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.
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.