Friday, September 17, 2004

Today’s OPTEMPO Effects on Tomorrow’s Guard and Reserves 

The elephant in the military's living room today has to be the question of what effect the great demands made on the Guard and Reserve hold for the future of these essential components of the Armed Forces. There is no denying that a war can not be effectively fought today without their contribution, but some fail to see that this is by design. In the days of the draft, as large a military as needed could be made available and the presence of conscripts from across the country ensured that legislative interest in military operations was not limited to only those States and districts that hosted major military installations. With the advent of the all-volunteer force, however, this balancing effect of the conscripts was lost. The emergent importance of the Guard and Reserve, though, has replaced this as well as served the DoD's legislative purposes, buy ensuring that members of Congress from non-military centric regions still represent constituencies that have military concerns. For example, it is much easier for the DoD to request funding for pay raises or additional benefits or improved weapons systems if more members of Congress have an at-home interest in these matters. While all services continue to report meeting or exceeding recruitment, I am concerned that sufficient attention may not be paid to the long-term effects and structure of these essential components. In this discussion, I will try to look at the mobilization of forces we are seeing, how that mobilization is controlled and managed, my impression of the effects of mobilization and how the future of the Guard and Reserves can be better served. In this, I will focus more on mobilization of the Naval Reserve, as that is where my experience and expertise lies. While I will make the assumption that the effects are similar in other branches and components, I welcome any with specific knowledge in other areas to point out differences or things I missed.

Background. The mobilization in effect to support the GWOT was authorized under provisions in 10 USC 12302(a) (partial mobilization), that allows up to one million members of the Ready Reserve to be involuntarily ordered to active duty "for not more than 24 consecutive months". In accordance with policy set forth by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs this has been interpreted as "not more than 24 cumulative months", as it was understood that in the past the word "consecutive" had been used to justify mobilization of an individual for some period less than 24 months, returning them to reserve status and then re-mobilizing them for another extended period. While the Navy has mobilized some individuals more than once, it was the expressed intent to limit total time on Active Duty to less than two years every five, including processing and accumulated leave. In fact, I have heard that other branches have begun to press the "consecutive" issue but are facing a possible legal interpretation that matches Navy policy. While the Navy does have some individuals in the third year of mobilization, this was done by the member voluntarily transitioning their orders to authorization under 10 USC 12301(d) (voluntary recall) and was only authorized for certain mission essential requirements.

I believe the mobilization, however, has been somewhat different for the Navy than for many other branches, in that most mobilizations were performed individually rather than as units. Granted, many units were recalled in whole (especially commissioned hardware units like LCDR SMASH's Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare (MIUW) Unit), but the vast majority of people brought on active duty, especially in the initial response to 9/11, were individual members to meet specific individual requirements at the different commands. For example, NAF Misawa might have requested 12 additional people for security duties as a result of the heightened THREATCON (Threat Condition). Since there was no Naval Reserve unit organized for this purpose, the Reserve Forces Command (RESFOR) went out and found the first 12 qualified people they could, sent them orders and mobilized them to fulfill this requirement. In another example, BUPERS (Bureau of Naval Personnel) estimated they would need five officers to help in sourcing Active Duty members to fill emergent requirements in the AOR, so they went to the Pers-4 Reserve Unit (Pers-4 is the detailing branch of BUPERS) and the CO found (or coerced) five volunteers to mobilize (as a side note, this team eventually grew as it took over management, detailing and order writing for all mobilized Reservists). While individual mobilization to fill specifically identified requirements has provided greater flexibility for some Reserve Units (the Pers-4 unit, for example, has been able to mobilize new members, as needed, to fill the Active Duty roles of mobilized Reservists reaching their two-year limit, providing continuity of service and knowledge), it has also created additional bookkeeping problems by having to track who has been mobilized and for how long. And this, then, is where the keen reader can see the problems start to arise. How long can we sustain the support required under the existing authorization?

While some units, such as the Pers-4 unit, have been able to sustain support of a fairly large all-Reservist staff (Pers-4 supported 30 mobilized billets at its peak and currently about 12), this has largely been due to the influx of new personnel or borrowing members from other units and the fact that the knowledge required to do the job can be fairly rapidly learned by any Naval officer. There are, however, units known as "Low Density/High Demand", where either the need for specialized skill and training (such as cryptologists, combat corpsmen and Chaplains) or dedicated hardware assets (such as the IBU mentioned above) effectively limit the pool of available resources. The problem, obviously, is that once these assets are "burnt out" on their two years, that's it. There are two issues that have compounded this.

Issues. First, when mobilizations began in response to 9/11 a lot of people got called up for a lot of reasons. In some cases, I wasn't really convinced they had anything directly to do with what was then just known as Operation Noble Eagle, but the Component Commander requested, OPNAV approved and RESFOR identified so the member got mobilized. In all fairness, at that time no one knew what was going to happen and who we were going to need, so having a few extra bodies already on Active Duty "just in case" did make sense. By March 2002, however, OPNAV realized that a lot of folks' clocks were ticking and the Navy wasn't really getting much bang for their mobilization buck, so we began massive demobilizations. The intelligence and cryptology communities immediately recognized the danger of burning people out and being left with no bench for the long stretch, so those not actively involved in GWOT were sent home. The same thing happened with many of the Navy Coastal Warfare commands (MIUW and others), especially those in domestic locations that could be effectively covered by the Coast Guard. In the end, though, as a result of the uncertainty immediately following 9/11 and the mad grab for warm bodies some commands exhibited there were a lot of Reservists and even entire Reserve Units that were no longer full up rounds for two years of duty. In a lot of cases, that was fine, but, again, it is in the "Low Density/High Demand" area that this has most significance.

The second compounding issue is that two years does not equal two years. What I mean by that is, depending upon the individual or unit, any work-up or training needed, mobilization processing, equipping, transportation, etc. it can take upwards of a month to get people on station. The same thing happens when they're moving in the opposite direction, as well. Add to that 30 days of leave earned each year and that takes another two months off the available Active Duty time. Normally, I wouldn't worry about the leaveaas it is expected that people will take some time off, but when a unit is being deployed specifically for an expected one-year rotation in theater that changes the dynamic, as it is certain that almost everyone will return with a full 30 days on the books. Considering that legally the member must be completely off Active Duty (including leave) before the end of 24 months, it means that a two-year mobilization starts to look more like 18-months of actual time on the job. And if it is broken up into two one-year mobilizations you get even less time on-station since the mobilization and demobilization processes happen twice. So, to take the example of our friend in the MIUW again, assuming he hasn't exceeded 365 days active duty during his first mobilization, we still cannot reasonably expect his second year to really be a full year. What you end up with, in essence, is a deployment cycle that slowly shifts to the left a few months with each mobilization. It's the nature of the beast, but it still, in the long run, means you need more bodies.

Problems. This is where we get into something I don't see happening that I believe should be explored. In the Navy Reserve it's pretty easy to find a job as a LCDR (O-4) and below and most drill in local units. In fact, most enlisted folks I know stay in the same unit for most of their careers (unless the units change, disband or move). At this level, personnel are moved about and billets are filled largely at the local Reserve Center level. Once you make CDR (O-5), though, you have to compete for a limited number of billets in a national selection board or face assignment in a non-pay Volunteer Training Unit (VTU) billet. As a result, you will regularly find CDRs and CAPTs (O-6) who travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to serve in a paying job. So, while the CO and/or XO of any given unit may have never been mobilized and have a "zero clock", so to speak, the entire rest of the unit may be burned out, making them unavailable for mobilization. In fact, left to random Brownian motion of members in Reserve billets, just having a large number of burnt out members effectively prevents mobilization of the entire unit. And the converse, also, is true in that the situation is entirely possible that the only person unavailable for mobilization may be the new CO or XO who had been mobilized in their previous billet. I believe RESFOR should have been more proactively cross-training Reservists in higher density and/or lower demand units to meet the billet requirements of, for example, IBUs so that following each mobilization half of the entire unit can be replaced with "fresh" sailors fully ready to be mobilized. Only by conciously detailing all billets in these Reserve Units can RESFOR be assured they have deployable assets without having to jump through hoops trying to fill billets with unqualified sailors at the last minute.

This, however, just highlights something that is true in today’s Reserves that just wasn't true before. In today's war we not only find ourselves employing a force that largely was conceived and designed to fight a different war (i.e. the Cold War turned Hot), but we find ourselves replacing the paradigm of that Cold War Reserves with a new reality. Active Duty work for Reservists has always been available, if the Reservist desired, and many did. There was not, however, an expectation of such. The GWOT not withstanding, it is today openly discussed that a Reserve career without extended Active Duty will, in the future, be seen as a non-viable option. The force structure and support systems, however, are still largely based upon a model where mobilization is the exception and not the norm. In all fairness, I don't expect to be privy to all conversations between OPNAV and RESFOR, but I haven't even heard rumors of any frank discussion at upper levels if the change in service expectations can continue to be supported with the structure in place. We have had many Reservists who were mobilized and had to close or sell their private businesses or practices. We have had members who literally lost the farm. And, even after the Active Duty obligation is fulfilled full recovery may be years in the making. A lawyer who has to find his clients new representation cannot count on all of them to come back after he fulfills his service obligation. A computer software developer who looses two years of technology returns to a work place in some cases competely foreign to him. Whereas we once saw this to be exceptional circumstances, we are now saying this is to be expected two or three times in the course of a career. I have not seen any serious attempt to address this shift in thinking.

Ideas. There are many ways to look at this. On the one hand, we are fighting a war and the vast majority of Reservists I have talked to are proud that they have been able to contribute, even in the most minor of ways. Ad there is always the old "they knew what they were signing up for" argument as well. But we cannot ignore that as the war goes on (and it will) the patriotism of Reservists and Guard members may not continue to always trump other concerns. Many who are leaving Active Duty join the Guard and Reserves based upon the understanding that existed during the Cold War period. After all, if an Active Duty member is leaving the service due to family separation, will the separation anticipated as part of the Guard and Reserves be sufficiently less to encourage that person to continue his affiliation? Especially given a marked degradation in benefits made available. While recent changes have been of some use (for example, permitting Guard and Reserve unlimited use of Commissary privileges), they just aren’t enough, I think, to bridge the gap between expectation and compensation. If we are to continue to rely on the Guard and Reserve, not only in combat where it counts most but also in support roles during both war and peace, there needs to be more parity in benefits or I think we seriously risk loosing a lot of the prior Active Duty participation.

The first, most obvious area available for change is in retirement benefits. Reserve retirement pay is already less than Active Duty, as it is based upon a prorated 20-years of service on a point-for-day basis (in simpler terms, if the member has, for example, 3650 points, or the equivalent of 10 years worth of points, he is entitled to half the retirement pay he would have received as a 20-year Active Duty veteran). This is right and just, but most people outside of the Guard and Reserve don't know that after one retires they don't see their first check until age 60. As I mentioned earlier, despite legislation such as USERRA (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act), mobilization can have real, long-term effects on civilian compensation. Even if one is guaranteed seniority while serving, there is no denying that the member still suffers the loss of experience and contacts, which directly relate to opportunity and promotion. While the member is drilling, this difference is compensated by the Active Duty pay earned, but currently that disappears upon retirement. Currently, there are thousands of so-called "gray area" Reservists who have retired but are not yet receiving benefits. While I freely admit I have a vested interest in this, I do believe the gray area should be eliminated and retirement benefits should be paid upon retirement. This means the Reservist, in the new paradigm, will continue to be recognized and compensated for the sacrifices made in his civilian career on behalf of the service. After all, if the Active Duty member sees less of a difference in service expectations between Active and Reserves, he should not see a glaring difference in compensation benefits either.

The second oportunity I immediately see is in health benefits. While I don't think all Guardsmen and Reservists should receive full Active Duty benefits, I do think they should be able to purchase, at a nominal cost, TRICARE benefits for themselves and their families (TRICARE is the military's version of health insurance). Often people are hesitant to enter into private business because of a loss of health insurance, but by allowing the Guard and Reserve access to TRICARE it provides them greater flexibility to have and build a civilian career that is more compatible with the anticipated demands of service. It also ensures continuity of care for the member and his family before, during and after mobilization. Again, as we are asking more from these members they should see a greater support network available to them.

Conclusion. So, are we approaching a crisis in the Guard and Reserve? I don’t think so, but I do see more warning signs than proactive measures to avoid the possible problem. In the late '70s we went through what many call the "hollow force", where the military was largely combat ineffective due to being stretched thin and a pervasive internal malaise. While there are many like myself who have so many years in that we can't afford not to stay, we need to take steps now to ensure that the young men and women leaving Active Duty today, the sailors, soldiers and Marines who really do the hard work, see the Guard and Reserves as a place where they will want to continue their military career. What we cannot afford is for the Guard and Reserve to become a place known for doing half of the work for a quarter of the benefits and none of the glory.

UPDATE: SMASH was kind enough to let me know I had inadvertantly placed him in the wrong unit when I previously said he was with an Inshore Boat Unit (IBU). He is actually with MIUW, another hardware unit that not only has small boats but can also deploy and monitor underwater listening devices to help detect submarines. While the point is still the same, the text has been corrected.

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