As Drawdown Takes Hold of Army, Active and Reserve Components Spar for Budget Edge
Prior to the Iraq war, which required large mobilizations of brigade-sized Guard formations and significant support capability from the Army Reserves, the “one Army” concept received little more than lip service. In 2003, when the Army wanted to mobilize extra light infantry for the Iraq invasion, they called up the 53rd Infantry Brigade, an enhanced readiness brigade out of Florida. They didn’t want the brigade, though. Separate Guard brigades come with politically connected general officers and staffs that have allegiance primarily to their governors rather than to Big Army.
The Army then broke up the brigade, and even broke up battalions, initially, committing them piecemeal, and denying deployed Guard soldiers access to promotion opportunities, cross-transfers to facilitate promotions, needed service schools and even initially denied Guard soldiers in the heart of Ramadi the enhanced Kevlar vests routinely issued to soldiers in the active component. (Disclosure: The author was a member of the 1/124th Infantry, 53rd Infantry Brigade (Separate) and was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and witnessed these events firsthand).
As the war dragged on, and the insurgency gained strength and demonstrated resiliency, it was obvious that the active Army was not going to be able to sustain the fight with the number of active brigade combat teams on hand. And so the long, hard slog began for citizen soldiers, many of whom endured multiple combat tours as members of National Guard and Reserve units.
Unlike the Gulf War in 1991, in which some reserve component Army units were reported to have had trouble qualifying for deployment (some in the Army have long suspected that the active component doctored the predeployment training to preserve slots and career opportunities for themselves), the reserve component rose to the challenge in Iraq. The older and more experienced Guard infantry units and their counterparts in the Marine Reserves proved ideal for the counterinsurgency environment, since their advantage in age, experience and their mix of civilian job skills became combat multipliers in many areas in Iraq.
Guardsmen and reservists have also taken pride in their own accomplishments, and at being finally seen as a full partner in the fight, rather than as the forgotten stepchildren of the ringknockers (Academy graduates) and the active component.
Now that the Army is going through a cyclical drawdown, however, we are starting to see some flashpoints as the Army Reserves, the National Guard Bureau, the states themselves, and the active component jockey for positioning – and ultimately, jobs preservation for themselves.
One such flashpoint came to a head this spring: A unit from Indiana had received notice that it would be deployed later this year. Unit members then arranged their affairs accordingly: They didn’t renew leases, they didn’t apply for financial aid or enroll in school programs, they caused their civilian employers disruption while the employers prepared and crosstrained individuals in anticipation of their extended absence. And then the unit had the deployment canceled, with two of the four directly affected units just six weeks away from deployment. The mission wasn’t canceled – the Department of Defense simply took the mission away from the Guard unit and gave it to an active duty unit from the 1st Cavalry Division in a process called “offramping.”
The active component says they did it to save money. It doesn’t make much sense to the taxpayer, of course, to pay an active duty unit to sit around stateside while also paying a Guard unit to go overseas and do the mission. But Guardsmen also cried ‘foul,’ as well – pointing to the significant disruptions that their soldiers and their families went through preparing for the deployment.
The National Guard has a lot of friends in Congress, though – and Indiana was no exception. Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana objected to what happened to his constituent soldiers, and introduced language into the Defense Authorization bill to prohibit the military from offramping reserve component deployments within 180 days of the scheduled deployment without the personal approval of the Secretary of Defense.
Donnelly said in a statement: “My first amendment on limiting the cancellation of reserve component deployments would detail the experience of more than one thousand Indiana families affected by the off-ramping, or cancelled deployment, of four Indiana National Guard units, two of which were just six weeks away from deploying. The Army replaced these units with active duty units, and I am grateful that the Committee has included a provision to limit these short-fuse cancellations. The decision had wide-ranging impacts on over 1,000 families’ health care, financial decision, educational plans, and housing. Moreover, these units were placed at the bottom of rotation for future deployments, and have lost a year of eligibility for deployment. This has had an incredible impact on morale, retention and training, and—simply put—it’s not the way the Army should treat its soldiers.”
In contrast, in 2008, lawmakers in Vermont unsuccessfully sought to rescind the President and Secretary of Defense’s authority to mobilize Vermont National Guard troops in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The mission authorized in 2002 does not exist,” said State Rep. Michael Fisher (D-VT), who plans to introduce a bill backed by 30 colleagues Wednesday that calls on Gov. Jim Douglas to join the effort. “Unless Congress grants a new authorization, the Vermont Guard should revert back to state control.”
Meanwhile, National Guard supporters – backed by the powerful National Guard Association of the U.S., – is advancing the argument that keeping units, capabilities, missions and soldiers in the Guard, versus active duty, will allow the Army to keep capabilities at a fraction of the cost per soldier, saving the taxpayer billions of dollars in a time of austerity. The active component has just announced plans to slash 13 brigade combat teams. But half of the combat arms formations in the total Army are in the Guard. The National Guard and active army are battling before the Congressional appropriations committees for the bigger slice of the post-drawdown pie.
So far, the active component has been on the chopping block.
Some Guard leaders are actually developing arguments to strengthen Guard end strength, despite the budget constraints. Major General Wesley Craig, the adjutant general of the Pennsylvania National Guard, wrote an article in National Guard Magazine, saying,
The Army chief of staff has recommended the force stabilize at a total end-
strength of 1,045,000 soldiers—490,000 in the active component and 555,000
in the reserve components. Any further reductions should be proportional, reducing all components and capabilities by the same percentage.
But why settle for a smaller Total Army when there is another way?
The recent report of the Reserve Forces Policy Board on personnel costs provides the basis for a better way forward. We can maintain the million-man Army at a lower cost by simply adjusting the AC/RC mix.
The basic arithmetic is simple. According to the report, cutting 100,000 troops from the active component would save $21.8 billion. Increasing the reserve components by 100,000 would cost $6.1 billion. The final savings would be $15.7 billion annually with no loss in Total Army end-strength.
This would be a paradigm cultural shift for Army senior leaders who have spent their adult lives in a force with a large active component.
The two competing proposals illustrate the profound difference between the two components. The current Chief of Staff of the Army, General Raymond Odierno, is a 1976 graduate of West Point, and has spent the last 33 years in the Regular Army. Craig was an ROTC graduate from Temple University in 1972, spent two years on active duty and as spent the remainder of his career in the National Guard.
To be fair, Odierno has thus far targeted the active component for almost all the cuts so far. According to Odierno, this makes sense, because it was the active component, not the Guard and Reserve, that was expanded by over 100,000 troops since 9/11. The bulk of the cuts identified have been returning the Army to something close to that baseline. However, as Craig notes, Odierno has indicated that future cuts will likely come from active and reserve forces alike.
According to the Department of Defense, 876,653 men and women have been called to active duty to support the contingency missions since the 9/11 attacks through June 12, 2013. The bulk of these activations have come from the National Guard, which contributed 375,680 soldiers to the war effort, though many of those deployed multiple times. The U.S. Army Reserve mobilized another 211,441 individuals.
The Air National Guard also mobilized over 98,934 airmen, and the Air Force Reserve added another 66,303 men and women. The Marine Corps Reserve has mobilized 62,449 marines. The Coast Guard Reserve added another 8,350 to the war effort, while the Navy Reserve contributed 53,496 sailors.