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Today's Reserves Better Integrated With Active Forces

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2001 – Today's Guard and Reserve troops serve alongside their active-duty counterparts as partners, not auxiliaries, DoD's senior reserve affairs official said.

That kind of equality wasn't always the case, said Charles L. Cragin, acting assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs and acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness since January. The retired Naval Reserve captain was principal deputy assistant secretary for reserve affairs from September 1997 to January 2001. He recounted his work with the reserve components in an interview as he prepared to return to private life June 1.

Cragin said his driving force has been Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's direction in September 1997 that the reserve forces be better integrated with the active components. "The fact is, we have more missions to do with fewer people. We have to use the expertise and commitment of every single person in this force, be they active, Guard or Reserve," he said.

He said "cultural and structural barriers" separating the active and reserve forces in 1997 needed to be eliminated. As part of his integration policy, Cohen replaced the reserve components' pink identification card with the green military IDs issued to active troops, Cragin said.

"The pink ID card was a symbol of discrimination," he said. Getting rid of it was a portent of other important reserve component initiatives to come. Over the next three years, DoD pursued military personnel and healthcare system overhauls to address both inequities and deployment issues.

Cragin said another initiative elevated reserve service chiefs from two- to three-star rank.

"Commanders of equivalent active military forces generally run at the three-star level," he said. "The upgrade means reserve component commanders come to the table with parity, the same status, as their active-component counterparts. That's important."

The increased rank reflects the increased responsibility borne by the 1.3 million reserve component members in the country's national security strategy, Cragin said. America's military downsized by about a million men and women in the last decade: 300,000 from the reserve components and 700,000 from the active force, he added.

The reserve components have been shouldering more of the mission load in recent years, Cragin said. For example, more than 20,000 Guard and Reserve troops -- including civil affairs, military police, public affairs and other military specialties -- have served duty rotations in the Balkans since 1995.

In October, he added, the Virginia Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Division headquarters will deploy to Bosnia for six months at the head of 2,700 reserve component troops from 21 states.

"Anytime you look at one of these rotations, it is going to be an integrated rotation," Cragin said. A reserve component or an active-duty officer may be in command, he added.

Today, it is difficult to perform present missions without "reaching across the spectrum of the Total Force," Cragin said. Examples, he noted, are the 55 percent of the Air Force's air-refueling capability and 97 percent of the Army's civil affairs assets that are embedded in the Guard and Reserve.

As deployments of reservists increased in recent years, DoD has sought better communications with their employers and family members, Cragin said. He noted that a recent survey showed that nearly all 1.3 million guardsmen and reservists work in civilian life for just 6 percent of the nation's employers.

"We need to focus our communication efforts on that 6 percent," he said, adding that DoD is developing a database featuring Guard and Reserve members' names, employers, mailing addresses and direct supervisors.

"We can communicate with employers on a regular basis and provide a point of contact with our Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee," he said. "So, if employers have any issues, they can go to their state committees, or to the National Committee, or all the way up the chain to the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs."

Cragin said efforts are also under way to make the federal government, which employs 10 percent of all reserve component members, the model employer of Guards and Reserve members.

"(Defense) Secretary (Donald H.) Rumsfeld announced an initiative earlier this year under which the Department of Defense has indicated that it will continue to pay the civilian health care costs of any of its civilian federal employees who are called up for a contingency in their reserve capacity," he said.

Another initiative provides immediate TRICARE dental coverage to family members of Guard and Reserve members called to active duty by presidential order, or for sponsors on other tours to serve one year of active duty to qualify. The old contract, he said, required guardsmen and reservists to first serve two years of active service before qualifying for TRICARE-supplied dental work.

Cragin also cited an initiative that took effect last October that makes eligible those reserve component members who've accumulated a total of eight years of active service to have their children nominated by the president to attend a service academy.

DoD is concerned about the frequency and duration of Guard and Reserve deployments, which can significantly affect service members, families and employers, Cragin said.

"We've been able to develop a strategic vision for how we work family readiness issues," he said. "We've published a family benefits booklet so that family members know about available services and benefits.

"These are steps in a journey. But, as I liked to tell people as I visited reserve centers: 'If your spouse and kids don't have that family member ID card, they don't have the key to the kingdom, because they can't get in to access the system.'"

Data are still being analyzed from surveys of 75,000 reserve component members and 43,000 spouses last fall, Cragin said. The surveys, he said, will be used by DoD to obtain a comprehensive look at morale, civilian work, economic issues, military training, military benefits and programs, mobilizations and deployments, plans to leave or continue in the military, and member and family member characteristics.

The use of e-mail has greatly improved communications between deployed reserve component members and their families at home, Cragin said.

"We have to constantly think of ways to keep our families in contact with their loved ones during deployments," he said. One way to lessen the effects of family separation, he said, could be to select reserve component personnel with high-demand specialties from all the services.

"If small-scale contingencies like Bosnia and Kosovo persist, we might have to talk about joint support," Cragin said. "For example, there is no reason why a Naval Reserve public affairs unit can't be called up for Bosnia.

"Or, if you're a thoracic surgeon, the thoracic cavity of a sailor is probably pretty identical to a soldier's."

How the reserve components are used in the future hinges on the outcome of DoD's ongoing "top-to-bottom" review, Cragin said.

"Once we know what our national military strategy is, then we can know what our capabilities have to be and how we array them within the force structure," he said. "Is the force of tomorrow going to be identical to the force of today? I doubt it. It is clearly going to be much more technology based."

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