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Defense Leaders Commentary: The National Guard and Reserve in 2000 and Beyond

By Command Sgt. Maj. Colin Younger, USAR
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2000 – 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.

Today's National Guard and Reserve forces have entered the 21st century as an active and integral part of the Total Force. Over the past two years, I have traveled extensively to military installations of all services, both here at home and abroad. I have seen active duty personnel and National Guardsmen and Reservists of all services working side by side accomplishing the nation's military missions.

Reservists are now serving in the air, on land and at sea on a daily basis defending our national interests and protecting our values. The increased use of our reserve forces represents a major change from previous periods, and this change can be seen firsthand in Kosovo, Bosnia, Southwest Asia, Haiti and in many other foreign countries and all over the continental United States.

The primary purpose of the reserve forces -- the Army and Air National Guard, Army Reserve, Naval Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve -- is to provide combat ready units and individuals to the nation's active military forces when necessary. One thing that has become crystal clear over the past few years is that "when necessary" means nearly anytime we as a nation undertake sustained operations. As Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen has said on many occasions, "Today, we cannot undertake sustained operations anywhere in the world without calling on the Guard and Reserve."

With the restructuring of our military forces in the post-Cold War era, and with the accompanying increases in operations and personnel tempo, our reserve forces are being relied upon like never before.

During the Cold War, reservists were largely underused. They trained for mobilization, usually two weeks during the summer and one weekend a month, but were very seldom, if ever, mobilized. But today guardsmen and reservists, who now number some 1.4 million and make up half the Total Force, contribute over 13 million duty days of support annually to Total Force missions and exercises.

To use a sports metaphor, guardsmen and reservists are no longer equivalent to the sixth man or woman on the basketball team, sitting at the end of the bench. Nor can they be regarded as the 12th player on the football team, watching the game from the sidelines. Today, reservists are starters and players in each and every game -- and they are an integral part of the game plan. As such, guardsmen and reservists are deeply involved in nearly every ongoing mission that today's military is called upon to perform.

In the opinion of many of today's senior military leaders, the reserve forces are well suited for the types of peacekeeping missions that we are currently involved in, and they are being used extensively in all aspects of those operations. But they are not being used as a last resort. Indeed, members of today's National Guard and Reserve are superbly meeting the challenges of increased use. And to meet those challenges they have to meet the same educational, physical and training standards, as well as the requirements of military appearance and bearing, as their active duty counterparts. They contribute thousands of hours of their personal time to meet these requirements.

Who are today's reservists? They are lawyers, doctors, nurses, policemen, firemen, teachers, truck drivers, postal workers and many others. They live and work in more than 4,000 communities nationwide. For many reservists, their military job is closely related to their civilian job. In fact, one of the great strengths of today's reserve force is that reservists have talents, such as high tech and computer skills, that the military vitally needs and which can be accessed through the use of our reserve forces. But reservists can bring more than special skills to the force: They can help bring a greater understanding of the nature and purpose of that force to the civilian community.

The advent of the all-volunteer force nearly three decades ago has meant that, today, many Americans have very little exposure to or direct experience of America's military. Indeed, fewer than 10 percent of the population under the age of 60 has ever served in uniform. Throughout his tenure at the Department of Defense, Secretary Cohen has emphasized the importance of strengthening the bonds between America and its military. In their dual roles as both citizens and service members, our reservists can and should play a vital role in helping forge the bonds of understanding and appreciation between the civilian and military communities.

The challenge for today and tomorrow is to focus on how we continue to get National Guardsmen and Reservists to contribute and make sacrifices in the national interest, and how we can nurture civilian appreciation for the service and sacrifice of all our service members. We can meet those challenges by emphasizing the principles that have kept our nation strong and free. Those principles are physical and moral courage, bravery, determination, sacrifice, honesty, and superb planning and leadership. These principles are part of our heritage, and they have played a vital role in getting us where we are today. As we move on into the 21st century, we can rest assured that those principles will continue to make our Total Force -- Active, Guard and Reserve -- the best in the world!

(Command Sgt. Maj. Colin Younger is the senior enlisted adviser to the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.)

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