Part-Time Soldiers Head Back to Iraq
Within hours of President George W. Bush's Jan. 10 announcement of an increase in the total troop numbers deployed to Iraq, the Pentagon reversed a long-standing policy that limited National Guard and reserve troops' time on active duty to one deployment in five years. The policy change means thousands of part-time citizen-soldiers who already have served yearlong tours in Iraq or Afghanistan now can be recalled for a second year's tour.
For reservists, the old days of one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer are gone, says Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz. "The Army Reserve exists to provide trained and ready soldiers and units when the nation calls," he told attendees at a
Jan. 10 Government Executive breakfast. "There really is no more Army Reserve, it's the Army."
The Army Reserve is in the midst of a transformation from a strategic, peacetime organization to an operational force driven by the changed security environment since Sept. 11, Stultz said. Reservists' level of readiness and preparedness must rise so they can be called anytime to deploy to a combat zone. He acknowledged the disruption this could cause in the lives of part-time soldiers, and said the Army is trying to provide a level of predictability, so reservists will know when they'll be called to active duty and deployed overseas. Stultz has been employed for 25 years by Procter & Gamble, where he is an operations manager in Orlando, Fla.
Previously, reserve troops in Iraq typically served 18 months on active duty: six months in pre-deployment training and 12 months on the ground. Stultz said he is moving the force to a new cycle where troops can expect to deploy overseas for one year within a five-year period. He also said soldiers no longer will be called up individually. Instead, entire units will be mobilized. That process will be easier because much of the force already has served in Iraq or Afghanistan, so units can achieve required levels of readiness before returning to the combat zone.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Army Reserve has mobilized more than 160,000 soldiers from a total force of 196,000. Currently, 30,000 to 35,000 soldiers are mobilized, with 20,000 to 25,000 deployed overseas, Stultz said. At least 30,000 reservists have deployed more than once to a war zone. About 10,000 mobilized soldiers, including drill sergeants and medical personnel, are stationed in the United States. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, nearly half the nurses and doctors are reservists, Stultz said.
The Army Reserve makes up only 20 percent of the total Army force, but it provides up to half the service's combat support units such as transportation, medical and civil affairs personnel. The average ages of reservists are 42 for officers and 31 for enlisted personnel. Under the base realignment and closure process, the Army Reserve is shutting down 176 facilities nationwide and is consolidating into 125 more modern Armed Forces Reserve Centers by 2011.
Stultz, who has served 32 years in the Army, is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and was in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. He is re-crafting the Army Reserve from a peacetime force originally designed for the Cold War into one better oriented for the demands of repeated troop deployments to combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here are edited excerpts from his remarks about wartime management of reservists:
On restructuring for war:Our structure was a Cold War structure, a peacetime command-and-control structure with large administrative headquarters that didn't deploy. Their responsibility was to make sure the troops were getting paid for their weekend drills and making sure they had a plan of where they were going for their annual training for summer. They weren't functional; they weren't wartime. We can't afford that structure. We are converting those headquarters into sustainment brigades that work in Kuwait and Iraq. We are converting them into maneuver enhancement brigades that oversee the engineers and the military police in theater, and into more of a civil affairs capability for reconstruction efforts-standing up water plants and building hospitals.
On reducing the length of deployments:I'm trying to get us to a train, mobilize, deploy process. Currently, we are in a mobilize, train, deploy process. You mobilize a force; you send them to a training center for three months to train and then they do 12 months' boots on the ground. So now you're up to about 16 months or longer that they are away from their employer and their family. We can't continue to do that. We have to get to a process that says we are going to train before we ever mobilize, so when we mobilize it's 12 months every so many years, not 16 to 18 months. We must have predictability for our soldiers, for their employers, their families, and predictability for the Army that says here is what I can give you every year on a sustained basis. I can give you this much of engineer capability, this much of MP capability, this much of transportation capability.
Our ultimate goal is that about every five years, you are going to be called upon to deploy. You come back from a deployment and you have got one year where you're reconstituting, doing individual training. The second year, you start to get to platoon-level training. In the third year, you've got your company back together and you're doing an annual training event. By the fourth year, you know where you're going in year five, and you're training for Afghanistan or Iraq, and in the fifth year you're available.
On the effect of multiple deployments:Out of the 160,000 reservists, I think about 30,000 to 35,000 have deployed more than once. A lot of those are your leaders, your noncommissioned officers and officers. A lot of the soldiers we have that haven't deployed yet are our younger soldiers, those who were recently recruited into the force. [Reservists] understand that it is no longer one week in a month, two weeks in the summertime. They understand that under Title 10, the Army Reserve exists to provide trained and ready soldiers and units when the nation calls. And so our soldiers say, "I got it. I understand. I'm part of the Army."
There is really no more Army Reserve; it's the Army. I'm just in reserve status one time, and I'm active some other time. And I move back and forth, but my level of readiness, my level of preparedness, is going to have to be at that same level, [so] if I'm called upon tomorrow, I can respond. What they are asking is just give me some predictability. If you tell me, you are going to be called up on a regular basis, how often is that going to be? Then they'll have to decide, can I do that or not? Some of our units are going back for a second time. But we are using volunteers; we are not involuntarily making people go back.