These are the men and women of America’s Guard and Reserves:
Lt. Col. Steve Countouriotis, Army National Guard (ret.), looks like he was carved from a piece of granite. A retired California Highway Patrolman, “Count” served four combat tours in the aftermath of September 11, two each in Afghanistan and Iraq. A former infantry officer and Blackhawk pilot, in 2007 Count mentored the Afghan Minister of the Interior in counterinsurgency and police tactics. There are nine completed combat tours in his immediate family, including two by each son and one by his daughter. Now retired from the National Guard, Lt. Col. Countouriotis continues his public service as an adviser to the Coast Guard on domestic security issues.
Sgt. Bill Cahir, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, volunteered for military service at age 34 because he had a passion to serve his country. A former staffer on Capitol Hill, respected newspaper reporter and candidate for Congress, Sgt. Cahir was assigned to a Marine Reserve Civil Affairs unit. He deployed twice to Iraq, then at age forty to Afghanistan. While on patrol with his Civil Affairs unit in southern Afghanistan, he was shot and killed. A few months after Sgt. Cahir’s funeral at Arlington, his wife René gave birth to their twin girls.
Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, Army National Guard, enlisted just four months before September 11. Assigned to the 617th MP Company, Richmond, Kentucky, on March 20, 2005, Sgt. Hester and her unit were tasked with a convoy security mission in Iraq. When the convoy came under insurgent attack, Sgt. Hester led her team in a flanking movement. She assaulted an enemy trench line with grenades and killed three insurgents with her own rifle. According to the Pentagon, “When the fight was over, 27 insurgents were dead, six were wounded, and one was captured.” Sgt. Hester was awarded the Silver Star—the first female soldier to earn this decoration since World War II.
Lt. Gen. Steve Blum, former Chief of the National Guard Bureau, spent much of his reserve career training for infantry and Special Forces missions. With a shaved head and blunt speech and action, Lt. Gen. Blum never fit the expectations of his peers at the Pentagon; he was too intense, too passionate. But more than anyone else, he brought the National Guard into the 21st century. Following Hurricane Katrina, largely by force of personality and superb leadership, he called upon the goodwill and sense of duty among the nation’s Adjutants General to coordinate the movement of 51,000 National Guardsmen to the Gulf Coast in less than ten days. When other agencies and institutions failed, the National Guard came through. Thousands of Gulf Coast residents owe their lives to Steve Blum and the National Guardsmen he effectively deployed.
These are the citizen warriors of the 21st century, well trained, better equipped, combat experienced. The Guard and the Reserve Component are indisputably essential elements of the Total Force. They exist on a plane of military professionalism far removed from the marginalized Reserve Component (RC) of the Vietnam era. Unfortunately, more than a few old bulls within the Defense establishment haven’t gotten word. As the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, a new threat to the Reserve Component will inevitably emerge: Without significant institutional reform and a commitment of greater resources, the Reserve Component, most notably the National Guard, could easily slide back into the morass of an earlier, less capable era.
We’ll Call If We Need You
During more than a decade of sustained combat in Vietnam, U.S. reserve forces were barely tapped for overseas deployment thanks to a decision driven largely by domestic politics. President Johnson and his advisers feared the perception that using the reserves in combat would be seen as an admission of weakness in the Active Component—or worse, a dramatic and desperate escalation of an already unpopular war. Senior national security officials believed that if entire Reserve units were deployed to Vietnam from Hometown, U.S.A., whole communities would feel the loss, creating profound and unacceptable political repercussions for the Johnson Administration. So for much of the war reservists stayed home. As a result, many of the 58,195 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall belong to conscripts.
The irony was bitter: All too often during this period the reserve manpower pool became a safe haven for those least interested in military service. The term “weekend warrior” gained prominence to reflect casual contempt for service in the reserves. Equipment and training were pitiful. Open reserve slots were hard to find and frequently subject to political influence. The RC was viewed as a “Strategic Reserve”—that is, unwilling and unable to fight. This prejudice was unfair at the time and is certainly anachronistic today, but it still survives, regrettably, among some senior active duty officers, impeding the effective resourcing, training, deployment and integration of the Reserve Component as an “Operational Reserve.”
This state of affairs had already begun to change for the better in 1970. In August of that year, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird published a memorandum calling for a Total Force Policy. In a clear break with the policies of the Vietnam era, Laird created a new organizational paradigm in which the Reserve Component was a critical element of the larger Defense Department force structure. Active and Reserve forces would be one and inseparable.
Then-Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams shared Laird’s views. Many historians have since contended that General Abrams consciously shaped the U.S. Army to ensure that never again would the nation’s military go to war without benefiting from the Reserve Component and its reinforcing ties to the local communities that sustain it. In the future, the United States would go to war with the participation of all of its citizen soldiers.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “You can tell a great deal about the conscience of a nation by reading its budget.” For many years, the Total Force Policy lacked Defense Department budget support. The congressionally mandated Commission on the National Guard and Reserves noted in its third and final report on January 31, 2008:
Throughout the 1980s, The National Guard and Reserves remained a strategic force in reserve. They were resourced in keeping with a framework of “tiered readiness”, according to which reservists were funded, equipped, and trained to a lesser readiness level than their active duty counterparts.
Inadequate funding of the Reserve Component, especially in the case of the Army Guard, affected combat readiness. Even today it’s not hard to precipitate a fierce debate regarding the failure to deploy the Army Guard’s 48th Brigade (Georgia) to the Persian Gulf in 1990. The active Army argued that the brigade was not combat ready without extensive and prolonged pre-deployment training. Senior National Guard officers countered that the 48th Brigade was ready and able to deploy, and that the real impediment was Active Component prejudice toward the Reserves. Although deployment into combat for Reserve units was limited during the Gulf War, the fact that 238,729 reservists were called up (many of them for stateside duty) began to impact force planning. Like it or not, the Reserves were increasingly essential to U.S. combat operations.
Nevertheless, the Army Guard continued to get the short end of the Defense Department budget stick into the 1990s. During the years I served as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I voiced deep, sometimes abrasive, concerns to active Army general officers who testified before our committee. Although the Secretary of Defense had promised the President and the Congress that the Army Guard’s 15 Enhanced Readiness Brigades would be combat deployable within ninety days of activation, not a single brigade had ever been allowed to benefit from unit training at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin or comparable light-infantry training at Fort Polk. Only sharp and persistent congressional pressure forced the Department of the Army to allow the Enhanced Readiness Brigades to rotate through essential combined-arms training considered routine for comparable active Army units. However, the rotation schedule called for a reserve unit to pass through the training course only once every eight years, far less frequently than the active Army.
Over time, the grossly inadequate funding of the “tiered readiness” concept became the single dominant characteristic of the Strategic Reserve. The transition to an Operational Reserve—now in full combat implementation in Iraq and Afghanistan and likely to continue into the foreseeable future—was not the product of a dispassionate Defense Department analysis, a Government Accountability Office report or congressional debate. Rather, it was born of necessity. In Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and the post-September 11 world, the Defense Department discovered that the pace of military commitments confronting the United States severely stressed the active force. Prejudice toward Reserve forces dissipated quickly in the face of immediate operational requirements. The final report of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves captured the development:
The notion of an Operational Reserve occurred almost by default, in response to current and projected needs for forces greater than were available from the Active Component. . . . Because the nation backed into this major decision, the needs of the reserve forces were not considered; nor were consequences of the change—such as the impact on reserve readiness, and the strain on individual reservists as well as their families and employers—taken into account.
Though it took more than three decades, Defense Secretary Laird’s Total Force finally became reality in the era of the Global War on Terror. Reserve units can now expect extended active duty and possible overseas deployment once every five years. The Operational Reserve is a reality. The question is whether an Operational Reserve is sustainable.
You Do The Math
The Government Accountability Office has concluded that by 2040 “Federal revenues may be adequate to pay little more than interest on the Federal debt.” It reached this sobering conclusion before healthcare reform and the economic stimulus packages. In this context, the Operational Reserve is almost an arithmetic imperative.
The Government Accountability Office has reported that defense spending between 1966 and 2006 dropped from 43 percent to 20 percent of total Federal spending. As the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted in a July 2006 study, “employing the Reserve Component as part of the operational force is mandatory, not a choice.” The final report of the Committee on the National Guard and Reserves concluded that “this reliance on the reserve components will be enduring.” The numbers reflecting cost and value are indeed compelling:
- • A Reserve Component service member’s total non-active duty compensation is only 15 percent of that of an active duty service member.
• Reserve Components receive approximately 9 percent of the total DOD budget; the Active Component receives about 61 percent.
• For FY 2008, the the total amount budgeted is approximately $51,000 for each Reserve Component service member and $223,000 for each Active Component service member.
• An Active Component service member costs about four times as much as a Reserve Component service member when he or she is not activated.
• The 800,000 service members in the Selected Reserve represent approximately 37 percent of the total force.
The Reserve deployment data is equally compelling:
- • The National Guard’s contribution to U.S. ground combat power in Iraq has at times exceeded 40 percent.
• Under the authority of Coalition Joint Task Force Phoenix, which had been routinely commanded by a National Guard general officer, National Guard Embedded Training Teams conducted much, if not most, of the early training of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
• About 70 percent of all military forces deployed to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 came from the National Guard (51,000), and 30 percent came from the Active Component (22,000); a direct reversal of the reserve/active ratio of forces deployed in response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
By every economic measure, the Reserve Component delivers capability at a lower cost per capita. For that reason alone, the Operational Reserve will be around for a long time to come. But in the final analysis, the deployment of military forces is not about economics. We can only measure the ultimate value of any military force, active or reserve, in mission readiness and performance. In short, the future of the Operational Reserve depends on much more than cost/benefit ratios and pie charts. It depends on a fundamental and systematic reform of our defense establishment, additional resources and a change in culture.
This guy understood asymmetric warfare:
[Our enemy] has no chance of overcoming us in the field. But if he can sap our resolution by his doggedness, his relentlessness; if he can appall us by his acts of barbarity, he can, if not defeat us, then prevent us from defeating him. Our will must master the enemy’s. Our resolve must outlast his.
These words, attributed to Alexander the Great by Steven Pressfield in his superb 2007 novel The Afghan Campaign, date from approximately 330 BCE. But they could have come from any U.S. national security official during the past decade. Al-Qaeda won’t confront the United States within a conventional battle space. We’re too powerful, and they’re too smart. It is the asymmetric attack that most appeals to our adversaries. September 11 wasn’t just a tragic and isolated event; it was also a case study in the continuing saga of 21st century warfare.
For al-Qaeda, the U.S. homeland is the pre-eminent battlefield in a global conflict. The purpose of a terrorist attack within the United States is not to degrade U.S. warfighting capability but to break our political will. Al-Qaeda thinks that if Americans suffer enough carnage and bloodshed within our own borders, U.S. policies will change. For this reason, the defense of the U.S. homeland is now the core element of our country’s national security policy.
Domestic security is primarily the duty of law enforcement. In Federalist 8 Alexander Hamilton recognized the grave danger flowing from excessive reliance upon the military for domestic safety. There is, however, an important domestic role for the military, a role that became an operational and constitutional reality during both the War of 1812 and the Civil War. In 2005, the Department of Defense published its first Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support. It defined “homeland defense” as essentially the warfighting defense of the United States derived from the President’s Article II authority as Commander in Chief. It also defined “civil support” as the statutory duty for the Defense Department to support civilian authorities following a terrorist attack or catastrophic natural disaster.
In 2001, the Defense Department created a new combatant command to achieve these domestic military missions: the U.S. Northern Command, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Now, whenever Federal military forces are operationally employed in the United States either to defend against a terrorist attack or to provide assistance following a major disaster, they fall under NORTHCOM command and control. In our Federal system, where states, governors and the National Guard have well established responsibilities, the very existence of NORTHCOM has created tension.
The President has well-defined duties when it comes to domestic security, but so do the Governors. NORTHCOM can provide essential capabilities to defeat a terrorist attack or remediate a major disaster, but so can the National Guard. Deconflicting these roles and responsibilities has not been easy.
For many decades, the Defense Department relied primarily on Federal active duty military forces to respond to domestic crises. That changed with the publication of the 2005 Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support. In the post-9/11-era, the Defense Department made a conscious choice to place a “focused reliance” upon Reserve Component forces, especially the National Guard, when called upon to execute domestic missions. Trained, equipped and paid for by the Defense Department but under Title 32 command and control of the Governor, the National Guard became the lead military capability for domestic employment.
There were good reasons to justify the change. The National Guard is “forward deployed” in more than 3,000 U.S. communities, has strong ties to the first-responder community, has developed unique CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives) response capabilities, is exempt from the Posse Comitatus Act in Title 32 status, and has been providing security and disaster assistance to local communities for more than 350 years. A “focused reliance” upon the National Guard for domestic missions also preserves Active Component capabilities for power projection, such as an immediate overseas response following a terrorist attack.
As a result, NORTHCOM and the National Guard often have closely associated domestic missions, frequently in the same geographic area. Though the relationship has been buffered by military courtesy, a challenging and sometimes contentious relationship still exists between NORTHCOM and the National Guard. That rivalry reflects the historic tension that goes to the core of our system of government: Federalists versus anti-Federalists. Advocates of national power versus defenders of traditional state authority. The perception that NORTHCOM has at times been insensitive to the traditional prerogatives of state government has exacerbated the National Guard’s resistence to Federal encroachment.
Since 9/11, the National Guard has undertaken an extraordinary transformation of domestic capabilities, particularly in the area of CBRNE response. Therefore, it is essential that the National Guard and NORTHCOM achieve unity of effort, even though true unity of command may be beyond constitutional reach. What should we do to better integrate Federal and state military capabilities? How can we make a “focused reliance” upon the Reserve Component for domestic missions an operational reality?
If Generals Were Angels
Sustaining an Operational Reserve will require more than a culture change. Attitudes matter, but true reform must be institutional. James Madison once wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” We can hope for angels, of course, but not count on them. Rather, we should design a system that accommodates and overcomes human frailty and institutional self-interest.
The performance of the Reserve Component both at home and overseas during the past decade will help, but wartime memories quickly fade. Under intense budgetary pressure, future civilian and military Active Component leaders will be tempted to shortchange the necessary investment in the Reserve Component. From there, it’s a slippery slope back to the “tiered readiness” of a Strategic Reserve. I therefore recommend the following systemic changes to maintain a real commitment to an Operational Reserve and ensure that it has the resources it needs:
While it is almost certain that the Reserve Component will be employed as an Operational Reserve, it is nowhere near as certain that this will be done successfully. Success depends on political will backed by sufficient resources. It also depends upon the Reserve Component having a meaningful voice—and peer respect—at the table (service nominations, the Tank, the SecDef’s Office and the SitRoom). Our nation’s reserve warriors—men and women like Lt. Col. Countouriotis, Sgt. Cahir, Sgt. Hester, and Lt. Gen. Blum—have earned the right to be heard and, when appropriate, to lead at all levels of military command. It’s time to give them their due.