September 1, 2008  

Mobilizing the Army Guard

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Army National Guard has called more than 400,000 soldiers to active duty to support operational requirements relating to the war on terrorism. These demands have furthered the Guard’s transformation from a traditional strategic reserve to an operational reserve. Such large-scale mobilizations have brought to light several significant concerns about the mobilization process, solutions for which are being actively sought and may be resolved by the Army over time and budget cycles.

Unfortunately, time is not a luxury that the Army has regarding the problems associated with mobilizing Guard units. Concerns exist that must be resolved sooner than the more overarching problems associated with the transition to an operational reserve. Therefore, a bridging strategy is proposed that will make some of these necessary and immediate fixes to the mobilization problems facing the Army Guard today. This strategy is to provide the Guard a division-level sector in Iraq where all Army Guard units would deploy. This proposal would give the Guard full command and control over their battlespace, to include identifying rotational units, all missions within their area of operations, and managing theater-provided equipment in the sector.

The National Guard is unique to the U.S. armed forces in that it has dual missions — federal and state — under the provisions of Titles 10 and 32 of U.S. Code, respectively. The National Guard has historically been up to both tasks.

No matter what the crisis, the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard have responded. This response is critical because the Army is now utilizing and employing the Guard as part of its operational fighting force. The Guard is no longer called to duty strictly as a last resort. Further, this change to an operational reserve is reflected in updated war plans and force flow models. Many of the more than 400,000 Guard soldiers mobilized for duty in the war on terrorism have servedmultiple tours of duty. There is little doubt that this force has been taxed — however, there is even less doubt that these soldiers have answered their nation’s call with honor and faced the enemies of America with the same steely eyed intensity of their active Army counterparts.

In 2005-06, concern arose among policymakers questioning the Guard’s ability to withstand further mobilizations. To help forestall what was rapidly approaching an over-reliance on the Army Guard, and indeed, all of the U.S. military’s reserve components, the defense secretary changed the mobilization policy of the Reserve Forces and made six key changes to Defense Department policy. This new policy marked a significant turning point in the forming of an operational reserve force and included establishing the length of involuntary mobilization at a maximum of 12 months; mobilizing ground forces on a unit basis rather than as individual replacements; establishing a planning objective or goal to achieve a ratio of one-year mobilization followed by five years of “dwell time” (time not mobilized) for Reserve forces; and establishing a new program to compensate or incentivize active and reserve members who are required to mobilize or deploy early or often, or who are extended beyond established rotation policy goals.

More than a year has passed, and the time has come to stop and reflect on this significant shift in policy. There is little doubt that the policy solved some very significant problems, but in solving a problem, others are typically created. Such is the case with the 12-month mobilization policy. For example, this policy has a significant and adverse impact upon normal force flow rotations for Operation Iraqi Freedom because the roughly nine-month Army Guard unit rotations of boots on the ground (BOG) do not synchronize with active component 12- to 15-month unit rotations. This creates a need for more Guard brigade combat teams (BCTs) being required to deploy than their active counterparts over the same period of time. This problem is referred to as “incompatible BOG time.”

Before the defense secretary’s memorandum, a typical reserve deployment for Iraq was 12 months of BOG time — time that soldiers actually spent in the theater of war. This 12 months, when combined with the traditional three to five months of post-mobilization training and an additional three to four weeks of demobilization, added up to the reservist being activated for about 16 to 18 months. This leaves only six months left on the soldier’s 24-month cumulative “mobilization clock” — not enough time to be of value to the theater commander.

This problem of incompatible BOG time is compounded in the Guard. Though 350,000 strong, the Army Guard is a unit-centric organization. National Guard leaders across the country prefer to mobilize an entire unit, not individual soldiers, a policy affirmed in the defense secretary’s memo. This allows for, among other benefits, some level of predictability for the soldiers, families and employers. Therefore, to utilize a Guard soldier for that last four to six months of the 24 allowed, units would need to be brought on for this short timeframe — clearly an impractical thing to do. This reality was one of the most significant driving factors for the development of the new mobilization policy because it allows for two 12-month mobilizations instead of one roughly 18-month mobilization.

Time — the enemy of mobilization

To meet the 12-month mobilization requirements, significant amounts of training, equipment and resources must be moved to the left of, or before, the mobilization date. This situation is one that is currently being addressed, in earnest, by the Army Staff, the National Guard Bureau, the First U.S. Army and Reserve unit commanders across the U.S. Certain decisions must be made early, up to two years in advance of a deployment; these include: mission, location, timelines, units they are backfilling, equipment requirements, training requirements and manning requirements. Making such decisions allows commanders to know basic yet critical information about what their deployment will entail. Armed with this information and with enough time to develop plans, any active or reserve unit can accomplish whatever mission is given.

Although the process is improving, issues continue in getting these basic facts to Guard commanders. Such decisions are difficult to make 24 months out because of the fluidity of the war on terrorism and the bureaucratic systems that have historically manned, equipped and trained the Guard as part of the strategic reserve. These systems have caused the time requirement to ready an Army Guard unit to be much longer than that of an active unit, sometimes as much as 180 days of contiguous training before deployment. This potential lengthy training time, combined with the overall lack of equipment and personnel readiness that the Guard faces, makes gaining time before mobilization to conduct the traditionally postmobilization training tasks extremely challenging. Manning and equipping these units must be done well in advance to ensure the required levels of readiness at mobilization.

The cycle of indecision

The difficulty the Army has been properly predicting and identifying units that will be deploying, who they will be replacing, and what their requirements are in terms of manning, equipping and training, causes significant and varied issues for deployment planners, force providers, trainers, equippers and, most importantly, for the units themselves.

The confusion that can begin with or be exacerbated by the incompatible BOG problem can cause decision-makers to not make decisions. This indecision, in turn, may develop into very significant problems. At-risk decisions include those basic questions: mission, timelines, equipment and location. When the problems occur, and decisions on these basic issues are not made (or the original decisions are changed), the BOG time decreases because of the ripple-effect of the slow or inaccurate decision processes. When BOG time decreases, more units are needed to cover the same theater requirements. This situation changes the already established decisions because the units called are now needed sooner. The problem continues to perpetuate and becomes the indecision cycle. A slow or bad decision on the basic issues of mission, timeline, equipment and location causes another, which causes another and so on.

This phenomenon can be exemplified by reviewing the mobilization planning timelines for the Army Guard BCTs scheduled for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan in 2008. One BCT was alerted in mid-October 2007 for a mobilization scheduled to occur in August-September of 2008. This allowed the unit 10 to 11 months with which to receive its mission, conduct alert procedures, get mobilization orders published, obtain its mission-essential equipment list, conduct strategic readiness processing events, conduct new equipment training and fielding, individual/leader/staff training, obtain joint assessment, and many more necessary tasks. The result was that when the unit arrived at the mobilization station, its readiness was not at the required levels because of the significant cross-leveling of equipment and personnel that had to occur at the last minute. The BCT, indeed, all of the Guard BCTs, were able to overcome these problems, but not without sacrificing precious BOG time.

When key decisions on which unit will take which mission (or by the decision being changed at any point after the unit is alerted) are not made until the last minute, the unit selected must have an extended post-mobilization training period and shorter BOG time, which results in a higher demand for forces.

This cycle of indecision is the heart of the problem that faces mobilizing Guard formations. Indecision freezes action and prior planning. The problems that flow are in manning, training and equipping in time to get Guard units in theater. The unknowns must become knowns as early as possible.

As discussed earlier, there is a long-term solution being worked toward, and it is a good one. The Army will reduce the requirements for committed forces; increase the overall size of the Army (active and reserve); fully implement the Army force generation model (ARFORGEN); increase funding of the Army and its components; and commit and program the funds necessary to convert the Guard and Reserve from a strategic reserve to an operational force. When each of these elements of the Army’s plan takes place, much should be resolved.

However, the Army’s solution is not immediate. It will take several years to fully implement — if it is implemented at all. Thus, a short-term bridging solution to help manage the most critical issues that the Guard, and indeed, the Army, is facing must be developed and implemented.

There are myriad concerns, all of which are interdependent and overlapping. The key is to stop the cycle of indecision. Injecting stability and predictability into an unstable and unpredictable process can help to achieve this objective.

A guard sector in iraq

The solution presented here is that the Army National Guard should be given a sector in Iraq. This sector, similar to the Anbar sector that the Marine Corps commands, should be commanded by an Army Guard division with assigned Guard BCTs and combat support/combat service support units necessary to provide security, reconstruction, civil-military operations, combat requirements, logistics and indeed all of the requirements for the entire area. The Guard division commander would report to the Multi-National Corps-Iraq commander as any of the two-star (or three-star in the case of the Marine Corps) headquarters currently do. With this course of action, the Guard would manage force flow, theater-provided equipment and all of the other enablers necessary to sustain operations in its sector over time.

This concept is bold and assumes a certain amount of risk. However, the benefits are tremendous. This strategy would have a swift impact upon Guard readiness, allow the Army to meet its operational requirements, comply with the Defense Department policy and defense secretary guidelines outlined in his policy memorandum, gain senior leader buy-in, allow early identification of units, provide focus to limited resources, ensure postmobilization training is less than 90 days, and stop the cycle of indecision:

å Swift impact on the Army Guard. An obvious counter to this argument is that even if the Guard were given this sector immediately, it would take up to two years to finally reach the full, “two-year out” notification. However, this argument will be accurate for any plan that the Army implements and, in truth, is an excellent reason to make the decision quickly and implement the Guard sector immediately.

å Meeting operational requirements. The Operation Iraqi Freedom requirement will be met, but this is only part of the operational requirement. The requirement for a strategic reserve is neither reduced nor eliminated by the operational reserve necessity. Therefore, an important consideration in determining the size of the Guard sector is to keep in mind that additional troop surges or mobilizations to support contingencies may be necessary. Maintaining a similar number of troops in Iraq should be a strong consideration — the types of these forces may change, however.

å Compliant with Defense Department 12-month mobilization policy. The Guard Sector solution does not violate any of the constraints laid out in the defense secretary’s memorandum. It allows for a 12-month maximum mobilization, and the Guard would be in full control of this with respect to troops in the Guard sector and encourages unit mobilizations by employing all types of Guard units, including division headquarters.

å Senior leader buy-in. The key to success in this criterion is to display how it will benefit the total Army, as well as benefit the entirety of theater operations. The primary arguments against giving the Guard a sector will be issues of trust and issues of integration of forces.

Although the Army Guard has been decisively engaged in the war on terrorism since its inception, there will linger a kernel of doubt in the minds of the Army leadership — as well as the administration — if these “weekend warriors” are truly up to the task of taking on full management and ownership of an Iraqi sector. However, the move toward an operational reserve has forced the Defense Department to take many managed risks. Allowing the Guard to take control of an Iraqi sector would be another in this long list — and solving the larger problem makes the risk well worth taking. As stated earlier, bold, dynamic and risk-taking action is required.

The long-time goal for the Army has been better integration of its forces — not division of them. This solution, on the surface, is not very “Total Force.” However, when the situation is looked at holistically, it becomes clear that this separation of the Guard and the active Army is not a violation of integration, but rather a partnership. The reason for the separation is not perceived concerns about different levels of performance, abilities or capabilities but is a means to do the right thing for the Total Army without battling over turf.

å Early unit identification. If this course of action is implemented, the Army Guard will know specifically what its Iraq requirements are at any given time. This knowledge will allow the Guard to consistently and continuously identify and alert units more than 24 months in advance without waiting for Forces Command sourcing conferences. The Guard will be able to better match brigade combat teams and support units to the requirements — this gives unit commanders much more time to train for their specific missions, thereby increasing the effectiveness and overall readiness of the deploying units.

å Focus limited resources. If the Guard is given a sector and can establish early identification of units two or more years before the mobilization and deployment, it will know what resources are needed by each of these units to properly conduct its mission. Having this knowledge will allow the Guard to know the requirements in personnel, training, and equipping and will be able to wisely expend limited resources to more effectively spend and direct these funds.

å Reduce postmobilization training time. In order to meet the 12-month mobilization guideline outlined in the defense secretary’s memorandum, Guard units of every type must be able to obtain at least nine months’ BOG with goals of even longer times. This means that they need to have three or fewer months of postmobilization training. The only way to do this is for unit commanders to know their missions well in advance. With this knowledge, commanders can prepare their training calendars appropriately to be confident that they will not need any additional time over this three-month timeline.

å Stopping the indecision cycle. The cycle of indecision forces the need for the sourcing of different units at times and the perpetuation of the cycle continues. The Guard, when managing its own sector, will be responsible to ensure that this does not happen. It, more than any other organization, has an understanding of and a stake in their own soldiers and will work tirelessly to ensure that Guard members are provided all of the support that they need.

If this solution were implemented, the indecision cycle would be halted. No longer would the Guard need to wait for Forces Command sourcing conferences to determine what missions were going to be made available for Guard units for Iraq. The Guard would be able to implement an ARFORGEN timeline very effectively, as the Iraq mission would become part of their known mission set and would thereby be much less turbulent.

Planners could identify the necessary brigade combat teams and supporting units needed for each of these known missions years in advance. This would allow commanders to fully prepare their units for successfully reaching each manning, equipping and training readiness goal before mobilization. The stabilization and predictability afforded by selecting this course of action would be invaluable to the Guard, the Army and the Defense Department as a whole.

Often, when bureaucracies are faced with opportunities and need to make transformational change, they are stalled into inaction. The Defense Department, the Army and the Guard simply cannot allow fear and concern over implementation details of this strategy to not allow its adoption. The price of retaining the status quo is too high.

The difficult truth is that the readiness problems facing the Army National Guard demand an immediate fix. The Army cannot continue to wait for Cold War-era bureaucratic systems to improve personnel, equipment and training situations in the Guard. It is time for the Army — that is “The” Army — to take bold, decisive and, yes, risk-taking action to bridge the Guard readiness problems until the long-term plans for the operational reserve can be fully initiated. Giving the Army National Guard full operational control of a sector in Iraq will do just that.

LT. COL. ERICH RANDALL is a strategic planner for Guard and Reserve matters on the Joint Staff. Erich is an Infantry officer and has served as a strategic plans officer at U.S. Central Command and the Army National Guard Directorate, National Guard Bureau. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Guard, Army or Defense Department.