Defense Budget Widens Gap for Reserves

As DoD's new budget proposal made the rounds on the day of its release, Secretary Hagel met with members of the MSO/VSO community to explain the strategy and field questions on the impacts to various constituencies. As ROA leaders were told first hand, the Reserve and Guard can't expect to avoid this round of reductions. In detailed remarks, Hagel outlined his department's plans for what Pentagon brass are hoping will be viewed as an honest effort to maintain operational solvency.  While the bulk of the cuts will come from active duty forces, Hagel made clear that the RC will have to make its own set of sacrifices.

Hagel's remarks emphasized a new era of defense strategy, echoing talking points heard for some time now: agility, flexibility; a streamlined vision for defense. Predictably, that vision has been met with equal parts apprehension and rhetoric across the military community. As for the RC, Hagel telegraphed several proposals which, taken together, paint a disconcerting picture for the Reserve's role in this new defense posture.

At a time when readiness demands austerity, the Department of Defense has chosen to ignore the most cost effective tool in its arsenal. And in doing so, reaffirmed what many in the Reserve community have feared for more than a decade. That despite equal service and unprecedented sacrifice, the Reserves are still seen as a second class force. Seemingly unable to overcome an outdated perception of the RC, DoD has ignored 13 years’ worth of evidence building towards the conclusion that the Reserve force is the best insurance policy for our national security. That a trained, equipped and ready RC offers the type of flexibility and selective surge capacity that this operability model calls for.Hagel’s detailed remarks on a proposed five percent reduction in Army end-strength offer the most telling evidence of this gap in perception.

As framed in the Secretary’s preview, DoD has once again failed to account for those soldiers in the pipeline: new recruits who have to be trained in basic skills and a MOS. As a result, DoD’s readiness estimates for the RC are optimistic at best. Beyond questionable accuracy, the proportion of ANG to USAR cuts is cause for concern. Legislation currently pending in the House (H.R. 3930) which calls for the formation of a national commission to review the force structure of the Army would freeze the Guard an end-strength of 350,000 for the duration of the commission’s review. That legislation also places a hold on transfer of attack helicopters from the ARNG to AC Army. If passed, and those delays are enacted, the USAR stands to disproportionately absorb the brunt of these cuts.

Hagel’s justification for the 5 percent reduction included a one-two punch intended to cast doubt on the value of the RC. Downplaying the strategic benefits of an operational Reserve force he contended that “surge capacity is just one factor.” Next he undercut the cost savings of Reserve capability by qualifying the timing of that savings, citing reserve units as being, “roughly the same cost as an active unit when mobilized and deployed.” He continued by invoking “experience” to justify limited integration of “specialties requiring grater collective training to achieve combat proficiency”.

While the Secretary’s remarks superficially heaped praise upon Reservists (“we affirm the value of a high capable reserve component”) to historical observers of defense policy, the substance of these proposals place the RC on the path back to a strategic force. Under the pressure of austerity the department is marginalizing the progress made towards a total force model.

While we accept that cuts are coming and as the Secretary stated, “No component of DoD can be entirely exempted from reductions.” we cannot subvert the value of the RC with a return to outdated force models and antiquated rationale. Hagel’s remarks indicate a logic that dictates “mobilize, train, deploy”. If the past 13 years of war have taught us anything we can use to prepare ourselves for future threats it should be that we must think “train, mobilize, and deploy”. The RC must continue to be an integral part of a total force model that prepares our military for any contingency.