Reengineering the Reserve

By Commander Michael Ribble, U.S. Naval Reserve

Billets could be nationally advertised, and the two major Reserve divisions would be those requiring consistent, on-site drilling at a gaining command, and those consisting of pre-established combinations of correspondence courses, formal training, or training drills at any local reserve center. Like a national job bank, the dissolution of geographic restrictions expands the available resource pool for gaining commands and enhances the ability to match reservists whose skill best fit gaining command needs with mobilization billets. Establishing tour lengths could guarantee billets for set periods, but would ensure that reservists compete for billets again. The result would be a nationalized, competitive marketplace of individuals and billets with individual reservists committing to specific billet assignments they've sought and prepared for.

Training . Of all reserve functions, training is the weakest and suffers the most tinkering. Attempting to revitalize training through the traditional reserve hierarchy is likely to generate only marginal, temporary, or "paper" success.

Reserve training has evolved into a numbers game, which is increasingly less effective. It is one of many reserve establishment requirements that consume unit resources. The high-quality manpower devoted to these ancillary tasks reduces the amount available to coax, force, or provide training for remaining members. Simultaneously, individuals are provided limited positive, immediate personal reward for completing mobilization training. In addition, annual training (a reservist's two-week active-duty period) is driven more often by funding or convenience than by mobilization requirements.

Under the current system, training goals often are inconsistent with real needs, and units are tasked to insure that mobilization requirements are met. Training requirements should be established accurately and realistically by gaining commands and the reserve organization. Individuals—not units—then should be targeted for training accomplishment. Achieving this will require development of an overall structure and philosophy tailored to fit the demands of individuals, gaining commands, and the Naval Reserve. Such a system's primary operating principle would be to assign reservists to billets, then make them individually responsible for their own training. This would redirect reserve establishment support toward facilitating and away from unit management.

General career training plans for individual reservists should be developed to a formula comprised of designator, rate, specialty, and other variables. A 12-day intensive refresher training period also should be required every four years, or upon reaching a fixed career point. Other periods of annual training should be tied directly to current or desired mobilization billets.

Monthly training for reservists not drilling with their gaining commands would be individualized and tied partially to compensation. Drill completion would be based largely on attainment of training objectives, not hours present. Performance and promotion also would depend heavily upon training factors.

Promotion . Requiring reserve promotions to mirror the active system limits the maximum potential of the reserve system's unique capabilities. Most Naval reservists have a minimum of two years of active duty, but most have more than four years' active service. Combined with the Navy's up-or-out policy, this rapidly promotes members above the ranks needed by gaining commands. This imbalance is highlighted by the large number of senior reserve billets in the shore reserve establishment, compared to at-sea units or active gaining commands.

A better approach would balance the Naval Reserve's unique aspects, reservists' needs, and the needs of the Navy. One avenue may be to adopt a model where individuals become promotable, then compete for billets through national selection boards. Promotion would then come with billet selection. In effect, two gates to promotion would have to be traversed which—together—would evaluate quality, qualification, and initiative.

This would provide more qualified personnel for the active Navy and prevent reservists from shifting their focus to the reserve organization as they are promoted. It also would allow gaining commands to keep qualified reservists longer.

Pay . When a member reports for a drill and completes it, pay is disbursed based on rank and longevity. Units bear responsibility for turning this time into training. For individual reservists, however, there is little connection between pay received and work or training accomplished. In addition to buying time, not training, the reserve organization also pays more for the senior personnel it requires least.

Pay should be directly linked to performance, need, and accomplishment whenever possible. This could be achieved through blocking pay by grades—or even by rates and designators—to insure those personnel most needed are paid amounts adequate for retention. This blocked pay could form a base pay with increments dictated by performance and mobilization training accomplished. Such a scheme would buy the Navy needed personnel and readiness instead of often-wasted hours. It also would do away with the current practice of paying least to those most desired.

Performance Evaluation . Unit commanding officers' fitness reports generally pass through the reserve chain of command, not the gaining command's. Consequently, the unit's reserve requirements must be met or exceeded, while the gaining command's are merely satisfied. Full mobilization qualification or gaining command contribution often rank behind what individuals have done for the unit, and this usually is reserve infrastructure support.

Gaining commands should be responsible for performance evaluation of reservists under their control. These evaluations should follow the same general format as those of their active duty personnel.

For reservists not drilling at gaining commands or on board Naval Reserve Force ships, consideration should be given to modified performance reporting, to target what is real and desirable.

The format employed for reservists not drilling at gaining commands or within formal units should be identical to that chosen for the IRR. This would allow easier transfer between IRR and SelRes status, and base performance appraisal on accomplishment rather than unit participation.

Although these recommendations are Navy-unique, most are in the public domain. We need to define the real customers of the Reserve Force and meet their needs; reward personnel for completing tasks that support this effort; and take advantage of appropriate new technology to leverage existing technology's potential. We must reduce and transform the reserve infrastructure and reorient it to support its customers, not itself. Most of all, we must find the best balance between organizational consistency and flexibility, to maximize our potential.

Commander Ribble served on five surface combatants. He has been an ROTC instructor, an executive officer and SelRes coordinator and has served in Reserve units assigned to Naval Control of Shipping and Military Sealift Command Headquarters.



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