New family handbook offers helpful advice

National Guard, Reserves ease strain of shrinking active duty force

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2001 (GulfLINK) – In the last decade, the Reserve Component has truly become a fully integrated part of our military force, working in concert with the active-duty forces on almost every mission. One result of that change is that National Guard and Reserve units are a lot busier. The military drawdown of the mid-1990s and more long-term deployments have had a major effect on the operational tempo of our citizen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

Col. Terry Jones of the Pentagon’s Reserve Affairs office says one way to measure Reservist activity is in terms of the number of days Reservists spend on military duty.

"For the past five years it’s been pretty steady," Jones says. "In 1989, the Guard and Reserve were used a little more than a million duty days. For the past five years the National Guard and Reserve have been utilized for support to the active force for a total of between 12.5 and 13.5 million duty days per year."

To put that into perspective, 12.5 million duty days is a day’s work from every crewman on the USS Enterprise including the air wing, for five years and 10 months. It’s the whole 10th Mountain Division pulling a shift for 3.25 years. All of U.S. Air Forces, Europe would spend nearly a year to work 12.5 million duty days. In fact, it’s the equivalent of putting the entire Marine Corps to work every day for 2.5 months.

Part of the reason for that increased workload is that the active forces shrank by about a third during the 1990s. Today, the Reserve Component represents half of America’s military capability. And while the National Guard and Reserve are a greater proportion of the force now, we must remember they were also part of that drawdown, and lost almost 25 percent of their members.

While military personnel strength has declined, mission demands have grown. In 1995 deployments to Bosnia began, followed by Reservists being sent to Southwest Asia in 1998, and to Kosovo in 1999. This means that currently the Reserve component supports three different presidential call-ups, which Jones believes is unprecedented.

Those long-term deployments employ mostly ground troops, but they don’t encompass the entire Reserve Component mission. Day-to-day military work continues as it did before the major presidential call-ups began.

"Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve tanker units are up all the time," Jones says. "Transport units are moving all the time. Fighter units are constantly on alert in Alaska, Texas and Florida. There are disaster relief missions that the National Guard supports, and missions in Latin America which all the Reserve Components support."

In order to get the job done, Guardsmen and Reservists face many of the same challenges met by active duty forces. The services have to compete with a healthy civilian economy to recruit high quality members. Proper deployment preparation requires units to train longer and harder. And maintenance of vehicles and equipment becomes more pivotal when our forces go into action overseas. However, in some ways Reserve component members face challenges that are unique.

"National Guard and Reserve members have a full-time commitment to America but they serve in a part-time capacity," Jones says. "They have civilian employers who they have to work with. One of the challenges they face is balancing their civilian jobs, along with their military commitments and their family commitments."

The Pentagon is working to make that balancing act a little easier. Handling military commitments is easier when the military properly handles its commitment to servicemembers, and a large part of that lies in maintaining clear lines of communication up and down the chain of command. That can stop the rumors that add to the stress of upcoming deployments. New programs should be explained before they are put into operation. And commanders must ensure that Guardsmen and Reservists are informed well in advance of deployments.

"Another thing that commanders can do," Jones says, "is to make sure they get the employer a set of orders well in advance of the military mission. The impact on employers spreads like a wave to affect the whole community. Our citizen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are vital members of their communities. When they deploy it leaves important gaps. It is easier for companies and communities to cope with the loss when they can plan for it."

The Defense Department is working to help Reserve Component members balance job commitments in other ways, too. One example is this year’s National Guard program called "The Year of the Employer." More than just a slogan or theme, the program’s goal is to increase recognition for employers of Guard members and to strengthen existing processes and relationships that reach out to those employers. Commanders will be meeting with employers and arranging for them to visit Guard missions in order to help them understand what their employees are facing.

Jones says maximizing predictability is the most important factor in making deployments easier to handle, especially for family members. With such a fast pace and frequency of deployments, it’s more important than ever for people to know how often they can expect to deploy. One example of the Pentagon’s efforts in that direction is the Air Force’s Expeditionary Aerospace Force. As a planning tool it doesn’t reduce deployments, but it does provide greater stability and predictability for those involved, including Reserve Component members.

One major change created by the EAF is that it defines the level of deployment units can sustain. A pair of rotating Aerospace Expeditionary Wings provides crisis response capabilities. The plan looks beyond counting aircraft to measure actual tempo. For example, it takes into account the many deployments that involve only support forces. The objective is to control home base operational pace and deployment lengths, because these things are critical to long-term retention and readiness.

To further assist family members, the Pentagon’s Reserve Affairs team has put together a family readiness strategic plan. The plan shows that Pentagon leaders recognize the importance of keeping spouses well advised as to what their benefits are, and how to best prepare for deployments. The details are all in The Guide to Reserve Family Member Benefits Handbook, available on the Reserve Affairs Web site.

"With so much of the total force’s capability in National Guard and Reserve units," Jones says, "the Pentagon must remember their needs if future deployments are to be successful."