Response to Land Warfare Paper 139: The Reserve Component Crisis Necessitates Re-Examining the Total Army Concept

Response to Land Warfare Paper 139: The Reserve Component Crisis Necessitates Re-Examining the Total Army Concept

August 19, 2021

This letter is forwarded in response to Land Warfare Paper (LWP) 139, The Reserve Component Crisis Necessitates Re-Examining the Total Army Concept.

The author (unnamed) begins his paper by saying that the emergency use of the National Guard over the past two years highlights significant shortcomings in the Army’s Total Force concept. In my opinion, the use of the National Guard over the past two years validates the Army’s Total Force concept. 

Following the January 6 Riot, the nation called on the Guard, and, according to the author’s research, over 26,000 Guardmembers from 28 states were deployed to the National Capital Region, where they provided security and stability in one of the most fragile situations in the history of our country. This deployment cost the United States, not the National Guard, $521 million. National leaders made conscious decisions to utilize the money from the National Guard budget to meet mission requirements—while simultaneously maintaining deployable forces within DoD to meet all other mission and readiness requirements, across all components, based on current threats. As discussed in LWP 139, Army Guard leaders, as they should, have provided testimony on the impact of not reimbursing the dollars spent on this unprogrammed deployment. Will this one-time budgetary issue impact short-term readiness? Absolutely. Will it have potential negative effects on long-term strategic efforts, as opined by the author? Absolutely not.

And, yes, as the author discusses, over 86,000 Guardmembers mobilized and deployed in 2020–2021, first to assist civil authorities in maintaining order, and also to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. He argues that this utilization of the force is “out of accordance with its natural order.” On the contrary, I would argue that such utilization is exactly in accordance with the natural order of the National Guard. Were these mobilizations and utilizations unprecedented, as pointed out by Chief of Staff of the Army (CSA) General James McConville in his congressional testimony? Yes, they were—and he also pointed out that the Guard performed them magnificently.

The author also opined that there are “inherent challenges” within the Total Army Concept. I would agree that there are challenges, but not in the way presented by the author. Army leaders will always wrestle with the proper force structure mix within the Army and its components; threat analyses and budgets are constantly changing and provide the true inherent challenges. During General Mark Milley’s tenure as CSA, it was determined that more heavy forces were required to face immediate threats, and that our Army was dramatically behind in modernizing the force. Tough decisions had to be made on which components these additional forces would be assigned to and on what would have to be sacrificed for modernization. In order to address then-current threats and deployment timelines, CSA Milley committed funds to the National Guard to enhance the readiness of its Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ABCTs). Should we re-examine the current threat and determine if that high OPTEMPO (operational tempo) is still required and realistic? Yes. Should we abandon current force structure allocations within the components? I would emphatically argue, no. OPTEMPO for the reserve component should always be based on the current threat analysis and on the projected number of days available during post-mobilization training to reach required proficiency. The author cites the $910 million a year required for the operations and support costs for a National Guard ABCT, but he neglects to mention that the same source also shows the operations and support costs for an active ABCT to be over $3 billion. If we were to follow his suggestion to exchange ABCTs for Infantry Brigade Combat Teams, we might save money within the National Guard budget. However, assuming that the same heavy force mix is required within the Total Army, where does the money come from to add that force structure to the Active Army?

The author states that there has been a breach of trust with Guardmembers concerning their training and deployments. I believe nothing is further from the truth. Since 9/11, Guardmembers have joined with the complete and full knowledge that they would train and deploy. Are the training requirements and deployments hard on families and civilian employment? As a former Soldier who has deployed, I say, absolutely. However, programmed and predictable deployments are expected. Based on current deployment rates, a Soldier entering the National Guard today will deploy one time in a twenty-year career. That is not unreasonable and, in fact, is arguably welcomed by Guardmembers. Are the unprogrammed deployments more difficult? Again, absolutely, but to assume that the elongated unprogrammed events will continue in the future at the same rate that they have in 2020 and 2021, is, in my opinion, an extremely poor assumption. Utilization of the National Guard in exercises and training events around the globe is welcomed by Guardmembers. Such utilizations enhance their readiness and preparation for deployment as the combat reserve of the Army. Planned and predictable utilization of Guard units truly enhances readiness and retention—and it strengthens the relationship between the three components of the Army, making a stronger fighting force. 

In conclusion, I completely disagree with the author’s conclusion. The budget issue faced by the National Guard this year is a challenge and a problem, but it certainly does not create a crisis. To say that the National Guard is “all but unable to continue operations because of the inordinate strain that has been placed on it” is completely untrue. Don’t you worry, Sir; we got this. We are “always ready, always there”!

James K. "Red" Brown
Major General, USA, Ret.