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.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Military Affairs
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. james says:

    “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.”

    That’s exactly right. The problem is that our mindset is that Iraq is peace-keeping or, at worst, nation-building. It is both. But the war on terror is total war and requires a long-term call up of the reserve as much as WW II did. And as Pres. Bush has reminded us repeatedly, although no one seems to rememeber, we are in this for the long haul and it will conceivably take years. I’d foresee this as a decade of war running sometimes hot, sometimes cold. But always engaging the enemy. If we are to succeed, we have to change our mindset and commit.

  2. legion says:

    Well, James, that brings us back to The Debate Nobody Wants To Have – the draft. Don’t forget, going to war without activating the NG and Reserves is _exactly_ the sort of thing Gen Abrams wanted to prevent when he designed the modern force structure in the 70s.

    If you think things in Iraq are f’d up now, stop and imagine what they’d be like if Bush had the same ability Johnson did to run this war entirely off of the active duty troops. How many Americans would still be paying attention? How many people outside military base towns would even know we were still in combat?

    What I find shocking, though, is the drop in recruiting targets. I’ve heard many stories from right-leaning sources about how good it is that the Army is still meeting it’s goals, but I had no idea they’d CUT THE DAMN GOALS IN HALF!

  3. James Joyner says:


    An interesting point. I wouldn’t have any problem with extended call-ups for reservists to fight a war. I’m just not sold that nation building in Iraq constitutes a war; it’s a long-term diplomatic gambit with some occasional shooting. That’s not an emergency mission but rather something for the active force or, at worst, something reservists should rotate in for for ninety or 180 days max.

    We’re not fighting the GWOT as a total war and, indeed, I’m not sure how one does that as a practical matter.


    I’ve addressed the draft issue a few times. I just don’t think it’s feasible or desirable in the modern era. The military doesn’t need amateurs, let alone reluctant ones.

  4. james says:

    I agree that amateurs, especially the reluctant type, make things harder. Much harder. I enlisted in the VOLAR in ’75. Worked through the ’80s rebuilding the NCO corps and retired in ’96 after spending 3 years as a drill sergeant, 3 years teaching Mil. Sci. at USMA and the balance of my 21 years as a troop leader in infantry units.

    I am not advocating a return to the draft. More on that in a second. I do think the services, especially the army, is going to need to put more boots on the ground. The OPTEMPO is too high and we won’t be able to sustain that. Everything we do in a combat unit is a perishable skill. That means time for training. Time for military schooling to keep the NCOs and commissioned and warrant officers sharp and time for R and R. Families, too, play a large part in retention. Taking care of the troops is essential.

    Fighting the GWOT as total war will require mobilizing the reserve — not just individual units. It may not be necessary. Maybe we can, with a 10 division army, fight in Iraq, Afghanistan and rotate units and have divisions able to deploy to other hot spots (North Korea, Iran; oh, and let’s not even consider Africa which we’ve totally neglected). My point is that we need to be having the discussion over what the active end strength of each service should be — no, needs to be — to accomplish the mission. The “Air Force can do it all” mentality of Rumsfeld and company is largely responsible for the poor planning that went into our post-war occupation in Iraq that has required us to learn and adjust on the job. That would have been necessary regardless, but could have been much better.

    Enough, I’m rambling. Sorry.

    Raider 7, Out

  5. James Joyner says:


    I agree with you on OPSTEMPO. But a semi-permanent Reserve call-up amounts to the same thing as an increase in the size of the Active force. I’d prefer to just do that.

    While I’m not 100% on board with Rummy’s view of transformation, I think he’s on the right track. He’s not anti-Army just thinks SpecOps and the like need to be more prominent in the force. I still don’t think the number of boots per se is the problem in Iraq but rather the type of boots.