Our reserve forces consist primarily of the National Guard and the reserve. The two separate organizations were created at different times to meet separate and distinct needs of the nation. As the nation evolved, those needs dramatically changed. Today both organizations, requiring duplicative headquarters, provide essentially identical services and capabilities while competing with each other for missions and resources — a wasteful and inefficient business model. It is time to combine the National Guard and the reserve into one organization and save billions of dollars by eliminating redundancies and wasteful competition. Those dollars can be taken as cost savings or used for needed recapitalization and modernization of our military.
In the early 1900s, the United States established the federally controlled Army Reserve due to limited access to the state National Guard forces and a valid concern at the time among active Army leadership over the war-fighting readiness of those forces. Since then, federal legislation granting full presidential access to the state National Guard forces, combined with the National Guard’s continued demonstrated ability to perform its state and war-fighting missions, has negated the original reasons for that reserve organization construct. The federal laws and statutes that govern federal activation of the reserve forces apply equally to the Reserve and National Guard components. In short, there is no distinction between the two reserve categories with respect to federal service.
The primary difference between the organizations is the single- vs. dual-mission role. The reserve component is a single-mission status organization responsible for a federal mission on a daily basis, while the National Guard component is a dual-mission status organization responsible for both a federal and state mission. States’ or territories’ National Guards, unless federalized, are under the day-to-day command of the governors through their adjutants general. The governors have immediate access to federally trained National Guard personnel and their equipment to respond instantly to a natural disaster or terrorist attack essential in protecting our citizens. However, even given recent workaround attempts, governors still do not have immediate access to reserve personnel and equipment due to the nation’s laws and a complicated process to request their assistance. Merging the two components and converting all reserve units to a dual-mission role would make additional capability available to the governors and provide increased capacity for protecting the life, property and safety of citizens.
A great deal of wasteful duplication exists in operating two reserve components. The components have two separate recruiting programs and staffs operating independently. There are numerous examples throughout the United States where both a reserve and a National Guard unit are co-located and perform the same mission but do not share facilities or equipment. Additionally, the headquarters staff structures of both organizations are redundant and competitive, which results in inefficiencies. For example, the Air Force Reserve headquarters staff, numbering more than 2,500 people, and the separate Air National Guard staff, in excess of 1,500 people, have evolved into competitive staffs over the decades. The functions and duties of those two existing staffs should be base-lined, downsized and meshed into the new structure focused on unity of effort with a single reserve component perspective rather than the current redundant system designed to represent separate reserve component views. The resulting personnel savings could be returned to field units to provide increased combat capability or simply taken as cost savings.
The same efficiencies could be realized across company, field grade and general/flag officer manning levels. For example, the current system has a reserve and a separate National Guard general officer assigned to the same function to represent respective component positions. Under a new combined staff organization, a single reserve general officer would be assigned to essential functions, eliminating redundancy, increasing coverage and providing an all-inclusive RC perspective. The same efficiencies would be realized at the company and field grade staff officer levels. Similar savings could be realized in the enlisted ranks.
A 1997 Congressional Budget Office study stated that merging the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard could save more than $500 million annually and more than $5 billion over five years. Additional savings would be smaller but similar in combining the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard. The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act established a commission to undertake a comprehensive study of the structure of the Air Force to determine whether, and how, the structure should be modified to best fulfill current and anticipated mission requirements for the Air Force in a manner consistent with available resources. That study should provide current and more accurate figures and undoubtedly show much larger savings. However, cost savings should not be the driver when we are talking about defending the citizens of our nation. A merger of the reserve components should be pursued because it is a more efficient and more effective way to protect our citizens.
The impact of merging the components on the reserve and National Guard units/members making the transition would be minor and short-lived.
Parent services would benefit, as there would be a streamlined method for gaining access to RC members. The various states would benefit, since there would be more force structure available to protect critical U.S. infrastructure, provide humanitarian assistance during disaster response and domestic emergencies and increase support to civil authorities.
We as a nation simply cannot afford to waste precious tax dollars — it undermines our national security. Would it be complicated and difficult to implement? Yes. But, when is it too hard to save tax dollars? When is it too hard to improve efficiency and provide increased protection for our citizens?
This is not a new idea, but an idea whose time has come. Change of this nature will not come from within the Pentagon. That is a responsibility of the Congress under Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution. Direction must come from the Congress, and it cannot come too soon.
Maj. Gen. Richard A. Platt (ret.)
Air National Guard
Fort Myers, Fla.