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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Why do so many command team and leadership vacancies exist in the U.S. Army Reserve, and why do its leaders allow units to struggle through such obstacles? The Reserve suffers from a severe shortage of battalion commanders and, to a lesser degree, command sergeants major to fill these critical leadership positions. The solution is easy and readily available, requiring minimal additional effort to mitigate the impact of shortfalls. Vacant Troop Program Unit command team positions should be filled with qualified Active Guard Reserve soldiers.

Troop Program Unit (TPU) soldiers make up over 90% of the Reserve force. At the company level, vacant commander and first sergeant positions are filled through vacancy announcements and selected by the battalion command teams. Interviews are conducted, and the battalion commander selects the best-qualified company grade officer, while the command sergeant major generally provides guidance to the company commander concerning first sergeant selections. Centralized boards are held to select battalion commanders, while boards held by the command sergeant major of each major command select battalion command sergeants major. The command sergeant major nominations are then approved by the gaining command and within policy published by the Senior Leader Development Office at the U.S. Army Human Resources Command. This process has generally served well to select the best-qualified applicants but unfortunately, there has been a shortage of qualified applicants.

The Active Guard Reserve population comprises officers and NCOs who have been screened for AGR selection. AGR soldiers fill positions on unit authorization documents and are required to execute the duties of their positions as a homogenous mix with TPU soldiers.

This group is also heavily utilized to support Reserve units’ daily functions and fulfill requirements throughout the month that cannot be executed within the allotted two days of a battle assembly.

Healthy Competitive Environment

AGR soldiers are provided career development through competing for command team positions at an availability rate commensurate with AGR demographics in the Army Reserve. This is a fair representation of the force that fosters a healthy competitive environment among the best of AGR soldiers, resulting in a surplus of candidates for a limited amount of positions. The result is there is no lack of qualified applicants as opposed to the large vacancy of TPU command team positions at the battalion and company levels.

So why not use these troops to fill critical command team vacancies or vacancies that exist for extended periods of time? The regulation governing the utilization of AGR soldiers makes this difficult, but it is still a doable proposition.

Another method would be to change the regulation to provide more latitude to Human Resources Command and U.S. Army Reserve subordinate commanders in the utilization of their AGR soldiers. AGR soldiers can help by eliminating the need to push administrative functions to higher commands due to the lack of rank requirements. This will ensure formations are led by soldiers with appropriate levels of experience and maturity for the type of unit, and provide AGR soldiers with valuable experience and professional development as members of command teams.

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Troops with the U.S. Army Reserve’s 56th Military Police Company train at Fort Hunter Liggett, California.
(Credit: U.S. Army Reserve/Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

One obstruction to the use of AGR soldiers in such a manner is the limitations placed on commands to move an AGR soldier from their assigned position. The first general officer in the chain of command can approve that AGR soldier be moved from their position for 90 days, with a Human Resources Command extension of 180 days. This restriction limits how commanders manage formations, not only with potential command team assignments, but also with utilizing staff assignments.

What’s more, even if these restrictions do not change, AGR soldiers can still be used to fill command team positions in scenarios where there are currently no available TPU soldiers. This would obviously be more of a temporary “plug-the-hole” type measure and understandably less desirable, as the command team leadership would be less stable.

Change Current Regulation

The more desirable approach would be to change the current regulation and allow the first general officer to assign AGR soldiers to battalion command team positions for up to two years. Brigade commanders could be authorized to assign AGR soldiers to company command team positions for the same duration. In order to minimize the chance of negatively impacting the available positions for TPU soldiers, a position would have to be vacant for three consecutive months with no qualified applicants identified to immediately fill it. If a command wishes to fill a critical command team vacancy that has been vacant for less than three months with an AGR soldier, then approval of the commander of the Reserve would be required. These measures would ensure commanders are not enticed to fill company and battalion command teams with AGR soldiers in a sole attempt to improve readiness, and also would ensure qualified TPU soldiers have every chance to compete for command team positions.

Identifying soldiers from the AGR force who are qualified for such command positions is already a process in place at Human Resources Command. By modifying the boards, the Reserve can identify qualified AGR applicants to fill critical TPU command vacancies.

The first step in modifying the command boards is to increase their scope to include all eligible soldiers volunteering for battalion- and company-level commands. The board would still select soldiers to fill AGR command positions, however, soldiers not selected for AGR positions would receive a rating of qualified or unqualified. These ratings would remain in soldiers’ records and allow command teams to identify qualified AGR soldiers to fill vacant TPU command positions as necessary.

Moreover, Human Resources Command already holds occasional centralized selection boards to fill vacant AGR command sergeant major and first sergeant positions. Expanding this tool to identify all qualified NCOs, again on a volunteer basis, is a straightforward process.

Results of these selection processes would stick with soldiers identified as qualified potential command teams and would be annotated on soldiers’ records, or the soldiers will be identified in the proposed future talent management system.

By allowing command team positions to remain vacant, the Reserve is only hurting the readiness of the force and soldiers who fill the formations. By ignoring a vast resource filled with willing and qualified soldiers to fill critical vacancies, the Reserve is missing out on a clear and feasible solution to mitigate the risk of operating without command teams.

AGR soldiers are a clear and viable solution and should be tapped to lead Reserve soldiers. They would gain invaluable experience along the way.