Big changes aimed at boosting retention and readiness are planned for the U.S. Army Reserve as the component’s new chief looks to streamline nonessential tasks and empower junior leaders to make more of their own decisions.
Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, who was sworn in on July 28 as the 34th chief of the Army Reserve and ninth commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve Command, came to the job with a plan to focus on people and how she can make changes to improve their Army experience.
She is the first woman to command an Army component, a force of close to 200,000, and while she’s delighted to have been promoted and assigned to the job, she’s quick to point out that many other Army women have achieved her new three-star rank.
The headiness of being the first woman in this job, though, takes a back seat to her sense of urgency in getting things right for soldiers.
“I have a four-year tenure. It seems like four years is a lot of time, but it’s four [annual trainings] and 48 battle assemblies that I’ve got to implement change,” Daniels said, referring to the number of training commitments Army Reserve soldiers have each year.
Daniels, who was commissioned in 1983 in military intelligence and holds a doctorate in computer science, is an energetic officer with close to four decades of active and Reserve service and a multifaceted civilian background in artificial intelligence and advanced technology in the defense industry.
In her first month as chief, she worked fast to kick-start a slate of initiatives. Referring to it as a “campaign plan for the Army Reserve,” she has undertaken an internal review of the Army Reserve’s policies and processes to see what can be streamlined or eliminated—all with the goal of giving soldiers more time to do their jobs while spending less time on redundant or unnecessary administrative tasks.
Daniels believes soldiers will stay in service longer and be happier and more proficient if they derive better job satisfaction, have more authority to make decisions and see a clear path to promotion.
She pointed to the “positivity” of the “This is My Squad” leadership philosophy introduced by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston as being aligned with her own approach to empowering people. Daniels is sure people will make the right decisions if they feel they are being treated as adults, get the training they need and have the “expertise of counsel so they are fully informed and confident in making the decisions.”
“Empower those that need to make the decisions. Not everything has to come to me,” she said, explaining that she’s in the process of figuring out how far down into a formation she can push some of her authorities and spending decisions “to let people do their jobs.”
“Not only do I want to push those decisions down, but I want to make sure the people are ready to make the decisions, to get them what they need, to have role models at all the different echelons that are learning, growing and teamworking,” she said.
Starting with her early days on the job, Daniels and Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew Lombardo set out to canvass units, soldiers and their leaders to find out what could be done differently to enable organizational effectiveness.
As part of her plan to implement reform, work is ongoing to identify ways to improve promotion rates among junior soldiers and NCOs and retain “those lieutenants and captains on into major.”
Enhancing the Army Reserve experience and boosting retention “has to do with a good first-year experience,” she said. More could be done to ensure new soldiers get the help they need with things like putting together promotion packets, that there is visibility on any snags they might have in navigating a bureaucratic issue and making sure they’re getting good training experiences, she suggested.
An ongoing review of processes and regulations will determine what administrative requirements can be streamlined, she said. The review is similar to what the Regular Army undertook two years ago in an effort to prepare more combat-ready soldiers.
“Some of these are quick. We can change them in a couple of weeks, a couple of months; others may take four years to get after,” she said.
Offering the expression “busy hands are happy hands,” an adage she credits to her mother, Daniels plans to keep soldiers busy by giving them more time to master their craft and hone their skills rather than completing obligatory training or preparing charts and slides for meetings.
By spending more of their battle assembly weekends doing practice missions, they’ll build knowledge and continue to “master those skills and keep them current should they be called forward into battle,” she said.
The effect of more time on the job and fewer hours behind a desk, she said, feeds directly into readiness and retention and builds on the investment the Army Reserve has made in training soldiers.
“The more repetition that you do and the more opportunities you have to execute and refine those skills, the greater your mastery will be and your battle assemblies will be as well,” she said. “I think that that will keep people coming back because … you’re giving those lower-tier sergeants that time to go out and do the fun, cool, interesting training that they all want to do, and they’re not hanging around at a machine doing mandatory training, getting the latest briefing on a topic, filling in a report. You’re actually out executing and becoming much more proficient in your skills.”
Operation Ready Warrior
In August, more than 1,000 Army Reserve soldiers participated in a new training event known as a mass individual readiness exercise. Planned by Daniels’ predecessor, now-retired Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, the two-week exercise, dubbed Operation Ready Warrior, took place at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and was scheduled to take place again in September at Fort Hunter Liggett, California.
The soldiers were volunteers from units across the country who may not have been able to train at home, and they “were excited to be out and about” following months of restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Daniels said.
Training in small cohorts with regular virus screenings and space to keep potential infections from spreading, the soldiers practiced basic soldier skills such as weapons qualification, familiarization with the Army Combat Fitness Test, land navigation and individual warrior tasks and drills.
“They were all in high spirits,” Daniels said, explaining that they were getting “that good, solid experience so that when they’re done, they can actually go back and be the instructors and testers at their own units. It was that high level of training.”
With some of the travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic, the Army Reserve has worked to manage training requirements as some units are spread over several states. Some meetings take place virtually, some in person and some are hybrid events, Daniels said.
“In some places it’s just not safe to travel, and the more senior you become, the more likely you are to have to go farther away to get to your unit. So, we’re trying to be very careful and cognizant of that, and we let commanders make those calls about who comes in, who doesn’t, but they’re all checking to see that the work is getting done to help us maintain the readiness,” she said.
Daniels said she is confident that, even with the challenges presented by the pandemic, the Army Reserve is ready to respond to events at home and to support the Regular Army.
She pointed to the 15 Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces that were quickly stood up and deployed during the pandemic to help hard-hit civilian hospitals, saying the example demonstrates that the Reserve is “able to deploy completely changed formations” and build new ones to meet the mission.
Her goal over the coming four years is to maximize the Reserve’s talent base so it has the right formations and skill sets needed in the future.
Her faith in the abilities of the Army Reserve is based on the potential she sees in leaders and soldiers.
“It’s part of my mantra—ready now, shaping tomorrow,” Daniels said. “That potential is, what are they going to be tomorrow? Because I do want to take what we’ve got and continue to grow it, continue to mature it, continue to develop it, so that these junior leaders do become the mid- and then the senior-grade leaders in the future.”