Reserve Component Shortages?
Baltimore Sun: Army hopes it has enough in reserve
With the Reserves and the National Guard filling an ever-busier role in military forces already stretched to the limit, re-enlistment decisions have become a worrisome issue for the Pentagon, especially because the 90-day waiting period has begun expiring for many citizen soldiers who were part of the first lengthy deployments to Iraq.
“This is going to be a real crunch time,” said Al Schilf, a spokesman for the Army Reserve. “This is the longest that Reserve soldiers have been deployed, and we have to be realistic. We have torn them away from their employers and their families for a year, so the next few months are going to be very telling.”
Even before now, the Army Reserve was falling short of re-enlistment goals. For the past 18 months, ending March 31, re-enlistment ran about 7 percent behind the Army’s stated goal – 1,507 soldiers fewer than the target of 21,243.
Recruiting efforts have helped compensate for some of the shortfall. In signing up new soldiers, the Army Reserve has exceeded its goal for every year since 2000, although the goals have been steadily decreasing – from a target of 41,961 recruits in 2000 to only 21,000 for the current year.
For the National Guard – the other force of “part-time soldiers” pressed into full-time deployments – the opposite trends are in play. Re-enlistment is up, but recruiting is slumping.
This is in direct contrast with other recent reports. It’s not inconceivable, though, that what’s happening is that people joining the military for a variety of reasons, including college incentives, wind up attracted to it for “the right reasons,” whereas people on the outside, interested mainly in the incentives, are put off by the suddenly-manifest burdens of service.
Neither force has taken a hit to its so-called “end strength,” the number most vital to the Pentagon because it measures the total number of available troops. But the generals presiding over the Guard and the Reserves have asked Capitol Hill for help with bonuses and other incentives to boost recruiting and retention.
“Right now, active-duty soldiers in the same foxhole with these young men can re-enlist with a tax-free reenlistment bonus, and we cannot access that,” Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee two weeks ago. “I think we need to address the policy.”
At the same hearing, Lt. Gen. James Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, pointed out, “Today as we speak, nearly 60,000 Army Reserve soldiers are on active duty in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and the continental United States and elsewhere around the world.”
An additional 151,000 Army Reservists, he said, were either training and preparing for mobilization or resting and refitting after just being demobilized.
The news of these deployments makes the selling job tougher for Staff Sgt. Marcello Dean, an Army recruiter for both the full-time forces and the Reserves.
Based at a storefront office at Mondawmin Mall, where high unemployment in the surrounding neighborhood makes soldiering more attractive, Dean said that “Will I go to war?” is the most frequently asked question by prospective reservists.
His usual answer:
“There might be a possibility. But the truth is, I was in the Army Reserve for nine years and have never been deployed.”
Serving in the reserves is still marketed as a “part-time job with full-time benefits,” emphasizing an enlistment bonus of up to $8,000 and college money worth far more.
“If someone comes in and he tells me he’s looking for money for college, then I know he’s looking at the reserves, because college is his main focus,” Dean said.
But some recruits who joined up thinking they would be able to make it through college interrupted only by training one weekend per month and a few weeks per summer – the usual commitments for reserves and guard members who haven’t been deployed – are discovering that isn’t always the case anymore.
This certainly bears watching. One would think the answer is manifold: 1) restructuring the Total Force so that more of the types of forces that are constantly deployed (i.e., military police, engineers, psyops) are in the Active Component and more of the less-used forces (i.e., heavy maneuver units) are allocated to the RC; 2) bonuses to compensate soldiers who actually deploy rather than a blanket program; and 3) increasing AC end strength, even at the expense of the RC.
The bottom line is that the Reserves are designed to be emergency troops called up for major wars. It’s unreasonable to expect part-timers to disrupt their lives for months and years at a time to do peacekeeping duty.