Fixing the Guard and Army Reserve

An editorial in today’s Washington Times draws attention to readiness issues with the National Guard and Reserve.

Compared to the previous half century, the demands placed on the National Guard and Reserve have been unprecedented in recent years. During the four previous fiscal years, the use of Guard and Reserve personnel averaged 65 million duty days, more than five times the rate in 2001 and nearly 50 percent higher than their relatively brief use for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Since September 11, 370,000 Army National Guard soldiers and 60,000 Air National Guardsmen have been deployed. Often, in order to assemble a single deployable unit, the Army National Guard must combine personnel and equipment from several units. This practice, known as cross-leveling, seriously affects training and unit cohesion. In 2005, an average of 12 units were needed to donate equipment for one deployable unit. Last year, to build a deployable Army Guard unit, a third of the personnel and 60 percent of the equipment was cross-leveled, causing one frustrated battalion commander to testify before the CNGR that “cross-leveling is evil.” As the equipment hole has become deeper, a disturbing trend has developed: Most of the Guard’s procurement funds budgeted several years in advance are later diverted to other problems.

The increased demands placed on the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve have lowered the quality of personnel. The percentage of guardsmen who have had prior service enlistments plunged from more than 60 percent to less than 40 percent over the last 10 years. Recruiting and retention have encountered serious problems as well, even as enlistment and selective re-enlistment bonuses have soared.

There’s likely not much that can be done about this. Indeed, using a peacetime baseline makes little sense; we are, after all, at war.

The reason prior service enlistments have “plunged” is that there are fewer prior service people available. The post-Cold War drawdown shrunk the active force by over a third, so naturally there were going to be fewer veterans available to transfer to the Reserve Component. Over the last five years, we have been on a wartime footing and fewer people are being allowed to leave their eight year active duty obligation, which has until recently been largely theoretical, at the end of their nominal 3- or 4-year enlistment.

Ultimately, the whole point of a reserve force is to have them available when the time comes. That time has, for the first time since the Korean War, come.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t real problems.

For example, the Guard has the dual role as a state militia and emergency response force as well as being part of the Total Force. The latter has always been the primary rationale for funding but the former has predominated over the last several decades.

Additionally, until now, we have managed to pretend that private employers could support their Guard and Reserve personnel and ensure that they were not penalized for military call-ups. When it was just the advertised “weekend a month and two weeks in the summer,” that wasn’t much of an issue. When it’s eighteen months at a time and three years out of five, that’s simply untenable.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    So, Gordo England says Bush is looking for up to another 7000 troops to send into the “surge”.

    Say, didn’t the Brits just announce they were taking around that many troops _out_ of Iraq? And didn’t the administration try to play it off as evidence of _success_?

    I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover this administration is full of crap.

  2. Tlaloc says:

    we are, after all, at war.

    Not without a declaration of war we’re not, no. That is the only constitutional way for our country to be “at war.” What were doing now is yet another illegal “police action.”

  3. Boyd says:

    What were doing now is yet another illegal “police action.”

    I guess we need to round up all those Congressmen and Senators who voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force, then.

  4. Jim Henley says:

    Fewer wars might do the trick.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Fewer wars might do the trick.

    Sure. But fighting only wars we need to fight and are prepared to win would be a good thing irrespective of the Guard-Reserve problems. Conversely, we would have this set of problems even if this were the bestest, most awesomest war since Dubya-Dubya-Two.

  6. You make some excellent points which always bear repeating.

    I’ve quoted you and linked to you here.