All organizations have unique circumstances that pose leadership challenges and opportunities. In the U.S. Army Reserve, one of those circumstances is the fact that a majority of personnel are part-time soldiers, including Troop Program Unit troops, and a minority are full-time Active Guard Reserve soldiers and military technicians. The relationship between the leaders within these two populations is paramount to the success of the organization.
As the Army continues to put people first, an in-depth look at relationships and their development, specifically between the two populations described above, will yield better results within an Army Reserve organization than that grandiose mass medical event of annual medical exams that keeps everyone “medically green.”
You want to bridge the status divide in the Army Reserve? Start with building a culture of empathy, compassion and selfless teams within formations.
Empathy Is Fundamental
Plenty of Army leaders have written about the effectiveness and importance of empathy. Empathy is the cornerstone to building cohesive teams. Understanding empathy through the lens of both full- and part-time teammates within an Army Reserve organization is fundamental to those relationships.
Leaders’ demands placed on the modern-day citizen-soldier outside duty status are growing and often go uncompensated. Part-time soldiers in leadership positions shoulder the brunt of that uncompensated work. With that in mind, their full-time counterparts must protect part-timers’ hours outside their statutory requirements. Full-time soldiers and military technicians can build trust with their part-time leaders by finding ways to protect their leaders’ time and minimize their leaders’ requirements in an unpaid status. Part-time soldiers also can build trust with their full-time counterparts by empowering, recognizing and appreciating their efforts for the organization daily.
Congress caps the number of Active Guard Reserve troops and military technicians within the Army Reserve, so naturally, there will be plenty of work to go around for the limited number of full-time personnel. Understanding that and working with leaders to prioritize and focus organizational efforts is critical.
Between the COVID-19 pandemic and recent requirements to support Operation Allies Welcome, the Army Reserve is getting taxed more than in recent years, and both populations are feeling it. On top of all this, Reservists are still required to maintain appropriate levels of personnel, training and equipment readiness. Full-time soldiers are burning out, and part-time soldiers are getting overwhelmed. This is causing a stressful work environment and now, more than ever, is the best time to lead with compassion.
Reservists must make compassion so contagious that it extends beyond the organization. Building a culture of compassion will connect part-time and full-time soldiers and build organizational resilience, allowing everyone to recover from future setbacks, such as a pandemic, more quickly and effectively.
Reservists must leverage the part-time/full-time dynamic of the Army Reserve as an opportunity to build understanding, empathy and compassion within the organization by creating selfless teams. During a Battle Assembly weekend, leaders should make sure they spend time getting to know the team. Understand the problems of and demands on both the Troop Program Unit and Active Guard Reserve soldiers. Communicate. Solving problems for either population is mutually beneficial.
Active Guard Reserve soldiers and military technicians must accept that they will do work, and not always receive credit, to better the organization and meet mission requirements. Troop Program Unit soldiers must find ways to recognize and award their full-time staff to keep the team inspired. A fulfilled, engaged and caring part-time leader empowers their full-time teammates and vice versa. Reservists must remain selfless and remember there is more that draws these two populations together than divides them. If called to deploy, Reservists will fight together, all as part of the same team with one mission.
Reservists must support commanders by working together to get the mission done and always put the welfare of soldiers above all. Disenchantment, division or resentment between these two populations is a retention nightmare. Army Reservists do not want to be part of an organization with a lack of synchronization between these two groups.
A lack of engaging training, soldiers not going to their necessary schools, or a lack of proper and timely personnel action processing are symptoms of a lack of harmony between full- and part-time Reservists. Resolving those symptoms through deliberate dialogue will help mitigate a retention issue within the component.
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Capt. Rick Bowman, U.S. Army Reserve, is a plans officer with the Army Reserve’s 359th Transportation Battalion (Terminal), Fort Eustis, Virginia. Previously, he was executive officer to the director of sustainment of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, Kuwait.
Capt. Lorenzo Llorente II, U.S. Army Reserve, is operations officer with the Army Reserve’s 7th Mission Support Command, Kaiserslautern, Germany. Previously, he was a company commander with the Army Reserve’s 342nd Chemical Company (Biological), Urbana, Illinois. He deployed to Kuwait in 2014 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He is a Leadership Fellow with the Center for Junior Officers.