior to activation as well as for up to six months after demobilization.
For every 90 days of active duty service, Hall said, Guard and Reserve personnel are eligible for one year of Tricare coverage for a modest fee. That means, for example, that personnel who have served two years of active duty are eligible for eight years of health care coverage. What's more, the coverage will be retroactive for those who already have served.
Hall said the department also was working to provide additional incentives for physicians around the country to include Tricare patients in their practices.
As for recent reports that the services are unable to meet their recruitment targets, Hall said it was important to get to "ground truth" on this issue. At the end of 2004, all components, with the exception of the Army Guard and Reserve, had met their end-strength goals, Hall said. The same is true of the first few months of this year, he said, with the exception of the Army, which is about 17 percent below its end-strength goals.
Hall said the military has put additional recruiters in the field, as well as in theater to ensure that any who want to re-enlist are able to do so. Up-front incentives are also important, he said, noting that Congress has authorized a $15,000 tax-free retention bonus. Hall said 600 personnel received this bonus in 2004, and 1,200 have already received it in 2005.
Hall praised the pride, dedication, and sense of purpose he observed in the troops during his visit to Qatar and Kuwait. There were no "sour faces," he said. "When you see men smiling and happy to be doing their job, that's something you can't fake. Sure, they'd rather be at home," he said, but they take pride in knowing that "they are doing what they were trained to do."
Hall said he remembers well the "greatest generation" who came back from World War II and "built this country." Looking at today's military men and women, he said, "I see the next greatest generation. They are all heroes, and I thank them."
Hall also thanked Americans across the country for the honor and tribute they have bestowed on returning vets and the nation's employers for making it easier for the Guard and Reserve to serve.