The chief of the U.S. Army Reserve is steering her force back to the fundamentals of soldiering by slashing administrative tasks, pushing knowledge and decision-making down to junior leaders and honing a plan to fill the ranks with new talent.
Piece by piece, Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels has changed, and in many cases eliminated, layers of overly stringent rules and requirements that over time have permeated the way the Army Reserve operates and, to some degree, diluted the intensity of training.
Through virtual and in-person town hall meetings, “sensing sessions” with soldiers and families, unannounced visits to regional Army Reserve centers and early morning physical training with soldiers from Guam to Iowa to Florida, Daniels also has seen the faces and heard the voices of the troops she leads.
After more than a year on the job as the 34th chief of the Army Reserve and commander of the U.S. Army Reserve Command, Daniels is determined to do even more to streamline Reserve service and shape the force with the talent it needs to meet the Total Army’s operational requirements.
Time Is the Enemy
Daniels said she feels even more urgency now than she did when she took command in July 2020, noting that time can be the enemy when the goal is big change. “Some of these things are just not fast-changing,” she said.
By pushing down many of her authorities and tasks to subordinate commands and leaders, enabling them to sign off or act on requirements and processes more quickly, Daniels has achieved some of the streamlining she set out to do when she took command. In the coming year, Daniels said she will ramp up the effort to get after some of the changes that may take longer to put in place.
“This first year we kind of identified various things,” Daniels said of her effort in concert with Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew Lombardo. “I’m asking people to turn things in; the sergeant major is asking people to turn things in,” she said. “Whatever we can do to help as we spot these things and go, ‘That’s insane’ … we’ll continue to press.”
At the center of Daniels’ push to pivot from a culture of process and paperwork to a renewed focus on combat training and building cohesive teams is a looming shortage of midgrade officers and NCOs to eventually fill the senior ranks.
“I can’t grow senior grade NCOs during my [four-year] tenure, but if I don’t make the changes to enable that pipeline to fill, we’re never going to get there,” she said. The answer lies in enabling soldiers’ chains of command to “assume risk so [soldiers] can actually do training.”
In other words, let the troops train while commanders and staff figure out the administrative work. Daniels believes that monthly battle assembly weekends and two-week annual training obligations have become bogged down by desk tasks for junior leaders who don’t have the time they need to train with and get to know their soldiers.
Soldiers are choosing to leave service after an initial term. Some of those departures, Daniels said, have been prompted by the onerous administrative duties, according to feedback she’s received from troops, so she’s working to make their Reserve experience more rewarding sooner.
“We’ve studied the problem, we’ve made some changes, we’ve done the improvement. I want to continue to work on this specialist-to-sergeant and lieutenant-to-captain … to get them back into training mode and progressing in their careers,” Daniels said of her visits with junior leaders where she talks with them about school, where they want their careers to go and what the Reserve can do for them. She corresponds with some of them on Facebook.
Daniels said she’s also had to bust down the mistaken belief in some sectors of the force that because of unpredictable funding from Congress, there is no money for soldiers to go to Army education courses.
“If there’s a lapse in appropriations, then all bets are off, but a continuing resolution is sort of habitual. We’re good at that, but people equate the two together and the younger folks and the younger administrators are like, ‘Oh, we can’t possibly do this, we’ll have no money,’ ” said Daniels, who has instituted a “big messaging campaign” encouraging soldiers to sign up for course seats.
In monthly command-level budget reviews, she has found the same misperceptions and wants people “to question assumptions” rather than hold back on helping soldiers progress in their education and careers because they think there is no money to fill course quotas.
For the second consecutive year, the Army Reserve is on track to miss its fiscal year recruiting mission, Daniels said in July, acknowledging that “it’s not looking good” for the Sept. 30 end of the 2021 fiscal year.
The Army Reserve ended fiscal 2020 with an end strength of 188,703, just short of its goal of 189,500. The fiscal 2021 target of 189,800 soldiers, according to Daniels’ prediction, also will fall short, though retention rates were surpassed in 2020, and the Reserve expects to exceed the goal again in fiscal 2021.
The big challenges, she said, will be to get past the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has delayed shipping new recruits to basic training; update a cumbersome direct commissioning process that may turn away promising talent; and better educate the public about the Army Reserve.
“We have a backlog of getting folks into basic training, and that’s causing us to be a little slow in terms of bringing folks in, and there had been a big gap of when we could even bring people in because of COVID-19,” Daniels said, recalling how the Army was forced to shut down basic training in March 2020 as the pandemic took hold, then resumed receiving recruits, but at a 50% rate.
With basic training operating at full capacity again, Daniels said “there’s still a backlog” of Reserve recruits who haven’t shipped to training.
Daniels also is working to revamp the process of direct commissioning for more-senior soldiers with the talent the Army Reserve needs, such as physicians, lawyers and cybersecurity experts.
A special group is doing a “deep dive” on the direct commissioning process, she said, because it needs to be more transparent, more consistent across the different career branches, easier to understand and less onerous, with fewer boards and offices that need to sign off.
“A civil affairs packet versus a medical packet versus a legal packet versus a logistics packet don’t all look the same. It’s not easy to understand what the standards are for a packet,” she said.
Direct commissioning is a critical manning tool for the Army Reserve, which provides the capabilities that enable combat arms to be operationally successful. With direct commissioning, the Reserve can quickly grow the Army’s numbers of legal, medical, chaplain, civil affairs, finance, quartermaster, postal, chemical, transportation, military police, public affairs, engineering, cyber, intelligence and space officers.
“I want the timeline from saying, ‘Hey, I want to join,’ to putting your right hand up and let’s take an oath, to be far more condensed. Milestones need to be in there, but not extra ones,” Daniels said.
Underpinning Daniels’ efforts to get after the right mix of talent, she said, is the need to attract people to the Reserve by refreshing its appeal to the public.
Recruiters assigned to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, who had to contend with the closure of high schools and recruiting stations during the pandemic, recruit people for the Regular Army and the Army Reserve. Daniels is concerned that the Reserve is misunderstood in recruiting campaigns.
“We need to do a better job branding ourselves. Too many people don’t understand the distinction between the Guard and the Reserve and the fact that the Guard is a state-based organization that essentially mirrors active duty,” she said. “The Army Reserve is a federal force that provides enablers to the combat arms, and we’re global as well.”
Within the past year, Daniels also combed through how the Army Reserve’s incentive bonuses are structured and how often they are offered. New signing and retention bonuses had been offered “once a year, and we are now doing it twice a year so that we’re not stale, but you can’t be too fast because then you’re changing too often and people can’t keep up,” she said.
In the coming year, Daniels will log thousands more miles to join soldiers at battle assemblies across the country, in person and virtually. She’s got a plan in the works to effect yet another cultural change, one she hopes will convince more active-duty soldiers and officers to choose the Army Reserve rather than ending service altogether when they complete their obligations.
Using the Army’s Soldier For Life program as a launching pad, Daniels is making the case with senior Army leaders to adjust their messaging when they talk to soldiers about retirement. She’s also working with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, which is slated to begin managing the program on Oct. 1, on a potential way forward.
“I have been on a campaign working with Army senior leadership to talk about, not getting out, but to actively start talking about transitioning, because if we believe in Soldier For Life, then that’s what kind of language that we should be using,” Daniels said.
Soldier For Life is a program that connects soldiers who are leaving service with organizations that support veterans and their families and prepare them for life in retirement.
She’s hopeful her proposed messaging will appeal to some soldiers and send them her way, but even if the Reserve doesn’t gain significantly, she said, it’s language that may keep many people in the Army’s loop.
“You may not join the Reserve, you may not join the Guard, but we still want to call everyone Soldier For Life,” Daniels said.