Paramilitary: The Reality Check


January 28, 2011:  A decade of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has changed a lot of things, not all of them apparent. An example of the less visible changes are those imposed on the American Army National Guard and Army Reserve. Most of these reserve troops have been sent into combat during the past decade, and this included pre-deployment training and screening. That, plus actual service in a combat zone, led to the removal (resignation or transfer) of many officers and NCOs who were OK for peacetime operations, but were not able to handle the challenges of combat service.

Since September 11, 2001, over 90 percent of the 208,000 reservists have been activated, and nearly as many of the 330,000 National Guard troops, with most going to Iraq or Afghanistan. While most of these men and women performed well, many did not. This deficiency may never have become an issue if so many of the reservists had not been activated.

The army realized that too many reservists looked at their work as an easy part time job (troops worked, and got paid, for about a month of training a year.) Promotion standards were often low, and scrutiny of performance often nonexistent. No more. Particular emphasis was on evaluating the performance of officers and NCOs (about a third of the force.) This program is seen as essential, because over 75 percent of army engineering, civil affairs, logistics and medicine specialists are in the reserve, and a large chunk of Army combat brigades are National Guard units. These are essential to combat performance, especially in operations like Iraq and Afghanistan. Quality matters.

Normally, Congress does not like to look too closely at how the National Guard is run. That's because the National Guard belongs to both the state government (most of the time) and the federal government (when called on, usually for overseas service). Many National Guard officers are involved in state politics, and members of Congress cannot afford to annoy these people. The Department of Defense also tends to treat National Guard units as second class citizens, giving priority to active duty units and their own reserve units. The National Guard is technically part of the reserve force, about half of it actually is. But the regular reserves are federal, not state, forces. Both the state and federal reserve units have benefitted from the overseas service, both in terms of combat experience, and finding out which officers and NCOs could be depended on in stressful situations.



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