As the Navy Reserve recognizes its centennial on 3 March, we celebrate 100 years of dedicated service to the Navy and the nation. In every conflict from World War I to the present, Navy Reserve sailors have answered the call to serve. Since its inception, the organization’s size, structure, and operational employment have continuously evolved as directed by political and Navy leadership in response to Fleet requirements. Yet today’s Navy Reserve is arguably the most operationally experienced and integrated force in its history, with thousands of sailors having mobilized to support Fleet and combatant commander requirements over the past 13 years.
A Proud History
Some may be surprised that the Navy Reserve is only a century old, while the Navy recently celebrated its 239th birthday. That’s because from the American Revolution through the Civil War, the Navy employed merchant sailors and civilian volunteers to provide additional manpower during wartime. This arrangement worked well until the Fleet began transitioning from wood to steel warships at the end of the 19th century, when the need for a specially trained and reliable reserve force became apparent. Several attempts to create a federal naval reserve failed, leaving the solution to the states. Massachusetts established the first naval militia, and by 1914 more than 7,500 sailors were serving in 22 state naval militias. These received federal funding and obsolete naval vessels for training but remained under state control. State naval militias were mobilized and placed under federal control during the Spanish-American War.
As successful as these units were in that confict, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 demonstrated that prosecuting a modern war at sea required a professional federal naval reserve force. A campaign in Congress to appropriate funding for such a force brought passage of legislation on 3 March 1915 to establish the U.S. Naval Reserve. At first only recently honorably discharged enlisted sailors could enroll, which severely limited the pool of recruits. Reorganized in 1916 as the U.S. Naval Reserve Force, new policies allowed for the enrollment of citizens without prior service—including women—and the commissioning of officers below the rank of lieutenant commander. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, 8,000 sailors were members of the Naval Reserve Force; 18 months later, more than 250,000 Reserve sailors were on active duty—including 11,000 women—making up more than half the wartime Navy.
Naval Reserve sailors on board the USS Ward (DD-139) fired the first shots of the war in the Pacific in the early-morning hours of 7 December 1941. The Ward was on patrol outside Pearl Harbor when she engaged and sank a Japanese mini-submarine two hours before the main Japanese air attack began. With these opening salvos, the Reserve sailors on board the Ward became the first Navy personnel to see action in World War II. Over the next few weeks, thousands of men and women joined the Naval Reserve. Its sailors participated in every major campaign of the war. They served on surface ships and submarines, and as aviators and Seabees. Officer and enlisted women accepted for volunteer emergency service filled critical roles at shore installations, releasing men for duty at sea. Naval Reserve nurses cared for sailors and Marines at home and on the battlefield. Five future U.S. presidents served as Reserve officers during World War II and 15 Reserve sailors received the Medal of Honor for heroic actions. When the United States entered World War II, 45,000 Reserve sailors were serving on active duty. Four years later, more than 3 million reservists were serving, comprising 84 percent of the total force.
The Korean War’s eruption in June 1950 required the mobilization of more than 170,000 Naval Reserve sailors over the next three years. Many served on front-line warships and in tactical aviation squadrons operating off the coast of Korea. Reserve hospital corpsmen performed arduous duties in austere field hospitals and while embedded with Marine Corps infantry units. In the decades following the Korean War, Naval Reserve forces were mobilized as needed to help counter the spread of communism. In 1961 the Berlin Crisis triggered the activation of 40 Naval Reserve Force ships and three reserve squadrons. Six years later, two Reserve Seabee battalions deployed to South Vietnam. During that time, Naval Reserve transport squadrons flew thousands of air-logistics missions to and from the Vietnam theater.
The Naval Reserve’s mission transformed in the post-Vietnam era from generally functioning as a strategic augmentation force that mirrored the active component’s structure into a more specialized, capabilities-based force. Sailors still served on Naval Reserve Force ships and in Reserve naval aviation squadrons, but new missions evolved or expanded, including cargo handling, intelligence, naval-coastal warfare, and mobile construction.
Budget cuts in 1977 reduced Reserve end strength from 129,000 to 87,000. Then in the 1980s, as President Ronald Reagan pursued a 600-ship Navy to counter the Soviet Union, the Naval Reserve under Secretary John Lehman, a reserve naval aviator himself, expanded to almost 150,000 to help support the Fleet.
Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm resulted in the largest mobilization of the Naval Reserve since the Korean War. Over 20,000 Reserve sailors deployed to Southwest Asia to provide surge support and expertise in port security, field medicine, air logistics, and mobile construction. In the following years, the Reserve settled into a battle rhythm common for a strategic force after a significant mobilization. Reserve sailors focused on maintaining operational and strategic readiness, using their annual complement of inactive duty-training periods and annual training days. Smaller-scale voluntary mobilizations and recalls supported contingencies and crisis-response operations in areas including the Balkans and Haiti.
9/11: A New Era of Service
The events of 9/11 sparked another large-scale reserve mobilization that continues today. In the aftermath of the attacks, President George W. Bush approved an order to call up to 50,000 Reservists from all service components to active duty. Within months, over 9,000 Reserve sailors were supporting homeland defense and Navy and combatant commands worldwide. Immediately after the attacks, Navy Reservists were posted at bases across the country to stand security watches. Within days, operational planners surged forward to bolster the 5th Fleet and Central Command staffs. Reserve naval coastal warfare units were mobilized to provide port security and eventually guard captured Iraqi ports and oil terminals.
Among the first troops to arrive in Afghanistan at Camp Rhino and the Kandahar airport in late 2001 were active and reserve Seabees, some of whom deployed within 24 hours of notification. They helped Brigadier General James Mattis’ Marines of Task Force 58 to press their amphibious assault 350 miles inland from the Arabian Sea. During the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Seabees worked 24 hours a day to keep Camp Rhino and the Kandahar airport open so that air combat and transport missions could continue. For the next decade, reserve Seabee battalions were fully integrated into the deployment rotation plan. They also served in Iraq’s Anbar Province, where in 2004 Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14 lost seven members in two separate enemy encounters within a 72-hour period. Reserve Seabees continue to serve in the Central Command area of responsibility today.
Reservists responded in other meaningful ways during the ensuing buildup and execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Reserve Navy cargo-handling battalions were instrumental in offloading warfighting sustainment supplies from maritime prepositioning ships in Kuwaiti ports to be processed by other Reserve sailors manning expeditionary customs clearing units and sent to the fight.
Naval Air Force Reserve sailors made significant contributions to Navy efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan:
• Helicopter Combat Support Special Squadrons 4 and 5, whose lineage traces back to the early days of Navy special warfare during the Vietnam era, provided dedicated combat search-and-rescue detachments during Operation Iraqi Freedom. They eventually adapted to a new role as direct support to special-operations forces throughout the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, a mission that re-designated Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 84 continues today, more than ten years later.
• Fleet Logistics Support Wing squadrons provided 100 percent of the Navy’s organic intra-theater airlift, operating from several detachment sites throughout the Middle East.
• Strike Fighter Squadron 201 from Fort Worth, Texas, deployed with Carrier Air Wing 8 on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) from January through May 2003 and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom combat operations.
• Electronic Attack Squadron 209 executed five expeditionary deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006 to 2011 before moving from Naval Air Facility Washington, D.C., to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and transitioning to new EA-18G aircraft.
Since 2001, Navy Reserve medical professionals have made over 5,500 individual deployments providing combat-casualty care at facilities such as the Expeditionary Medical Facility in Kuwait and the NATO Role III Medical Unit in Kandahar. They also manned the Navy Expeditionary Medical Unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany from 2006 to 2014. Other Reserve medical sailors served on extended active duty at Navy medical centers and clinics around the country, some backfilling for deployed active-component personnel.
Sailors have also mobilized as individual augmentees (IAs) to serve in the special-operations community and man deployed joint task forces, specializing in the rule of law, civil affairs, intelligence, logistics, and unmanned aerial systems detachments. Other IAs deployed to man Afghan provincial reconstruction teams and provide security at enemy prisoner-detention facilities. Recently at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, more than 60 percent of the camp staff’s 289 sailors were Reservists serving in billets across all military occupational specialties, including the camp’s senior enlisted leaders and commanding and executive officers. At the same time, approximately 35 percent of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa headquarters staff was manned by Navy Reserve IAs.
The employment of naval combat forces that began in 2001 led to improvements in active-reserve integration and the use of Reserve forces. In 2004 Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark directed Fleet Forces Command to perform a zero-based review of all Naval Reserve functions to create a properly integrated and efficiently resourced total force designed to support the Fleet Response Plan. After the review, several thousand reserve billets aligned with Fleet augment units that were either obsolete or unlikely to ever be mobilized were eliminated. To reflect the integration of active and Reserve sailors as one Navy, Admiral Clark asked President Bush to re-designate the U.S. Naval Reserve as the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2005. At the same time, Chief of Navy Reserve Vice Admiral John Cotton directed that Naval Reserve centers be re-designated as Navy operational support centers to better describe their role in providing trained and ready sailors to support the Fleet. He also directed that active-duty Reserve personnel, known for 50 years as training and readiness of Reserve sailors, be re-designated as full-time support sailors, and ordered their increased integration into Fleet and OPNAV staffs to enhance the Navy’s timely access to its Reserve forces.
Whereas the number of Reserve sailors recalled to active duty during the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts of the 1990s was relatively small, the significant number of Reserve personnel mobilized to support operational commanders after 9/11 proved that the mobilization process, unchanged since the Cold War, needed to evolve. Staffs from OPNAV, the Navy Reserve Force, Bureau of Naval Personnel, and U.S. Fleet Forces Command worked tirelessly to establish mobilization policies and programs to better support Navy Reserve sailors and their families. Initially, sailors were recalled on short notice with only days or weeks to prepare for mobilization. Over time, as the process improved and evolved, sailors were given more advance notice to ready families and employers for deployments, and now receive orders up to 180 days prior to their report date. To prepare for deployment, most IA sailors receive combat skills training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, or Fort Dix, New Jersey. Since tracking began in 2010, the rate of volunteerism for IA mobilizations has remained consistent at approximately 80 percent, demonstrating the value of a strategic reserve to the total force. Since 9/11, more than 72,000 Reserve sailors have been mobilized to support the Navy, Marine Corps, and joint forces.
As the Navy transforms to meet future demands, so too will the Navy Reserve, building on the readiness and operational experience gained over the past decade and a half. As the Navy studies how best to man and train the Fleet to operate new platforms and hardware to meet emerging missions, the Navy Reserve stands ready to support. The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes involuntary selected Reserve recalls to active duty for preplanned missions in support of the combatant commands. The authority, known as Title 10 U.S. Code 12304b, provides force planners and budget programmers with the means to access Reserve forces for deployment. Currently, U.S. Fleet Forces Command is investigating the utilization of 12304b authority to resource reserve patrol squadron P-3C deployments while Fleet squadrons transition to the P-8A Poseidon aircraft.
Another key area of effort involves developing systems and policies to attract and retain the sailors of the future. The Navy must capitalize on investments in training and readiness of transitioning active-duty personnel by offering opportunities to continue their service as Reserve sailors. A valuable side benefit of a reserve force that serves in communities throughout the country is heightened public awareness of the Navy’s vital role in national security, gained through interactions with citizen-sailors.
By aligning with emerging Navy talent-management initiatives, the Navy Reserve will help develop policies that offer sailors the opportunity to transition seamlessly between active and reserve status throughout their careers. Realizing this goal and other visionary efforts requires state-of-the-art pay and personnel systems and policies necessary to maintain force readiness while reducing administrative distractions that can hamper efficiency and negatively affect retention. Robust and agile information technology systems will also allow the Navy to leverage a unique aspect of its Reserve component; Reserve sailors typically possess civilian skills that can be identified and used as a force multiplier. Examples include the boatswain’s mate who is a civilian cyber expert, the pilot who flies Boeing 737 (Navy C-40A) aircraft for an airline and serves as an instructor pilot in an air logistics squadron, or the neurosurgeon from the Mayo Clinic who treated nerve-related combat injuries at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Improved technology will allow the Fleet to better use the immense talent base resident in its Reserve component.
This centennial year provides the Navy Reserve with an opportunity to reflect on a century of service to our nation, thank those who have honorably served the force, and pay honor to those Reserve sailors who have selflessly given their lives in defense of our nation and its values. The Navy Reserve will celebrate its rich heritage and legacy as it embarks on its second century of service—providing trained and ready forces to the Navy where and when it matters.