Shaping the force for tomorrow means training realistically today, said Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, who is on a campaign to get more of her soldiers out to the field as she prepares the U.S. Army Reserve for big changes.
Daniels, who has been chief of the Army Reserve and commander of the U.S. Army Reserve Command since July 2020, is navigating a tough recruiting slump and what she calls a “COVID hangover” in parts of the force that has slowed a return to some full-scale training.
To get ahead of these challenges, Daniels said, she is overhauling the component’s recruiting effort to appeal to Americans of all walks. She also is working to enrich the Army Reserve experience for the current force by driving cultural change.
At the same time, as the Regular Army conducts a top-to-bottom review to prioritize critical combat capabilities for the decades ahead, Daniels is leading the Army Reserve through a review of its own capabilities to bring the component into the future apace with the Regular Army and the Army National Guard.
Except for one infantry battalion headquartered at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, the Army Reserve’s authorized force of 189,500 soldiers provides most of the Army’s combat support and combat service support capabilities, including military police, signal, chemical, transportation, medical, legal, public affairs, civil affairs, chaplains, quartermaster, postal and military information support soldiers.
To meet the Total Army’s future needs, Daniels said, she is keen to get the component onto a “sustainable strategic path” forward, which could include taking on new capabilities that more closely complement combat arms formations.
As the process moves ahead, new ideas, creative thinking and hard questions are being encouraged by Daniels, who begins working with the Army National Guard this fall to assess what each component brings to the table.
“We know we are headed to multidomain operations. We know there are these different types of priority units and capabilities the Army wants to build as we look to 2030, 2040,” Daniels said. “But what does the Reserve look like?”
That and other questions are being explored by Daniels and her staff as they envision what might be applicable to the future of the Reserve.
She is focused on identifying where the Reserve can make a difference, where it can be of the most use, and whether bolstering capabilities such as the Army’s cyber and information advantage strategy would mean changes in structure, training or people.
As an example, an initiative under discussion in the Army involves the possible creation of what officials are calling protection formations that could integrate some Reserve capabilities “that fall into that protection realm,” Daniels said. These could include specialties such as military police and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives technicians who protect friendly forces from the enemy in a multidomain environment.
“We’re monitoring as that goes forward, and do we have a role on that front,” Daniels said, suggesting that an Army discussion that took place in 1993 “about what ends up in each component might need a relook at this point.”
A relook of sorts could see the Reserve further adapt by taking on some “combat arms-ish, if not combat arms itself” capabilities that don’t involve supporting heavy formations such as brigade combat teams, she said.
These might include reconnaissance and counter-unmanned aerial systems capabilities, things that are “on the lightweight side” that can be easily accommodated geographically and mobilized in a tailored fashion when needed for the fight, Daniels said.
The assessment will consider every angle of the Army Reserve, including skills resident in the force that can be leveraged to greater advantage, what role technology will play in networking, communications, engineering and artificial intelligence, and even theater logistics.
“It’s not just about transportation,” she said of theater logistics. “There’s a lot of capabilities in there that the National Defense Strategy says that we, the Army, should be looking at, and the Army Reserve seems to have a bulk of that capability.”
Daniels’ suggestions for the future of the Army Reserve are “food for thought” at this point, she said, “because I really don’t know what the answers are, but we’re looking to sort of shape that future, to shape tomorrow, to look at where we can provide maximal value.”
Back to the Field
While conversations about the future take place with her peers at the highest levels of the Army, Daniels continues to lead the force toward meaningful culture change.
In an effort begun shortly after she took over as chief, Daniels has stepped up her campaign to instill a new ethos that gives junior leaders the go-ahead to focus more on “tough, realistic training done safely,” and less on mind-numbing metrics reports that don’t always paint an accurate picture.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Daniels said, the Army Reserve was “doing pretty good” supporting missions at home and overseas. But the force got “comfortable staying home in fuzzy slippers,” teleworking and doing remote battle assemblies.
“The Army Reserve had gone into sort of a love of metrics. It’s really easy to do metrics, unfortunately, way too many of them, and then people call that readiness,” Daniels said.
Things in the Army Reserve don’t change frequently enough to require weekly unit reports that measure administrative details, she said, describing such reporting as “interesting but not relevant. … It’s not even interesting.”
So passionate is her quest to flip the mire of metrics to time better spent on training, that Daniels penned and published a paper in April, “Changing Culture: Moving from Metrics to Readiness,” a document she calls “a top cover paper that says, ‘Go do training.’ ”
“Lower echelon leaders need to be able to focus on achieving readiness. Higher headquarters need to focus on enabling subordinates’ training,” she wrote, pointing out that company commanders “spend one or two nights a week” preparing metrics reports.
The “hyper-focus on achieving all green metrics,” she wrote, “is distracting from what really matters: recruiting, developing, and retaining cohesive teams and units that are highly trained, disciplined, and fit to accomplish their wartime mission.”
Monday War Stories
Daniels is hopeful that her drive to change the culture of measuring readiness with metrics will have collateral benefits, too.
When junior leaders and soldiers get hands-on training for the jobs they signed up to do, when equipment breaks and has to be fixed and leadership skills are developed, she said, it foments Monday morning “war stories” people can tell when they’re back at their civilian jobs, potentially piquing the interest of their co-workers.
“My objective is twofold. One, I believe it will increase retention because you’re doing stuff worth doing, you’re making a difference, it’s interesting, you’re learning and advancing your skills. The other is that, now you’re talking about it, and it may help with accessions,” Daniels said.
The Army Reserve is in the same recruiting hole as the Regular Army, struggling to attract young Americans whose eligibility to serve has nosedived because of obesity, substance abuse issues and a lack of proper education.
Add to that the propensity to serve, which has plummeted to 9%, the lowest level since 2007, according to the Army.
In addition to generating enthusiasm within the force, Daniels is overseeing development of a multimedia marketing campaign that she hopes will help the Reserve get past the recruiting woes that have affected all the services.
As the message trickles down to the force, Daniels said, more people are showing up for annual training events, but fewer are making it to weekend drills. She chalks this up to the sharp increase in travel costs, the “COVID hangover” effect and choices people have made in a tumultuous and changing world. Still, she’s betting her efforts will infuse the momentum the Reserve needs to attract new people.
With enjoyable training, she said, the soldier’s story isn’t, “Oh, I hung out at the drill center. No, I was out driving a Humvee, or I was running a 500-pound washing machine, or I was running fuel samples through a purification system [or I was] putting down a concrete building form. I was doing something.”
Pace to the End
Daniels and her husband, John McCarthy, also continue to engage Army Reserve families with quarterly town halls, Facebook Live meetings and spouse programs. The goal is to share as much information as possible to a highly dispersed force.
With about two years left in her tenure as chief of the Army Reserve, Daniels turned to some of the Army’s most experienced leaders—serving and retired senior officers, enlisted soldiers and warrant officers—to help her gauge her performance and the way forward.
“I’m calling it my midtour review,” Daniels said of the three-day gathering in August in Chicago. “I don’t want to get to the point where I enter into the fourth year and go into hysteria and drive the staff crazy.”
The review considered objectives for the next 24 months, what should be continued, what should change, what’s working, what’s not and what the plan of action should be for the Army Reserve into 2030 and 2040.
“I’ve seen so many people [in command] hit that final year and just go into irreversible momentum,” Daniels said. “I want to start now and just continue on a steady, consistent pace to the end.”