Reservists Going to Iraq Without Rifles?

A report by David Cloud in today’s NYT on the deployment of Reserve Component soldiers to Iraq sheds some light on a couple of issues that may come as a surprise to those who don’t study this sort of thing for a living.

Cloud notes that the Pentagon’s announcement that it may send “more than 14,000 National Guard troops” back to Iraq as part of the new surge “highlights the political risks of the White House’s Iraq strategy. Sending large numbers of reservists to Iraq in the middle of next year’s election campaign could drive up casualties among part-time soldiers in communities where support for the administration’s approach in Iraq is already tenuous, according to opinion polls.”

This is precisely why SECDEF Melvin Laird and Army Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams pushed the modern force structure when inaugurating the all-volunteer force in 1973. They feared politicians being able to make use of a large standing army to fight wars that would not ultimately command popular support. By putting vital assets into the Reserves, they guaranteed that any significant conflict–even something on the order of Desert Storm–would require mobilization of citizen soldiers.

As I’ve written numerous times, I believe it’s time to rethink that notion. The nature of modern operations (the so-called 4th Generation Warfare) requires large numbers of civil affairs, military police, and other assets that reside almost wholly in the reserve. It simply doesn’t make sense to require the disruption of the reservists’ daily lives for routine, non-emergency operations. Reservists expect to be called up for WWIII, not everyday missions. (National Guardsmen, because of their dual role as state militias, also expect short call-ups for disaster recovery and other civil missions.)

Then there’s this quote, which is causing quite a stir despite being buried several paragraphs into the story:

“We’re behind the power curve, and we can’t piddle around,” Maj. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, said in an interview. He added that one-third of his soldiers lacked the M-4 rifles preferred by active-duty soldiers and that there were also shortfalls in night vision goggles and other equipment. If his unit is going to be sent to Iraq next year, he said, “We expect the Army to resource the Guard at the same level as active-duty units.”

Hilzoy, Steve Benen, and many others are quite upset with this situation, which is understandable. Ideally, we could magically outfit every single soldier with the latest and greatest state-of-the-art gadgetry.

In reality, we never have. As any logistician can attest, military equipment doesn’t manifest itself through the excretory process.

Many American soldiers in Vietnam never held an M16, instead fighting with the older M14. (A fact for which some are quite grateful, given the lukewarm reception the made-by-Mattel M-16 recieved.) In Desert Storm, most of us wore our green woodland camouflage uniforms from Germany throughout the war because there weren’t enough “chocolate chip” desert cammies to go around. GPS? We had two for our entire artillery battery. That’s life during wartime. (Which, as the Talking Heads explained, ain’t no party, ain’t no disco, ain’t no fooling around.)

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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. Andy says:

    I think the “Life during wartime” argument might make sense for the first year or two, but not after 4-5 years, in an environment where funding for troops has been effectively unlimited.

  2. Nick says:

    What’s new.. there’s been issues in the past that the American soldiers have gone without proper protection as well as vehicles without the proper armor.

    Just add this with all the rest of the incompetencies of this Administration.

  3. Wayne says:

    The M-4 rifles are a little nicer then M-16A2 but it not a great improvement. I used both. The biggest feature is the M-4 is it’s flexible configuration. The laser sights that they like to use on it are usually better for new recruits but are worst for someone with experience. NG usually has more season troops.

    A more important issue is communication gear but that has less impact in a phony headline like “reservist going to Iraq without rifles?” which is false. Communication gear has been better for NG this time around then in Kosovo where the NG bought their own squad radios but then weren’t allow to use them because we allow the Kosovo government to deny us their use.

    I haven’t dealt with Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry Brigade for nearly 5 years now. However, when I did, they had great deal more to worry about then getting new rifles. They made such an impression on me when I lived in OK some 10 years ago that instead of drilling in a unit in my town, I drove 4 hours to the 39th in Arkansas. Much can change in 5 years and I hope they have for the better.

    I agree that everyone in the military can’t have the latest and greatest. There is now some body armor that is even better then what they have now. One thing I do hate is it is usually the REMF that get the latest and greatest instead of front line combat troops that need them most.

  4. Wayne says:


    There has never been an administration including Washington that had the entire military or even deployed military outfitted with the latest and greatest gear.

    The communication gear problems happen in the Clinton administration during a very small war.

  5. I served in Iraq as an infantryman with an M-16. They’re fine, and adequate to the task. I’d rather send a soldier with an M-16 he’s fired with and zeroed with for years that he’s got confidence in than a brand new M-4 he’s only qualed with once, right before he goes.

    The rifle angle is simply a nonstory.

  6. I don’t blame the head of the Oklahoma NG one bit for saying what he’s saying; he wants his any of his troops that deploy to get a full plus-up on equipment and not hand-me-downs.

    That being said, the M-16 isn’t markedly inferior to the M-4, although it’s a bit handier in close quarters. It’s much less of a difference than the flak vests most guardsmen and reservists initially deployed with during OIF1 and the Interceptor body armor which some of them eventually received.

    Getting an equipment “reset” out of the Pentagon and out of Congress is something that any guard or reserve general officer knows will be like pulling teeth.

  7. DoubleTap says:

    The headline for this post certainly caught my eye – and I immediately said “oh, bullshit!” The M4 is simply a shorter version of the M16. Same operations, same round fired, just a little lighter. I carried an M16 in Iraq, and I only pined for the M4 because it was lighter and easier to handle in confined spaces. We put accessories on our M16s, just like the guys with the M4s did. The whole time, I didn’t complain that I had somehow been screwed just because I had an M16. By the way, I saw plenty of Active soldiers carrying M16s too.

  8. James Joyner says:

    The headline for this post certainly caught my eye

    Mission accomplished!

  9. Wayne says:

    Sensational lies usually do catch people’s eyes. I quest you learn that from the MSM. It is still a B.S. stunt and you should be ashamed for doing it.

    I generally do like your post but don’t use those lame MSM lying tactics. Next thing you will copy from MSM is fabricating facts then claim it is to stimulate conversation if you get caught.

  10. James Joyner says:


    The headline “Reservists Going to Iraq Without Rifles?” is in the form of a question. That’s indicated, in typical English fashion, with the use of a question mark at the end. The question is raised because some of the sites on the left were running with a variant of that headline minus said question mark.

    The answer to the question, by the way, is No.

  11. LJD says:

    I would agree the headline is disingenuous, because most in this country usually do not get far into the text. Journalism 101. Sorry James.

    But I would emphasize that there is NO significant difference between an M-16 and M-4. I’ll list the obvious: barrel length, collapsible stock. Wow! What a technological breakthrough!

    They’re just different. The M-4 is not “better”. It is smaller, and actually less accurate at longer ranges.

    What’s next, vehicle armor is “outdated” because is was manufactured in 2005?

  12. Barry says:

    James: “That’s life during wartime. (Which, as the Talking Heads explained, ain’t no party, ain’t no disco, ain’t no fooling around.) ”

    James, just in case you haven’t noticed, the war’s been going on since spring of ’03. We’re at a hair under four years of war; with no let-up in sight. The war was a ‘go’ from Sep 12, 2001 – ~16 months of prep time, which the administration wasted. It was clear to any honest, competant observer that the original ‘shock&awe=>flowers’ plan had failed by November, 2003, and that we were in a guerrilla war. The administration’s response was to continue f*cking things up, denying reality and blaming everybody else. I shouldn’t say “administration’s response”, because it was also the response of right-wing Americans, in general.

    By contrast, Desert Storm was conducted in Jan-Feb 1991, with 5-6 months of prep time.

    16 months + 3 years = over 4 years of time during which the adminstration should and could have been ramping up production, but decided that tax cuts and corrupt cronies were more important.

    Why do I have to give you history lessons, James?

  13. Wayne says:


    Fair enough.

    In 1991, Saddam was killing Kuwaitis and entrenching his forces. 5 —6 months was about all we could afford plus we had much larger staging areas.

    The 16 months of prep time was mot wasted. I thought we were going sink Kuwait with as much supplies and equipment we put in. We also had many funding issues to get around. There weren’t active killings at the time so we could afford that time. We could have gone in much earlier although just not as prepare. There is also the issue of trying to resolve it politically and getting UN approval.

    There has been a ramp up in many areas. Economics considerations have always been a part of war. Of course the left bitch’s about not having the most modern equipment then bitch’s about the cost of war. Can’t have it both ways.