In the nearly 20 years since 9/11, the Navy Reserve transitioned from a strategic investment to an operational force. As a result, 65,349 Navy Reserve sailors have executed more than 87,000 mobilizations since 2001.1 In addition, the Navy Reserve has the added advantage of a force composition that leverages its many relevant civilian job skills. In the information warfare community (IWC), this is even more pronounced. In 2019, the commander of the Naval Information Force Reserve provided 85 percent of the information warfare deployments for the Navy.2 IW reservists are also far more likely to be employed as civilians in the intelligence community with current—often exquisite—skills.
The reserve is the Navy’s way to cover gaps and seams in missions and add capacity by bringing additional, sometimes specialized, support to augment and strengthen the force. For the IWC, this advantage could mean the difference between maintaining and increasing the Navy’s edge or sliding into a disadvantaged position against near-peer competitors. However, the Navy Reserve can only support an active component that recognizes what it brings to the fight. Supported active-duty commands must better use assigned reservists. At a minimum, the active component must do the following:
Build the requirements reservists support. More specifically, commands need to identify those missions that require Navy Reserve skills and manpower to supplement the permanent workforce. To be successful, these missions should derive from one of the following: persistent tasking, which is consistently available and supportable; predictable tasking, which occurs at specific times; or specialized tasking, which requires discrete skills found in the reserve component.
Foreign military order-of-battle data management is one example of a persistent mission requirement that requires regular attention but has historically suffered from a lack of dedicated manpower. However, maintaining current foreign order-of-battle data is critical to supporting national security objectives and decision making. As the battlefield domain expands to include cyber and space, and the technological threats become ever more complex, order-of-battle accuracy becomes ever more essential, and maintaining it can routinely be supported with trained reservists.
Predictable tasking typically involves scheduled events—exercises, wargames, and training conferences that require additional, temporary support for which reservists are ideally suited. Finally, specialized tasking requires discrete skills not easily found in the active component. For example, the U.S. Merchant Marine Strategic Sealift Officer (SSO) Force has licensed deck officers who support national defense in sealift, maritime operations, and logistics. Because SSOs serve on vessels in times of national emergency, their reserve status allows commands to leverage their professional skills during events that require specialized maritime support.
Some commands may benefit from reserve support to all three types of taskings. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) has a long history of using reservists to support country-specific naval capabilities studies, increased requests for maritime intelligence, foreign material exploitation, and major exercises. At key junctures, ONI also has qualified small groups of reservists on the maritime watch and brought in individual reservists with specialized skills to assist with key maritime concerns. Yet, reserve contribution is frequently frustrated by a lack of comprehensive engagement from supported active-duty commands.
Invest time in training assigned reservists, particularly IWC reservists. The traditional method of relying on currently assigned reservists to facilitate the support of incoming reservists is flawed. Commands need to train their reservists much the way they train newly assigned employees or active-duty military members. It would be unreasonable to expect a new employee to immediately know how a command operates, have access to all its tools and databases, or have all the information to achieve full performance without orientation and on-the-job training; the same is true for reservists. Commands should establish onboarding support for facility and account access and provide any necessary online and face-to-face training. The reserve component has enough flexibility to support onboarding through an initial two-week annual training period, or by front-loading weekday drills prior to the first monthly drill weekend—if the supported command drives the schedule. Only through a coordinated effort with the supported command will reservists quickly gain access to the accounts, training, tools, and best practices they need.
Discuss mission objectives with reserve unit leaders to ensure support meets valid requirements. A good model is the Defense Technology Security Administration (DTSA), which has both Navy and Air Force reservists assigned and traditionally holds two drill weekends per month. However, the command has fully integrated its reservists into the total force. By using reserve entitlements such as two-week annual training periods, rescheduled drills, and additional training periods, DTSA brings individual reservists onsite during the regular workweek, ensuring near-continuous support. By providing a rolling footprint of participation, NR DTSA 0166 extends reserve presence far beyond traditional weekend support. DTSA 0166 members routinely attend regular briefings and events as part of the regular workforce and are available to support emerging requirements in the mission to protect the U.S. military’s technological edge. As a result, on 30 March 2020, DTSA 0166 was designated mission-essential and began supporting critical activities as part of the regular rotational workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Think broadly and identify longer timelines. In addition to daily requirements, most commands have competing priorities, including long-term projects. Reserve support is ideal for in-depth studies or analyses. Navy reservists typically stay in the service longer than their active-duty counterparts and, as a result, seek professional opportunities that continue for five years or longer. Although the Navy encourages rotations and competitive assignments, commands with multiple units, such as ONI, could seek to retain certain rotational teams for long-term projects that cannot easily be supported by the active component alone.
Commands with a variety of missions may prefer alternative models of reserve support. For example, reserve units have been established to support annual exercises, provide weekend coverage for watchfloor manning, or backfill active-duty personnel during heavy summer and holiday leave periods. Force execution guidelines entitle reservists to a minimum of 14 annual training days and 48 drill periods, the equivalent of 24 drill days, to meet operational requirements—without the need for additional command funding. And typical force execution guidelines also allow an additional 7–14 annual training days, if requested.
Know reserve unit commanding officers. Commands with assigned reserve units should engage their commanding officers. These leaders know the unit and can identify the sailors and officers with the right skills and knowledge to best support specific requirements. The Navy Reserve has a strong billet-personnel assignment system that ensures the most eligible officers and sailors apply for projected reserve unit vacancies. Assignments take place annually, and most sailors and officers are assigned to a specific billet for two to three years. Active-duty commanders should know what billets in their supporting reserve units are being advertised and engage those commanding officers to identify any billet-specific requirements that have changed over time.
Hold reserve unit commanding officers accountable. Active-duty commanding officers are required to write fitness reports on all assigned Navy Reserve officers in command. This is the best tool to ensure outstanding and consistent reserve unit performance. In the past, reserve unit commanding officers were rated by their reserve leaders. To become more operational and provide better support, Navy Information Forces Reserve Command transferred this authority to the supported active-duty commands. Active-duty commanding officers need to appreciate the significance of this change—a gapped fitness report or poor marks without clarifying comments can be career-ending for reserve unit officers in command. Conversely, accurately acknowledging poor performance ensures those officers do not continue to other commands.
Recognize reservists as part of the total force. Active-duty commands need to treat their reservists as full members of the team. Frequently, commands do not have clearly defined processes for recognizing reserve contributions. If commands routinely fail to process annual and end-of-tour awards, or fail to approve well-documented awards for meaningful contributions simply because they were for “part-time” personnel or because the regular workforce could not validate the support, then reservists are less likely to select those commands for future orders. Of course, all award submissions must be well-written and justified by real accomplishments. However, absent a clear process, reserve award submissions historically languish to the point that the active-duty command no longer recognizes the name of the prospective awardee, resulting in disapproval.
Do not schedule building or system maintenance on drill weekends. Drill schedules are generated annually, usually in the third quarter of the preceding fiscal year. They indicate when reservists will be supporting the command, absent any new command direction. Know the schedule. There is nothing more demoralizing for reservists arriving for their drill weekend than to discover that they are locked out of systems or spaces or that the spaces are without power.
Great power competition demands an agile Navy that can leverage the capacity and skills of its reserve component. This is particularly true in the IWC, where Navy reservists are an engaged, high-demand workforce seeking to be a key contributor to an innovative and lethal fighting force. All supported active-duty commands should take note and develop better ways to use assigned reservists.
1. VADM Luke M. McCollum, USN, Testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Defense Committee on Appropriations Fiscal Year 2021 National Guard and Reserve, 4 March 2020.
2. Naval Information Force Reserve, “FY19 Annual Report,” 30 September 2019, 10.