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Lee Gives Guard, Reserve, High Marks as She Leaves Office

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 6, 1998 – Five years ago active duty commanders had mixed feelings about Guard and Reserve forces.

Commanders had little confidence they could get access to Guard and Reserve forces when they needed them, and then were only semi-confident reservists could handle the job. More and more, the commanders began needing the Guard and Reserve to keep pace with the explosion of post-Cold War missions.

Today, not only are active duty commanders confident Guard and Reserve forces can do the job, they see these forces regularly augmenting missions wherever the active component goes. This change has helped ease the optempo burden of active forces while making great strides in integrating the reserve components into the total force.

It's the accomplishment that gives Deborah Lee the most satisfaction as she prepares to leave the Pentagon.

"It's now taken as a given that if we need reserves, of course they will be available. They will be there, they will be ready, they will get the job done, and we (commanders) will be provided with the support we need," Lee said.

Lee, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs since 1993, leaves her position this month for a job in private industry. Her No. 1 priority during the past five years has been to bring the Guard and Reserve out of what she called a "Cold War paradigm" and integrate them into the total force. Two other top concerns were improving readiness and members' quality of life.

The Cold War concept that needed change was the focus of Guard and Reserve forces training strictly for the sake of possibly mobilizing someday, she said. That mindset was replaced with a new model.

"We don't just train," Lee said. "Rather, we work on a daily basis and we plug into whatever the operational mission happens to be -- whether that's a wartime mission or a peacetime mission."

Lee cited several initiatives during the past several years that helped accomplish her goal: Guard and Reserve forces can now be called up for 270-day tours instead of only 90. Directives were changed to allow the use of reserve forces in operations such as the Haiti and Bosnia missions.

She said a three-year pilot program sent more Guard and Reserve forces on overseas tours, helping to ease the active duty optempo while providing valuable training opportunities. And just last month, Lee noted, Guard and Reserve forces were given the mission to support states and local communities in the event of an attack involving weapons of mass destruction.

In the area of readiness, Lee said the challenge has been to maintain readiness during a period of constrained budgets. She credits people in the field who "leveraged technology and who stretched every dollar to the limit to keep people enthused and keep people trained."

Efforts have concentrated on long distance learning, better use of weekend drill and annual training periods, increased field training, and revamping the way Guard and Reserve forces are equipped.

"We're getting there. We're not fully there yet, but we're on the way," she said.

Lee's quality of life efforts have focused on better access to medical and dental care, family assistance and employer support.

A health care summit will address Guard and Reserve concerns. Families are also benefiting from initiatives to standardize family support functions during deployments. Lee said this is a direct outgrowth of the Persian Gulf War, during which family support was "rather spotty, depending on where you were across the country."

In the employer support arena, the nearly 50-year-old Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Act was updated to provide members increased employment protection during and after deployments. Additionally, a series of awards and education programs aimed at employers have been added to maintain their support.

It is in the quality of life arena Lee regrets not having been able to accomplish more. Unresolved issues, for instance, include expanded commissary privileges and access to space-available travel. Lee said she fought hard for these benefits during her tenure, but Congress repeatedly rejected proposals. She said the two issues may be resubmitted for consideration in fiscal 1999 after further internal study.

"My notion has been that as we ask our people to do more, we should be prepared to expand benefits as best we can," Lee said.

Still, she is leaving after having helped guide the Guard and Reserve through one of the most dramatic transitions in their history. She called the Persian Gulf War a watershed event.

"Before then, people questioned whether Guard and Reserve forces would come if we called them up," Lee said. "The next question was, if they came, would they be ready? And the next question was, if they came and they were ready, could they do the job? In the Persian Gulf War, the answer to all those questions was yes."

The war was followed by further integration into the total force and increased deployments to support the growth of peacetime missions. Throughout, Lee said, the Guard and Reserve have coped well. Except for isolated problems, recruiting and retention remain stable. Indeed, she said, units that have deployed tend to have higher retention rates.

"I think the lesson is not do back-to-back deployments, because that probably does cross the line of being too much for part-time people," she said. "As long as we spread the work around, as long as it's spaced out, it really becomes a morale booster to troops."

And it's the troops Lee said she'll miss the most as she departs her Pentagon office.

"It really is very satisfying and very exhilarating to see just how well they are doing and how well they are coping with what can be challenging circumstances," Lee said. "It's good to see that, where the rubber meets the road, people really do make it work."

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