Peace Time: September 5, 2001


Since World War I, reserve units have proved that they can do the job. Back in 1914, the accepted wisdom in Europe was that reserve divisions could not perform as well in the opening days of a war. The reserves only trained a few weeks a year, compared to the full time regular units. But the German reserve divisions performed very well in 1914. Not all reserve units since then have done well. The early 20th century German reserves were well trained and led. If the training is poor and leadership lackadaisical, the reserves will not do so well. This brings us to the unique situation in the United States, where there are two different reserves. One is the National Guard, the direct descendent of the colonial militia, which has organized part time citizen soldiers to defend the nation for over three centuries. Today, the National Guard units are controlled by state governors in peacetime, and the Department of Defense in wartime or national emergency. The other reserve organization is more traditional, part time troops under the command of the army, navy and air force. During the American Civil War, the army had major problems with officers from state militia units who got their jobs more because of political pull than military skill. This was seen again, although to a lesser degree, in the Spanish American war, World War I and World War II. As a result, the army leadership adopted a tradition that reserve units, especially reserve combat units, were not to be trusted. Such was not the case with the navy, air force and marine corps. This army tradition of not trusting their national guard units is increasingly embarrassing. While there is still some politics in state National Guard organizations, their combat units are a lot more ready for action than active duty army generals will give them credit for. Times change and so should attitudes.


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