Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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Paging Dr. Abrams: Why This Soldier Thinks We Need a Commission on the Structure of the Army

by Guest Blogger for Janine Davidson
May 6, 2014

calvary soldiers at attention U.S. Army soldiers stand at attention to receive their spurs following a 24 hour Cavalry "Spur Ride" for members of the US Army's 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment in Fort Drum, New York, September 30, 2010. (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters)


By Adam Maisel

As markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 gets underway, senior leaders in the Army and Army National Guard are sharpening their knives. Stemming from a contentious aviation restructuring plan in the proposed budget in which the Army Guard would lose all of its attack aviation (as well as cuts to tens of thousands of soldiers, should sequestration return in FY16), both sides are girding for an Active-Guard war. Congress has responded in kind by advocating for an independent commission to study the force structure of the Army, similar in scope to the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force formed in 2013.

Senior leadership in the Army and Pentagon have already expressed their opposition to such a commission, citing added costs with deferring planned cuts. Such opposition is disappointing, since an independent study might not only find opportunities for long-term cost savings and efficiencies, but could help implement a Total Force policy that provides Americans with the most decisive landpower force for protection at home and abroad.

Should a National Commission on the Structure of the Army come to fruition, what should it take into account? A good place to start would be to look at the inherent strengths and weaknesses of each component: the Regular Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

Three Components, Many Strengths, One Mission

The Regular Army has and always will function as the “first to fight” component. It provides rapidly deployable forces for immediate response and maintains sizable strength positioned throughout the globe for “first contact.” Full-time soldiers require less notice to deploy than their reserve component counterparts (the Army Force Generation  model, ARFORGEN, establishes a 1:3 deployed-to-dwell ratio compared to 1:5 for National Guard and Reserve*) and can routinely conduct brigade-sized training maneuvers.  Additionally, the full-time nature of the Regular Army allows it to be the premier component for institutional knowledge and training to serve as the model for American defense.

Full-time readiness comes at a price, and a substantial one at that. Regular Army soldiers and their families are provided housing, education, healthcare and subsistence privileges that result in increased costs. Our nation’s founders understood that with a large standing army come large associated expenses. This is precisely why George Washington envisioned a lean Regular force augmented by an operational militia with standardized equipment and training.

If the Regular Army provides prompt land dominance (as outlined in its mission), the Army National Guard adds sustainment and depth to the fight. Army Guard units are structured in the same manner as Regular Army divisions and Brigade Combat Teams, which provide strategic depth for the Total Army’s combat power.  This has proved essential for long-term overseas contingency operations (in 2005, half of all Army soldiers deployed to Iraq were National Guardsmen) and historically has offered the Army the ability to sustain surges of ground forces during major conflicts.

Additionally, the Army Guard serves as a repository for Active Army experience (an Apache pilot tired of permanent changes of station, PCSing, can find a home with a Guard Apache unit, thereby retaining his or her flight and combat expertise).  More importantly, the Guard can leverage two unique attributes: the civilian skills of its citizen-soldiers and decades-old regional partnership programs.

The former gives Guard units advantages in military policing, agro-business development teams, and the “Hold” and “Build” phases of counterinsurgency. The latter allows Guard units to work seamlessly with allied counterparts and retain knowledge and relationships in areas of future unrest. Furthermore, the Guard’s domestic mission gives an added edge in civil-military partnerships during peace and wartime.

nat guard sandy

New York Army National Guard Soldiers from Delta Co., 427th, 27th BCT soldiers load meals for emergency food distribution in Brooklyn, New York, in this November 1, 2012 photograph. (Ben Richardson/Courtesy Reuters)

Like the Army National Guard, the Army Reserve can also draw heavily on its citizen-soldier concept. The Army Reserve force structure is tailored more toward the individual service member as opposed to a collective unit. As such, the Reserve should leverage personnel with requisite civilian skills (medical, financial, business development, public administration, etc.) and treat them as subject matter experts that can be augmented to larger Active or Guard units.

Guard and Reserve soldiers offer full-time professionalism at a part-time cost. Recent studies have concluded that reserve component soldiers cost less than a third of their active counterparts. But this cost-effectiveness comes at its own cost. Reserve component soldiers are just as ready and capable to provide support to overseas operations, but as citizen-soldiers, they require predictable deployment patterns and additional training time before they can be sent into theater. Regardless, Guard and Reserve soldiers are firmly committed to being an operational reserve as opposed to the “break glass in case of war” structure that pervaded the reserve component in the post-Vietnam era.

Getting to Abrams 2.0

Much like the Air Force commission, an Army commission should consider the continuum of service for service members of the three components. Moving seamlessly across components over the course of a soldier’s career should be a given, not a “kiss of death” for an Army career. As soldiers discover and take advantage of opportunities across the Regular Army and the Guard and Reserve, institutional misunderstanding and ignorance will be eroded, resulting in a more cohesive Total Force.

Identifying and leveraging the strengths and weaknesses of the three components will help a commission make recommendations for an Army force structure balanced and flexible enough to meet a variety of threats to American national security and interests. The importance of an Army commission lies in getting it right for the Total Force and our nation’s security—not declaring a winner for one of the three components.

*Under surge conditions, this deploy to dwell ratio is 1:2 and 1:4 for the active and reserve components respectively.

Second Lieutenant Adam Maisel is an intelligence officer in the District of Columbia Army National Guard and a legislative assistant at the National Guard Association. Opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the United States Army or National Guard Association.

Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by 1SG Jose A. Garcia

    “The Regular Army has and always will function as the “first to fight” component.”

    That’s not entirely true. Take a closer look at the WWII Campaign in the Pacific you’ll find the first U.S. Army unit to fight in the Pacific was the 164th Infantry from the North Dakota National Guard on Guadalcanal. For the U.S. Army the Pacific theater was largely a National Guard fight; which is a consideration when pondering why so much of the U.S. Army history in the Pacific is really unknown. Most American’s believe it was the U.S. Marine Corps doing all the fighting out there. The Army seems to be okay with that version of history.

    The 32nd Division from the Wisconsin and Michigan Army National Guard was thrown at the Imperial Japanese Army and Naval Infantry and Buna. The active component took away their tanks and artillery, provided them no division collective training or jungle training and then sent one Battalion on a 130 mile long march over 40 days through mountainous jungles and swaps with a ration per day, most days and no rations at all for many others. They arrived to fight an stout dug in Japanese defense complete with concrete and steel pill boxes. The active Army component cheif of staff referred to the Japanes defenses as “Hasty Field Entrenchments,” never having seen them himself.

    We hear so much, and rightfully so about the U.S.M.C.’s sacrifices on Guadalcanal, where 1 in 37 died. The (National Guard’s) 32nd division had an authorized strength of 11,000 Soldiers, but entered the fight with 9,825 men, approximately 3,000 of which had just completed only basic training and joined the division just before the battle. There was no collective training.

    During less than seven weeks in New Guinea, it suffered 586 killed, 1,954 wounded, and 100 more dead from other causes. The division suffered an extraordinary 66% illness rate, with 7,125 casualties due to illness (with 2,952 requiring hospitalization). The high casualty rate was due in part to the lack of armor, artillery, and naval support. A decision to attack without supporting arms was one the active component commander General MacArthur made. National Guard Soldiers in New Guinea had a one in 11 chance of dying.

    General George Kenney, an (active) Army Air Force advisor to MacArthur wrote in his memiors that the U.S. 32nd division, “were green and the officers were not controlling them.” He went on to say that the 32nd sat in the jungle “doing nothing but worrying about the rain and the strange noises at night.” To say that the U.S. Army has a long and storied history of maligning the National Guard is an understatement.

    The 2-126th INF arrived at the objective on 21 November with 1,400 Soldiers after covering those 130 miles. In Kahn’s 1943 book he wrote, “The men at the front in New Guinea were perhaps among the most wretched-looking soldiers ever to wear the American uniform. They were gaunt and thin, with deep black circles under their sunken eyes. They were covered with tropical sores… They were clothed in tattered, stained jackets and pants… Often the soles had been sucked off their shoes by the tenacious, stinking mud. Many of them fought for days with fevers and didn’t know it… Malaria, dengue fever, dysentery, and, in a few cases, typhus hit man after man. There was hardly a Soldier, among the thousands who went into the jungle, who didn’t come down with some kind of fever at least once.”

    Historian Stanley Falk agreed. “The Papuan campaign was one of the costliest Allied victories of the Pacific war in terms of casualties per troops committed.” The Ghost Mountain Boys of the 2-126th INF were especially hard hit. When Buna was taken they finished the fight with only six officers and 126 troops standing.

    In public, MacArthur, the Active Component Commander said “The utmost care was taken for the conservation of our forces with the result that probably no campaign in history against a thoroughly prepared and trained Army produced such complete and decisive results with so low an expenditure of life and resources.”

    It’s this kind of doublespeak and mistreatment that the National Guard, America’s Militia, has come to receive from the U.S. Army time and again.

    The U.S. cannot afford a large standing army. But at 1/3rd the cost, we are more capable than the active component, and the best choice going into the future. We never receive the funding required to train our formations to standard and our formations are never fully equipped. That situation is (and has always been) result of active component decisions, shortchanging the National Guard in terms of training and equipment decade after decade from one century to the next.

    The Army is once again arguing to whittle away the National Guard to the bloated active components benefit. At best such a policy is folly.

  • Posted by TPlunkett

    1SG Garcia illustrates a part of our history that deserves much more attention, but the action in Guadalcanal was hardly the first engagement in the Pacific by the US Army. The Army fought in the Phillipines from Dec 1941 till April 1942 (Bataan surrender) and May 1942 (Corregidor surrender). These forces did include some National Guard elements deployed just prior to the start of hostilities. Also, the Campaign for the Aleutian Islands commenced in June 1942.

  • Posted by Joe Doeks

    The 164th Infantry Regiment of the Americal Division went into action on Guadalcanal on 13 October 1942 as the first United States Army unit to conduct an offensive operation against the enemy in any theater.

  • Posted by majrod

    While the Guard has done a tremendous job throughout our history 1SGT Garcia leaves out some very important facts about the Guard’s contribution during WWII.

    First the Guard was mobilized for well over a year and sometimes two before they saw combat. Second, they spent that time away from home station conducting full time training to execute all the operations expected of combat units. Finally, many regular Army units were stripped of NCOs and officers and replaced Guard leaders to improve the performance and competency of these units.

    So if we can expect a future enemy to give us a year or two to fully mobilize Guard combat units and give them the training they need to conduct full spectrum operations that model is appropriate. Unfortunately no such guarantee can exist.

    The Guard has done a yeoman’s job over the last decade but the unspoken secret is that because of the nature of this war we have had the luxury of largely shielding Guard combat units from full spectrum operations. Out of the hundreds of Guard combat brigades deployed a miniscule number have been Guard combat units conducting the same full spectrum missions as their active brethren. The overwhelming majority of missions assigned to combat Guard units have been repetitive ones like convoy and fixed site security. These aren’t “easy” or unimportant missions and it is not a mark against the Guard. The simple fact is you can’t get Guard combat units trained to do full spectrum operations in 34 training days a year or in two to three months of premobilization training. We couldn’t do it in WWII where the Guard performed so admirably and we can’t do it now.

    More funding does not lengthen the training day and while the Guard cost 1/3 less it deploys a third less with years of notice of future deployments and well funded and executed premobilization training supported by the active component.. Once deployed, they cost the same. So if we have the time to train the Guard full time we can get them to the proficiency they should be at before deployment. It is instructive to look at the last time we tried to train a Guard unit to conduct full spectrum operations which happened in the ’90-’91 time frame. Even after months of focused training to include a rotation through the National Training Center Guard units had very significant training issues.

    The Guard is absolutely necessary. It serves as a reserve to finish a future war and should be such a size so as to not allow our politicians to get us into long wars where only the small active forces bear the burden of war segregating the rest of America from its effects. The Guard is not a replacement for a standing Army that must respond to national threats immediately and buy time for the Guard to mobilize, train and deploy.

  • Posted by 1SG Jose A. Garcia

    For MAJROD,

    Take a look at General Sullivan’s hit peice in the AUSA magazine. He tries to saddle the Guard with poor performances at Buna and Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, as well as the poor generalship in the revolutionary war.

    It’s disingenuous to say that the Guard “trained for years” to prepare for WWII, that is especially not true of the 32nd Divsion, the victims of poor generalship in the Pacific theater.

    You remark that it took years to train the National Guard in WWII. And it took years to train the active component as well, who fared no better or worse than their Guard counterparts.

    The 34th Division, mobilized in 41, arrived in Ireland in 42, trained alongside active units. [And while in Ireland gave up 500 of it’s best National Guard Soldiers to man the formation of Darby’s Rangers, a fact not many active Army folks would ever care to know] The 34th went from Ireland to North Africa right along side their active counterparts. NG troops in WWII did no worse than the French regular army [the Fall of France Sept 1940 culminating in national defeat] or British Expeditionary Force [same campaign resulting in their devastating defeat and hasty evacuation from Dunkirk] in their first encounters with the German Army that had either trained extensively for wars of conquest or was well practiced at it [Kaserine Pass North Africa].

    Yes the 34th trained for 41 and 42, right along side their active duty brothers, who trained for the exact same amount of time and suffered at the hands of Rommel just the same.

    At Kaserine remember we had relatively poor armor compared to the Germans. This was not the fault of the National Guard. It was the fault of Congress and a REGULAR Army conventional staff that simply couldn’t comprehend workable effective tank design. Moreover, our Army today has an OCS program that as part of its curriculum studies the Battle of Kaserine Pass and lays the blame for our defeat squarely on the poor generalship – not poor quality troops

    To borrow from Ronald Reagan, The trouble with active duty army folks, “isn’t so much that [they] are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.'”

    It’s a fabrication to say that “many regular Army units were stripped of NCOs and officers and replaced Guard leaders to improve the performance and competency of these units.”

    It’s the other way around, Friendo.

    The Army, bloated with officers from the between war period of the 30’s where it jettisoned mainly enlisted Soldiers, realized early on that the Guard regiments would play a large role in the fighting to come, and quickly crafted the “over-age” policy, and began running Guard officers through extremely detailed physical & medical examinations, mustering them out and replacing them with “Regular Army Officers.” Often times these regular Army Officers (many from the Long Grey Line) were as old or older than the Guard officers they replaced. Then as it is today, it is very desireable for an Army Officer to have some Combat Command Time.

    In the Pacific after the fall of the Japanese Imperial Army at Buna and Guadalcanal at the hands of the National Guard and Marines, Merrils Marauders (the Parent Unit of the modern day Army Rangers) were partly formed with volunteers from the (NG) Americal Division, veterans Guadalcanal, and the 32nd Division veterans from Buna.

    The Active Officers and NCO’s are by and large completely ignorant of the National Guard; I know, I once belonged to the ignorant masses.

    How many Marines do you suppose know of their history on Guadalcanal? As an active duty Soldier, I never heard a peep about the 3-164th Infantry at Guadalcanal. It’s utterly forgotten.

    To say that it takes years to train a National Guard BCT up to active component readiness levels is pure tripe. There are many more years of service among Guardsmen manning a Guard BCT than you will find in an active component BCT. Why is it the active component never puts a dollar figure on the experience already paid for in the Guard?

    As an aside, the Guard has more (former) Marines in it than the Marines presently serving in the Marine Corps.

    Thank you for bringing up the 1990-91 example of the Guard’s Gulf War mobilization debacle. Awesome!.

    In 1991 Major General Robert Ensslin, President of the National Guard Association, said “…many of us in the Guard have gained the perception that our combat arms units were put in a position where it was almost impossible to succeed. Because the Army did not need them in Saudi Arabia and because many active Army officers instinctively disbelieve that a Guard maneuver unit (infantry and armor) can be combat ready, they set up a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

    One Adjutant General saw a deeper motive for the exclusion of Guard maneuver units – the regular Army’s fear of post-war force reductions. Major General Eston Marchant SCARNG summed it up back in 1991 like this: “It adds up to us the way two plus two adds up: If the Guard was mobilized, and did well in the theater, the Army would be in worse shape in sustaining the force structure of the active components.”

    Sounds eerily familiar.

    Read the entire report of the National Guard’s Desert Storm mobilization experience here, begin on page 18: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/ng/desertstorm.pdf

    Hint, if you keep raising the bar higher, and avoid supplying units with their authorized equipment, they will never be ready to deploy.

    MAJROD also writes the familiar Army story line of how the National Guard wasn’t given “the same full spectrum operations” [in Iraq and Afghanistan] … WHO ASSIGNS THOSE MISSIONS? I wonder why the Active component gobbles up the “choice” missions? It couldn’t possibly be because they believe their own false narrative that the Guard simply can’t do it. We always have and we always will, Little Brothers.

    “The simple fact is you can’t get Guard combat units trained to do full spectrum operations in 34 training days a year” …. AGREED! Although I know they can be ready in 3 months of pre mob training because I spent 3 years on ADOS orders conducting Pre-Mob training for 10,000 National Guard Soldiers. When they returned from deployment, the training they credited with giving them the skills to thrive in battle was not conducted at Camp Shelby or Fort Hood, NTC or JRTC, but at Camp Roberts, CA with us: their National Guard Pre-Mob training task force.

    Let me get back to the 34 days … we don’t train 34 days a year!We did a study, the average Guardsman serves 120 days per year (taken from a sample of over 700 randomly selected RPAS statements), not 34, or 39 days.

    Consider the Active Component is paid 365 days per year, how many of those 365 days are spent training their METL? How many days painting rocks? Leave, 4 day passes, weekends, federal holidays, standdowns, division runs, dog and pony shows?

    How many actual training days has the AC got again? It’s not much more than 120. But they’re paid 365. It’s false to say that we cost 1/3rd less because we deploy 1/3rd less; the change in DOD policy that tried to shorten the time in theater had the unintended result that the National Guard Soldiers deployed actually MORE frequently.

    At any rate, in future conflicts, by the time the lift capacity (Sea or Air) was available to deploy the National Guard BCT’s to any theater of war, they would be ready. We don’t have the lift capacity to move Army (active or NG) BCT’s any quicker than they would become available for deployment.

  • Posted by Ken Wiggins

    The Delaware Guard’s 198th Coast Artillery (AA ) sailed January 23rd 1942 for the South Pacific a little more than a month after Pearl Harbor. They arrived February 17, but the anticipated resistance never materialized, so they didn’t see combat until Mono Island, near Guadalcanal in October 1943.

  • Posted by Luddite4Change

    For 1st SGT Garcia.

    Top, You Stated:

    Let me get back to the 34 days … we don’t train 34 days a year!We did a study, the average Guardsman serves 120 days per year (taken from a sample of over 700 randomly selected RPAS statements), not 34, or 39 days.

    This is an excellent point, and actually goes shoots down a significant portion of the Guards cost savings arguments.. If the number of training days to achieve an maintain the current level of proficiency is 120 days, then you can’t use a budget figure based on 34 training days a year to justify your cost.

    I’m not a rocket scientist, but I can do some simple math. 120 days is a little less than 4 times 34, would cost at least 2-3 times the cost of 34 training days, and puts significant cost savings in doubt.

    As a retired AC officer, former Guard Soldier, and Guard advisor/trainer, I’ve got to say that I find both the AC (or surrogates of the AC such as GEN Sullivan) and NG’s use of WWI and WWII anecdotes equally disingenuous. After the mobilizations in late 1940 and early 1941, the cross leveling of personnel, and the entry of conscripted soldiers into the force; there was no difference between AC and NG/RC forces, but one National Army.

    Your discussion of the 32nd/34th Division and 164th INF also falls into the category (IMHO). All of the units you mentioned had been activated for a year to a year and a half, and each had taken part in the Louisiana Maneuvers, which was the largest collective training event that the US military had conducted to that date. While no doubt their training may have been deficient by our current standards, it was equally deficient across the National Army. While many National Guard units had been using WWI excess in the 30’s, its not like the pre-1940 Regular Army was any better off. The 20s/30s period makes the 90’s Peace Dividend procurement holiday look like wasteful in comparison.

  • Posted by 1SG Garcia

    There are two reasons my responses journeyed into the history of WWII; firstly, that our own NG Liaison wrote that “The Regular Army has and always will function as the “first to fight” component.” and secondly, General Sullivan in AUSA’s May magazine is using WWII campaigns that the NG was involved in to help make his points.

    In sum, there are MANY falsehoods about the National Guard that are parrotted across the Army – even among our own. Among these are that we are incapable of missions, we’re the last to fight, we don’t shoot well, we couldn’t get ready in time for the Gulf War etc., etc., and if you are an honest man, you will admit being exposed to these false narratives yourself while in service. In every instance where the Guard was unprepared, it was because the active component made them that way, either by shortchanging training, equipment, or manning. The false narrative maligning the Guard must be reveresed.

    The 120 days figure is done with the budget we already receive, not with an increased budget. We also discovered that E7’s & E8’s and O3’s and O4’s on average served well beyond 120 days. That’s not with an increased budget. That’s with the budget we already have. Come up with the number of days training on his METL an active Soldier serves, minus weekends, holidays, passes, leave, etc., and subtract 120 from that.

    Consider also that many NG Soldiers are prior active component with years of experience, or full time pilots, or police, or truck drivers. In California alone, every drill weekend our battalions execute convoys of hundreds of miles. That’s about 10 convoys a year spanning hundreds of miles each convoy, how many such long movements do the active component BCT’s do in a year? Bottom line is that the AC & RC really aren’t that different, both have strengths and challenges. But one option costs a heck of a lot more.

    Perhaps, it’s hard to understand coming from an active perspective how the Guard achieves 120 days of service with the budget we’ve got already because in the active experience pay comes packaged one way. A Guard Soldier can have his pay packaged in several different ways, and they don’t all equal the same amount. We do more than the active component does for a lot less money.

    As an example, one of our Battalion Commanders, is an Infantry Battalion Commander, a Joint Staff Directorate Deputy, and a CG’s Special Staff member. Many Guard Officers and NCO’s wear several hats, that’s to say that this one BC isn’t the only officer juggling 3 full time jobs for the same pay that an active officer gets for one full time job.

    The Guard is as ready as we are funded, trained, and equipped to be.

  • Posted by Luddite4Change


    As an officer with significant experience with and in the Guard, I hope I’m not coming across as maligning the institution.

    As someone who has worked with over 30 countries armies in my career, I can more than attest that most NG units in the US are significantly more capable and better trained than most all of those forces.

    I focus on the link between the 120 days and the budget figures to highlight what I believe is an important point; that a significant amount of readiness is being provided by what is basically non-compensated volunteer work (with an additional piece being funded by the rapidly shrinking OCO budget). Its not really kosher to count on either of those sources for base readiness.

    I agree with your point on long distance convoy ops, RC units are forced to do this continually and do it well. Since the reduction and consolidation of forces in Germany, its not something the AC is forced to do as often outside of the theaters of conflict. I’d also state that NG/RC units are often times forced by circumstances to juggle multiple training events due to range/space availability (I remember a case where the unit I supported had two Bradley ranges, two tank ranges, a mortar firing point, squad live fire, m16 qualification range, and a machine gun range active at the same time.) An AC BN CDR/S-3 would never think of doing that because he wouldn’t have to.

    I’m interested in the status of your BN CDR with the three hats? Is he AGR, a mil/tech, or some other type of state employee? (Just curious).

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