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.)