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Total Force Policy for the 21st Century – First Principles and their Corollaries

October 2010 Navy

by The Honorable Dennis M. McCarthy
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs

As most readers of this publication know, the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) calls for the conduct of a “comprehensive review of the future role of the Reserve Components, including an examination of the balance between active and reserve forces.” That review is now under way, and Secretary Gates has directed that its report reach him by 31 January 2011.

My cosponsor of this effort is General James Cartwright, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We have agreed that we must offer Secretary Gates a range of acceptable alternatives that have certain common characteristics:

  • Meet the needs of the services by describing plans to utilize the National Guard and Reserves that are “sustainable” (i.e., plans that are sufficiently attractive in an all-volunteer environment that the services can recruit and retain the right people)
  • Meet the needs of the combatant commands by describing ways to utilize the Reserves and Guard that help to fulfill their requirements all across the spectrum of conflict (from engagement to warfighting to post-conflict reconstruction)
  • Meet the needs of the Department of Defense (DoD) by describing efficient and affordable contributions to national defense
  • Meet the needs of federal, state and local leaders by describing effective ways to use the Reserve Components in homeland defense and consequence management.

I had a meeting recently with a Vice Minister from the Republic of Korea who was here to learn about how we used our Reserve Components. In briefest summary, I told him that there were two main characteristics of our reserve forces. First, they are a cost effective force that enables us to expand the active force when necessary in both depth and in capability. Secondly, the Reserve and National Guard constitute a force that keeps our all-volunteer military from becoming isolated from the people it serves.

With these thoughts in mind, I offer for your consideration several fundamental ideas about the Reserve and National Guard of today and tomorrow that we are trying to integrate into the QDR-directed comprehensive review.

The Guard and Reserve are proven partners in the operational forces and provide strategic depth to the Total Force.

The men and women of the Reserve Components have demonstrated their willingness and ability to serve in peace and war.

Their families and employers have demonstrated their resiliency.

The Nation’s elected leadership has established its readiness to use the Reserve Components whenever necessary.

The Reserve Components can serve as the “Force of First Choice” for a range of DoD requirements.

Preplanned use of the Reserve Components as a primary option enables predictability and preparation that promotes mission success and eases stress on service members, their families and employers.

In addition to combat, combat support and combat service support capabilities, the Reserve Components frequently bring a range of civilianacquired skills that enhance their capacity for success.

Those in uniform today have made a conscious decision to serve periodically in the operational force.

Every person serving in uniform today either enlisted or reenlisted since 2001, with full understanding of the requirements of their service. They accept the risks and inherent challenges because they know the importance of their missions.

The Reserve Components are an allvolunteer force in which anyone who finds the pace of duty unsustainable can leave at the end of a relatively short period of obligated service.

Families and employers understand and support the Guard and Reserve members’ commitment to serve.

Family and employer support are keys to service member retention. The rate at which Reserve Components members are voluntarily continuing to serve provides objective evidence of family and employer support.

The support of employers around the country is evidenced by the relative lack of even alleged violations of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and by the consistent testimonials of their Reserve Components employees.

Reserve Component forces are necessary to meet operational demands and essential to ensuring the American people remain linked to those missions.

Reserve and National Guard members mobilized in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom have exceeded 100,000 each day for years. It would have been impossible for the Nation to have fielded an all-Active Component force of that size.

While the demand for combat forces in Iraq and Afghanistan will decline over time, most service leaders say that continued assured access to RC forces will remain critically important.

The readiness of today’s Reserve Components – the highest in history – is the result of a nine-year investment which must be exploited, or it will be lost.

The National Guard and Reserve, better resourced and better trained, have thrived on use. But history shows that disuse leads to atrophy of organizations as well as organisms.

Given the capability of the Reserve Component, its efficiency, and its inherent ability to provide a link to Main Street, the Nation should utilize its reserve as a part of the operational force because it wants to do so. Following this course will preserve Reserve Component readiness for the next time its reinforcement is essential.

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