With concerns of budget and troop reductions, reserve soldiers remain a critical component of America’s defense, said the chief of the Army Reserve.
During his visits around the force, Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz said the No. 1 question he’s asked by soldiers is: "What's going on?" regarding the budget and force cuts. Those soldiers, Stultz said, are concerned about the future of their jobs and their relevance in America’s defense.
"My answer to the soldiers is: ‘You are going to become even more relevant than you’ve ever been to our national security strategy,’" he said Jan. 31, at a meeting of the Reserve Officers Association in Washington.
The active duty Army will draw down from 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 soldiers over the next six years. The growth to 570,000 soldiers was a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During that time, Stultz said, the Army relied heavily on the reserve to fulfill important combat support and combat service support missions. The reserve, he added, is where the bulk of combat support, or CS, and combat service support, known as CSS, soldiers reside.
"To the point where today, if you’re in the transportation community in the guard and reserve, you represent about 80 to 85 percent of the Army’s capability," Stultz said, adding that for engineers, that number is about 75 percent.
The reserve components also represent about 70 percent of the Army’s medical capacity, about 85 percent of its civil affairs capacity, about 66 percent of the Army’s logistics capacity and about 70 percent of its military police.
The Army will continue to lean heavily on the reserve components for these services after it draws down its own soldiers.
"Our nation and our military are going to be dependent on access to the reserve components," Stultz said. "And the nation expects the reserve to be ready."
Stultz said the reserve will be an "operational reserve," a term he said has been in use now for a number of years. Being an operational reserve involves capability, modularity and employer support.
An operational reserve, he said, starts with capability. That means a force with capabilities that can be maintained, that is ready on short notice without the need for a lot of additional training, and that is accessible.
"That, to me, is the start of a definition of an operational reserve," Stultz said.
An operational reserve is also a force made of soldiers who are civilians. Those soldiers must be able to maintain their military skill set even when they are not in uniform – so when they are called upon, they are ready.
To make that happen, Stultz said, the reserve must focus on being a force that provides skill sets that are shared among both the military and the civilian communities.
The reserve component is able to maintain a ready cadre of soldiers in the medical field because many of those soldiers are working related jobs in the private sector.
There, Stultz said, they are getting great training – sometimes even better than what’s available in the military. The same is true for engineers and other "hard skills" like electricians, carpenters and plumbers.
Stultz also said the future of the operational reserve is going to involve modularity.
"The role of an operational reserve in the future is going to be plug and play," Stultz said. "Where do we need these capabilities, and can you scale them either up or down to fit what we need?"
Stultz said a modular operational reserve could provide the capability needed, in the right amount.
"If I need some engineer capability, but I don’t need a whole battalion, can you give it to me?" he asked.
Soldiers in the reserve components need jobs, and they need employers that understand their service commitment. At the same time, the civilian employers of those soldiers need some stability from their employees.
"If we don’t have the employers and we don’t have the families, we won’t have the soldiers," Stultz said. "We have to make the employers part of this equation."
The Army Reserve championed the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces program, before it was transitioned to the Department of Defense.
That program now involves more than 25,000 civilian employers. The partnership provides good job opportunities for soldiers, and quality employees to civilian employers – employees, Stultz said, with background screenings who are drug free, healthy, and who possess a set of skills that are applicable in the civilian world.
"There’s a value of having a soldier as an employee," Stultz said. "If we are going to have this operational reserve, we are going to have to have some confidence we can get to them when we need them, and have the employers say: ‘We support you.’"
What soldiers want
Soldiers have asked for three things from the reserve, Stultz said. They want predictability – and their civilian employers do too, they want the reserve to put them and their skills to good use and above all, they don’t want their time wasted.
Stultz said the reserve recognizes that soldiers have been to Iraq and Afghanistan – "they’ve trained hard for that, and they’ve got combat experience under their belts." Now, he said, they want to maintain that experience and skill – they don’t want their time wasted with what they consider irrelevant training.
"Don’t expect me to show up at a drill hall and sit in a classroom and listen to some PowerPoint presentation – that’s not relevant," he said, relaying sentiments he’s heard from soldiers. "Make the training worthwhile."
To that end, Stultz said, the reserve is investing in simulator training, including those for weapons systems and vehicle simulators. "That is what we want that soldier to experience when he comes to that drill – something realistic."
Trained reserve soldiers want to put their skills to use, Stultz said. And the reserve knows how to do that.
"That’s where that predictability, that five-year model comes into play," he said. Four years at home for a reserve soldier means predictability for him, his family and his employer – after that, they want the opportunity to put their training to use doing something meaningful for the reserve.
"If you look at what’s a huge demand now, it is a lot of stability, theater-engaged, security-cooperation types of work that we’ve been doing," he said. Included in those kinds of engagements are medical readiness exercises abroad in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia and Haiti.
In the past, units might have deployed to such missions for a month. Now, Stultz said, he could let units go for three months or more.
The reserve could provide hospital units to the Southern Command, for instance, allowing expansion of engagement opportunities. Engineer units, he added, could be deployed a company at a time, for 90 days each and overlapping – "Let them build a school all through the year."
‘Soldier for Life’
Stultz said he told the Army chief of staff if he could change one thing about the Army, he’d like to create an Army culture that supported the notion of a "Soldier for Life."
Such a culture, he said, would provide soldiers with the opportunity to move more easily, in either direction, between the reserve and active components.
"We have to be able to provide this continuum where you can move back and forth, as you or the Army desires," he said.
Even soldiers in the Individual Ready Reserve would be assigned to a particular unit for both muster and support. The effort gives soldiers the ability to move back to military life if they want.
A "Soldier for Life" culture, he said, provides soldiers a way to continue to serve their country full time, or part time – explaining that some soldiers might want to serve part time, but simply don’t know how to make it happen.
For the Army, he said, it helps to prevent the loss of years of training and skill.
"If we're going to come down from 570,000 to 490,000 on the active side, think of the investment that is going to walk out the door if we don’t have the right transition program in place," he said.
(Editor’s note: This article is based on a story by C. Todd Lopez, Army News Service.)