- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Brig. Gen. James D. Campbell
Best Defense Guard columnist
One of things I find most interesting, and even objectionable, in the entire discourse between these two senior officers is the fact that, clearly, neither of them recognizes or even considers the reserve components as part of “the Army.”
Many of the talented young officers and NCOs who are choosing to leave the active force are, in fact, transferring to the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve. So in that sense, “the Army” isn’t losing these experienced young leaders. That is, we’re not losing them if our active counterparts view the Guard and Reserve as part of the wider team. Even more of these junior leaders would choose the Guard and Reserve if active duty senior leaders actually tried to present service in the Reserve Components as a viable option for those who want to keep serving but also want stability for their families along with different career and educational opportunities. Unfortunately, as judged by these essays in FP, most senior Army leaders don’t ever even think of the reserve components as really part of “the Army.” Personally, along with many of my peers I left the regular Army in the early ’90s after almost 10 years of service and have been in the Guard ever since. I’ve managed to have a full, reasonably successful career, and have gotten to do a lot of things on the civilian side I never would have done had I stayed on active duty.
This paradigm of leaving the reserve components out of the equation has all sorts of corollaries: The refusal, for example, of senior Army leaders to consider that, based on the recent Reserve Forces Policy Board report showing that the reserve components (RC) cost only one-third the amount of the active components (AC), shouldn’t we seek to grow the RC as we must shrink the AC in order to retain the military capability and force structure at less cost, and therefore have a flexible “surge” capacity for emergencies? Aside from the fact that this is effectively what we have done post-conflict throughout the entire history of our nation, the cost pressures alone would dictate that it is a very intelligent option. In addition to saving force structure and capability, we would also be saving enormous numbers of proven, combat-experienced officers, NCOs and soldiers by keeping them in the uniform and having them around for the long term. Unfortunately, what we are hearing from senior Army leaders is that they want to keep the AC as large as possible, even if that means cutting the RC — an idea that flies in the face of fiscal reality, the past 12 years of actual operational experience, U.S. military history and tradition, and serves as yet one more glaring reminder that our current generation of senior leaders has never accepted the RC as equal, capable elements of the overall force. Cutting off the nose to spite the face…
I invite all high-caliber junior and mid-grade leaders in our Army (and Air Force) who are seeking a change and want more stability for their families, more interesting assignment and career opportunities, and challenging educational opportunities to look into joining the National Guard in their home states or the states where they’d like to live. We have been the key component of our nation’s military since 1636, we are in many ways the sole remaining repository of many of the best traditions of the service, we listen to our people (we have to in order to keep our high-performing, traditional part-time leaders in uniform), and we are still on the front lines around the world. We are also still the only part of the force which can legally and rapidly respond to assist our local communities when they are in need.
BG James D. Campbell, Ph.D. is the adjutant general of the Maine National Guard.