Attrition: U.S. Reserves Restored


December 15,2008: U.S. Army efforts to repair damage to its National Guard (NG, a reserve force), after heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan, has succeeded. NG enlistments are far exceeding goals (last month it was 113 percent of the goal). This year, the NG expects to bring in 65,000 recruits, and with recent reforms, and the recession, that goal is easily reachable. In the last year, recruiting has been so good that some states have reached numbers they haven't seen in decades. The New York National Guard, for example, has reached full strength for the first time since the 1970s.

Since September 11, 2001, two-thirds of the 358,000 NG troops have gone overseas (compared to 94 percent of the active duty troops). That includes many who have gone more than once. This caused a lot of morale problems for troops who never through they would be activated for that long.

 So one of the big reforms was an army pledge that NG soldiers only go overseas, at most, one year out of five, Without that kind of "dwell time" (the four years spent at home) getting people to join, and stay in, the guard is difficult.

There are many potential solutions to this problem, like retraining more troops for jobs that are needed overseas, and taking a closer look at medical profiles (for there are places in the combat zone that are about as safe as a stateside posting). Current dwell time is closer to three years, but by making sure more people go, using more civilians and, now cutting force levels in Iraq, the four year dwell time is within reach.

 The NG is a uniquely American military organization. Basically, it is the armed forces of each of the fifty states (and territories as well). This reflects the federal nature of the U.S. government. The NG is also the modern version of the centuries old militia forces. Except when "federalized" (usually for combat duty these day), the NG troops are controlled by the state governor. In that role, they are used for natural emergencies or cases of civil disorder. NG troops are now trained for counter-terrorism operations as well.

Many NG troops are former active duty soldiers in the army, and join the NG, usually after four years on active duty, for the extra money, and because they are familiar and comfortable with the work. Most NG units are in suburban or rural areas, where the army pay is often higher than the local averages, and thus a good way to pick up some extra money in what is essentially a part time job. In addition, since September 11, 2001, thousands of the NG troops have volunteered for the active army, most inspired by patriotism, and many by the fact that they would be making more than their current civilian job.

Spending 18 months on active duty (six months training and preparing, and 12 months overseas) was more of a strain for some than for others. For single troops, it was something of an adventure, especially if they saw little combat. Most NG troops got assigned to support jobs, leaving the active duty units to handle the heaviest combat. But if you were in a transportation or military police unit, you could see a lot of action, and take lots of losses. For married troops with lucrative jobs, this foreign duty was often a real strain.

The large number of NG troops on active duty in the last seven years has forced the army to deal with long-standing complaints of unfair treatment (compared to active duty troops.) As a result, NG troops now get better benefits, especially when they are mobilized (and their families need health insurance and access to army family support services.) Another complaint, which is harder to deal with, is the fact that about half of NG troops have not gone overseas, and may never do so, mainly because they have a job specialty that is just not needed over there. To help with that, the army has awarded more bonuses for those serving overseas, especially those who have done so a lot. This helps, and that can be seen by the fact that the army has been able to enlist, or re-enlist, enough people to maintain NG strength. But the army does surveys at the troops level, and know that the more often they mobilize people and send them over, the less likely they are to stay in.




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