Leaving the Military Reserves

Blackfive, who resigned his own commission after 16 years of service, is worried that we’ll see a mass exodus from the Reserves:

Current Reservists and National Guardsmen are having more difficult choices to make. September 11th changed the emotional dynamic of leaving military service. For some, it will be more difficult to leave the military with the nation at war. For others, the war will make the decision between family or military easier – especially, if they have already done a deployment for the War on Terror already.

Most Reservists that I know have already completed one deployment. Some have done two or three already. I have talked to several that plan on leaving after their committments have ended (which will be soon). One Reservist that I know lost his business as a result of deployment. He ended up losing over $200,000 in income the year that he was deployed. While it’s something that he accepts as part of serving his country, he won’t risk another business again to deployment. He’ll leave the Reserves. Others are more fortunate to have someone keep their businesses afloat.

More and more Reservists and Guardsmen will be making “the choice” in the coming months. Stay In or Get Out. Since there is no question that we need a strong Reserve/National Guard force, the question will be how to keep the military Reserve(s) and Guard(s) healthy. If the deployments to Iraq continue for more than two years and/or the War on Terror expands, either benefits need to be substantially increased (i.e. an earlier retirement in return for multiple WoT deployments) or a military-wide Stop Loss will need to be enacted on the level of the handling of service for World War II – for the duration of the war plus six months.

I’ve been predicting a mass exodus from the Reserves for years. Indeed, the crazy opstempo of the 1990s were the primary reason I never joined a Reserve unit after leaving active duty. I was willing to deploy to combat again if an emergency arose, but not willing to interrupt my education or my career for peacekeeping missions in Somalia or the Balkans.

Strangely, though, at least as of just two or three months ago, we weren’t seeing any signs of it happening. Counter-intuitively, the re-up rates are higher in units that got deployed than the ones that stayed behind. That trend has persisted in all the studies–military and academic–that I’ve seen that have looked at the post-Cold War period. The consensus seems to be that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, Reservists actually want to perform the missions they train for.

For more on this, see:

Time will tell if this trend persists over time. I’d feel a lot more comfortable, though, if we shifted away from the 1973 strategy of putting mission-essential forces in the Reserves precisely to necessitate their call-up. That makes sense if the goal is to preclude unpopular wars. But it’s not a very effective defense posture in an ongoing war.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Flypay says:

    You must remember on the re-up rates that a large majority of the Guard and Reserve soldiers that are most affected are still covered by “stop-loss” and can’t get out. Once that is lifted you will get a truer picture of how much dissatisfation (or not) there really is out there. I suspect it is significant, but we’ll see.

  2. michael says:

    It seems to me if you have a real chance to earn $200,000 in business, that’s something you shouldn’t pass up.

    That man ending his service clearly would not be anything to be upset about.

    I would think there are millions of people who don’t have slick business dealings that could take his place…I’m pondering it myself.

    I love the idea of a volunteer military….But if we run out of volunteers I hope the first move is to give deals to some of the people currently in our overcrowded prison system.


  3. James Joyner says:

    Ah,yes. Nothing like having one’s life dependant on the proper action of the criminal next to you.