Long Deployments for Reserves to Continue?

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The Army is reviewing its strategy for employing the Army Reserve and National Guard after Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom end. Reserve forces make up slightly more than half of the total force of 1.1 million soldiers, and the reservists have pulled their weight in combat deployments over the past decade: over a third of the soldiers deploying have been reservists or guardsmen.

The reserve and guard hasn’t always been a fully competent force. In 1991, the Army tried to mobilize three reserve component combat brigades to deploy with their active component divisions to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. That didn’t go so well. But with ten years of combat under their belts, the reserve components are just as competent as the active component, and just as tired.

There have been a number of studies and reports recently considering how to preserve and sustain the reserves. Former Army Chief of Staff General Dennis Reimer’s panel report is jargon and acronym-laden, and thus nearly unintelligible to the uninitiated. But, we must allow, it wasn’t written for general consumption.

We struggled through it so you don’t have to, and we’re glad we did. Reimer and his team lay out some sound thinking for the preservation of the reserve components’ hard won capability but also note the need for a change in the BOG/Dwell ratio in order to sustain the force. BOG/Dwell is the amount of time soldiers spend in combat (Boots on Ground, or BOG) in comparison to the time they spend at home (dwell).

The current goal for active component is one year deployed and two years at home (1-2); and for reserve component is one year deployed and four years at home (1-4). These ratios would be in effect during “surge” periods such as when the nation is involved in two major campaigns. We’re in at least two right now. The long term goal, they call this “steady state” operations (no ongoing wars), is for BOG/Dwell ratios of 1-3 for active and 1-5 for reservists.

As they are thinking ahead to post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan operations, the leaders are considering employing reserve forces on security cooperation missions, sending American forces to train and train with foreign military forces. This training helps keep U.S. forces sharp but also raises the capacity of foreign militaries – the term of art is partner nations – in the hope that the partner nations’ militaries will carry their own water in regional crises.

It’s worth reading the fine print, though. Security cooperation missions require a significant investment in time on the ground – BOG time. Army leaders want to plug the reserve forces into these missions for months at a time, meaning the reserves would continue to deploy overseas for long rotations even when we aren’t at war.