"Square Peg...Round Hole!"

By Commander Donna Hopkins, U.S. Naval Reserve

The relationship between the Navy and Naval Reserve has been evolving since the reserve component was formed in 1917. The United States always has been reluctant to maintain large standing forces, quickly demobilizing after wars and crises and—in the absence of an imminent threat—placing little emphasis on regular-reserve integration. The political shift away from defense spending toward budget-deficit reduction is driving a new dependence on Naval Reserve assets and capabilities to meet the Navy's peacetime commitments.

Under the 1973 Total Force concept, the Naval Reserve was to become, in effect, a part-time Navy, helping the regular Navy meet commitments for which it was neither fully staffed nor fully funded. In 1982, then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger articulated the philosophy that the Department of Defense ". . . no longer (would) consider Reserve forces merely forces held in reserve…" 1 and pushed all the services toward horizontal integration and equipment upgrades in their respective reserve components. During the Gulf War mobilization, Naval Reserve unit organization did not match the needs of that conflict; in fact, legislation was required to call up naval reservists as individuals, for specific military requirements. This experience validated the need for a review of the mission and structure of the Naval Reserve.

The 1992 strategy paper ". . . From the Sea," explicitly stated an intent to restructure the Naval Reserve to peacetime contributory support and crisis response, concepts that are bringing changes in the way the Naval Reserve conducts business today. The Navy's new strategy is driven in part by the demise of the Soviet Union, and also by an expanding commitment of naval forces, against a backdrop of shrinking defense budgets. The policy of "Engagement and Enlargement" 2 had overwhelmed the active component's resources, and was forcing an unprecedented reliance on the reserves to conduct military operations other than war. The current proliferation of low-intensity conflicts makes it likely that the Navy will be stretched even thinner as force structure continues to decline.

This increasing dependence upon the Naval Reserve, in the absence of meaningful reorganization, exacerbates a dilemma originally created by the introduction of the Total Force concept. Truly meaningful implementation of this concept would be better served by:

  • Reorganizing the Naval Reserve management structure from a type-command orientation to one that explicitly supports reserve integration into active components (gaining commands) designated for augmentation;
  • Modifying the selected reserve billet structure to identify and man mission-area support, contributory support, and crisis-response skills packages tied to active-duty peacetime mission requirements, in addition to unit-augmentation and mobilization requirements associated with general war plans.
  • Obtaining legislative concurrence to limited activation of skill sets or individuals in lieu of mobilization.

A Naval Reserve organized along these lines would be smaller, less expensive, and considerably more productive than the Reserve force of today. The impressive inventory of skills required only upon mobilization could be transferred from the Selected Reserve to the Individual Ready Reserve. 3 The existing Naval Reserve infrastructure could be reduced significantly with a corollary reduction in the size of the full-time staff required to support reserve programs and real estate. The Naval Reserve itself would become far more functionally intertwined with the active-duty gaining commands 4 and planning staffs. This would maximize its contributory support to the active component, add training benefits for the reservist, and integrate reserve assets into exercises, operations, contingencies, and deliberate plans.

We really tried . . .

The Naval Reserve has generated several initiatives since 1992 to assist in meeting the contributory-support challenge. Individual reservists are encouraged to activate voluntarily, to compensate for manpower shortfalls in real-world contingency operations. Flexible drilling 5 schedules help reservists meet gaining-command requirements better. In addition, improvements through database management techniques have increased both the visibility of individual reserve capabilities and access to reserve assets by gaining commands. Emphasis has shifted from mobilization billet training to contributory support.

These compensatory actions, however, are not truly in consonance with the traditional roles and missions of the Naval Reserve, nor does the current Reserve organizational structure lend itself to the development and deployment of capabilities that the active components need. The Naval Reserve was intended to be, and is organized to provide, a pool of pre-trained manpower for post-mobilization force augmentation, and a repository for hardware and capabilities for which there is little pre-mobilization demand. It was meant to capture and retain skills relevant to naval warfare that could augment the fleet in time of war with minimum retraining investment. Its members cannot be involuntarily recalled without executive action. Its organization and infrastructure were created to manage a large static force, whose purpose is to train for mobilization readiness.

Centralized management of the reserve force was instituted to develop and maintain a broad mobilization capability for rapid response to national emergencies. The Naval Reserve Force command and staff, the Naval Air and Surface Reserve Forces, and Reserve Readiness Commands were established between 1969 and 1976 to organize the Naval Reserve into three types of entities:

  • Commissioned units that own and maintain mission-specific hardware
  • Fleet-reinforcing units
  • Fleet-sustaining units

The initial and primary augmentation forces (Selected Reserves) were intended to be activated on Mobilization-Day and are still organized to that purpose.

The Naval Reserve never was intended to fill unfunded active-duty peacetime requirements. The limited extent to which it is doing so today is possible only because advances in database and communications technologies have increased individual reserve capabilities and because individual reservists are willing to activate voluntarily in assignments that rarely bear any relation to their mobilization-billet assignments. Great effort has been expended in improving accessibility of units and individuals to commands for missions that do not otherwise require mobilization. But the Naval Reserve still does not look like a "part-time Navy" that can enable or support forward presence and crisis response. It looks like a large bureaucracy acting as a buffer and broker between the active component and Selected Reserve, maintaining and protecting Naval Reserve mobilization force structure and real estate, and accommodating requests for contributory support to the extent that it can do so easily. And while some portions of the Naval Reserve are providing significant contributory support, this is not what the organization was designed to deliver.

In recent years, the Navy has moved entire mission areas to the Naval Reserve as a means of maintaining hardware and cores of expertise at reduced costs. This is a near-zero-sum game in which a shrinking Navy requires a growing reserve. A serious drawback of this approach is that the Navy has limited its access to these mission-area capabilities because laws constrain involuntary recall prior to executive action. Congress repeatedly has rejected attempts by service secretaries to obtain limited call-up authority for military commanders, with the specific intent of reserving unto itself the power to commit U.S. armed forces to action. The nation's civilian leadership—as well as the Naval Reserve Association and other reserve affairs special-interest groups—push for greater implementation of the Total Force, with little apparent understanding of the legal barriers involved.

A military commander cannot plan to use forces to which he cannot command access; and if he cannot plan to use them, he has little incentive to invest significant effort and expense in training them. In today's high-tech, high-speed world, it is unrealistic to expect reserve officers and enlisted personnel to operate effectively with their gaining commands without frequent and sustained exposure to joint and service-specific doctrine, tactics, and equipment. Closely integrated and long-term training is expensive, but it is important, and could be critical to the Navy's ability to sustain the forward-presence and crisis-response capabilities that now form significant aspects of its service strategy. 6

But I need them now!

Some mission areas that now reside exclusively in the Reserve are integral to pre-mobilization operations plans. Short of presidential action, 7 individuals cannot be compelled to activate on short notice, and many reservists cannot activate for more than a few weeks without jeopardizing their civilian employment. With increasing frequency, voluntary recalls are used to meet shortfalls in active-duty manpower requirements. Active-duty component commanders are willing to underwrite the costs associated with such augmentation because they view it as an operational necessity. Nevertheless, there is little, if any, depth in existing reserve organizations for rotation or replacement of reservists who may be critical to continued contingency operations. In addition, there is at present no administrative mechanism for capturing an individual reservist's theater-specific operational experience, other than his or her unit-assignment history and civilian-occupation codes. Commands become dependent on the random availability of experience and skills and cannot conduct deliberate, purposeful training for reserve augmentees whose competence can become crucial to theater operations. In particular, the increasing use of reserves in joint task forces seems to argue for the creation of reserve elements earmarked to develop and retain expertise specific to this type of operation.

Crisis response poses an even greater challenge. If the Naval Reserve is to gather and train teams to be held in operational reserve for crises, some pre-mobilization activation authority will have to be in place, to allow commanders to access those assets. It is likely that reservists possessing critical skills would be amenable to pre-activation contractual agreement of availability, but Congressional preapproval would be required to permit service chiefs or unified commanders to activate needed reservists. Proposals are being studied to develop "reserve adaptive packages" 8 to provide commanders with capabilities to support a wide range of emergent needs.

Maintaining mission-area readiness in reserve components also requires a greater degree of integration of those reserve elements into the active force structure than is available at present. The successful execution of any military mission is predicated upon mutual understanding between the supported and supporting parties, which can be achieved only by training and working together. Such integration is impeded by reserve officer rotation policies and consequent billet-assignment instability. The reserve officer assignment system forces officers out of units every two to three years, with a concomitant loss of familiarity, trust, and effectiveness. This "professional development" policy is intended to provide a promotion path for reserve officers that mirrors the active-duty one, but its real value is questionable.

Enlisted reserve personnel do not face the same mandatory rotation policies, but it should be recognized that a unit that relies on very limited training time for proficiency will suffer a severe degradation in readiness from personnel attrition. For a variety of reasons, reserve personnel managers tend to shift people between units and billets far too frequently to allow meaningful connectivity between reservists and their gaining commands.

If the Navy is to rely upon reserve units to maintain a credible mission capability, reserve leadership must focus on unit integrity and assignment stability, and ensure that personnel assignment, promotion, and rotation policies reflect that priority.

What to do?

Today's Navy operates in a more complex context, both politically and technologically, than it has in the past. Because of shifting national priorities, economic reality, and the lack of a compelling threat, defense budget reductions likely will continue to mandate the effective and efficient use of resources. What the active Navy requires today of its Selected Reserve component is accessible and sustainable augmentation of personnel and unit capabilities that cannot be permanently available in the active force structure, and secondarily , wartime mobilization depth.

Increasingly, fleet commanders demand geographic collocation with their supporting reserve units. However, demographic distribution of the selected reservists will not support a preponderance of units in fleet-intensive coastal areas unless adequate travel funding is provided. Fulltime support personnel account for roughly 20% of the reserve force but more than 60% of the personnel budget. Inactive-duty training travel, which connects reservists with gaining commands throughout the year, competes for funding from the same appropriation as fulltime support personnel costs. In effect, the large full-time support staff is maintained at the expense of actual contributory support and realistic training at the gaining command.

The size of the support staff that consumes a disproportionately large portion of the budget is largely a function of a reserve infrastructure that has been developed to support mobilization training and administration. Reserve centers were established across the country, according to demographics of the Selected Reserve population, and provided classroom and office space. Training was conducted by the active duty (full-time support) reservists who presumably brought current fleet operational experience to the drill hall. The size of the support staff was determined by the Selected Reserve population to be trained and administered. Today, however, most actual drilling (training) is conducted at gaining commands and at sites other than reserve centers, because of the increased emphasis on contributory support. Administrative functions formerly performed by the reserve center staff are now largely computerized and are divided between headquarters-level staffs and the Selected Reserve units. Centralized, on-line databases reduce the need for the middle-management support staffs resident at reserve centers.

Practical changes driven by both technology and emphasis have made it feasible to reduce the number of reserve centers. If the infrastructure can be reduced, the support staff needed to maintain it can be reduced as well, with no loss in readiness.

Opposition to reductions in both infrastructure and support staff can be expected from the full-time Training and Administration of Reserve (TAR) community. TARs have promoted and protected reserve program funding and force structure, allowing the Naval Reserve to achieve unprecedented levels of peacetime readiness. The very existence of the Naval Reserve infrastructure, in fact, provides promotion and command opportunities that allow the community to attract and retain capable people. However, as competition increases for dwindling resources, there is an increasing demand for real return on investment. Maintaining high levels of mobilization readiness in the Naval Reserve incurs opportunity cost with regard to competing programs of arguably higher national priority. A large Naval Reserve infrastructure, highly ready mobilization population, and expensive supporting bureaucracy may not be truly cost effective in today's national security environment.

But dissolving the TAR community and the Naval Reserve infrastructure is not in the Navy's best interest either. There is a compelling need for professional Naval Reserve representation to maintain visibility of and control over substantive issues affecting the Reserve Component. However, this could be done effectively and less expensively by a smaller full-time support force more closely connected with the active component.

With the implementation of a new Reserve contributory support organization, active-duty commanders and staffs would be able to call upon-prior to mobilization—individuals or units to provide discrete capabilities required in operations plans. Their full-time reserve support staff members would have on-line access to assigned reserve units (as well as a nation-wide skills database), and could interface with the systems that locally generate orders and travel authority, permitting reservists to be activated when maximum contributory support can be had. Commanders then would have rapid access to—and familiarity with—the reservists upon whom they must rely.

This smaller, more efficient organization would oversee reserve policy and financial management programs within the active duty bureaucracy, integrating more closely the requirements of the two components. As members of active-duty operations and planning staffs, rather than remote reserve center managers, they would assist in integrating the "part-time employees" into exercises, operations, and contingency plans during drill periods as well as scheduling annual active duty for training. Reserve personnel administrative functions would be performed by full-time reserve support personnel assigned to the same personnel commands that manage active-duty staff records.

Active duty orders generation and accounting functions are already conducted at a central processing site in New Orleans. Shifting the orders-distribution function—now handled by reserve centers—either to gaining commands or to a much-reduced reserve office staff would allow divestment of much of the large reserve center infrastructure that is now in place—at significant cost savings.

It's the right thing to do!

There is both an operational necessity and a fiscal imperative to redefine and reorganize the Naval Reserve to meet today's commitments. Trying to accomplish "apples" with "oranges" will continue to frustrate both components and satisfy neither. As Peter Drucker points out, effective reorganization requires answering these basic questions:

  • "What is your mission?"
  • "Is it still the right mission?"
  • "Is it still worth doing?" 9

Because the Navy has redefined the Naval Reserve to be—at least in part—a resource for peacetime contributory support as part of the Total Force, the Naval Reserve must respond by adjusting its full-time support organization and Selected Reserve billet structure to permit it to accomplish that mission in a more appropriate and cost-effective manner.

The Naval Reserve would do well to begin to view itself as a part-time peacetime Navy with a secondary mission as a wartime augmentation force, and remove the bureaucratic barriers that stand between reservists and their gaining commands. The Naval Reserve should divest itself of its obsolete and expensive infrastructure, re-focusing scarce resources for maximum benefit to both active and reserve components.

1 Chaloupka, Mel and Featherston, Mary, "Reinventing the Naval Reserve: Framework for the Future," Naval War College Center for Naval Warfare Studies, Naval Reserve Paper No. 10 Vol. I, January 1993, page 2-25.

2 President Bill Clinton, "A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement," The White House, February 1996.

3 The Selected Reserve is comprised of individuals filling structured mobilization billets in a drill-pay status, maintaining the highest level of readiness, and are most readily accessible to recall. The Individual Ready Reserve consists of individuals who are not assigned to structured billets, who drill only for retirement points, and who constitute the bulk of the pre-trained manpower pool for force reconstitution rather than early augmentation. The size of the Selected Reserve is a function of the Naval Reserve Personnel (RPN) budget, and is grounded to a large extent in mobilization requirements of operations plans. The Individual Ready Reserve is much less expensive to maintain than the Selected Reserve.

4 Gaining commands are those active duty commands to which individual reservists or reserve units are assigned upon mobilization. Every reserve billet is tied to a specific active duty gaining command manpower document line item and, theoretically, all reserve active duty training is intended to be keyed to the reservist's mobilization function.

5 Flexible drilling policy, which allows selected reservists to perform drills at times and of lengths that are most advantageous to the gaining command, allows greater contributory support to the gaining command and less wasted drill time for reservists. Now, drills can be performed in clusters across quarters rather than on rigidly scheduled weekends—a practice that was convenient for reserve administrators but not necessarily useful for gaining commands.

6 Almost all shipboard augmentation units are being disestablished. This indicates that in today's high-tech Navy, reserve augmentation is not particularly useful in contributory-support roles at sea. This underscores the need to define realistically what contributory-support roles could be assigned to the Naval Surface Reserve.

7 Presidential Selected Reserve Callup authority under Section 673b of Title 10 does not require congressional approval, but is also unlikely to provide sufficiently responsive access to pre-mobilization mission-critical capabilities.

8 Fogerty, Bill, Cdr USNR, "The Navy Reserve After Next" (Memo to Mr. Walt Steiner dated 23 June 1994).

9 Drucker, Peter, "Really Reinventing Government," Atlantic Monthly. February 1995.

Commander Hopkins is a distinguished graduate of the Naval War College. A surface warrior, she was recalled to active duty during the Gulf War and Operation Joint Endeavor. She also served as the chief of current operations, Joint Task Force Provide Promise, and was the first reserve officer to become a crisis action team chief at U.S. European Command Headquarters, Stuttgart, Germany.


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