Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts A “War of a Different Kind” and the Reconstruction of U.S. Reserve Forces

A “War of a Different Kind” and the Reconstruction of U.S. Reserve Forces

On April 23, 1987, I was interviewed in the Pentagon by the then Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, in connection with my subsequent appointment by President Reagan as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. Shortly after the interview, I stopped in the Pentagon Bookstore and purchased a copy of the 1986 book Thinking in Time.[1] I read it on the plane during my trip back to my home in Colorado.

The authors of the book, two professors at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, urged policy-makers to “inspect the history of an issue so that decision objectives can be defined and the likely results of specific actions foreseen”; to think in “time-streams” by viewing present circumstances as part of an unbroken continuum between the past and the future.

That advice is particularly useful in deliberations about the current use and the future of our nation’s Reserve components.2 To place such discussions in context, it is helpful to remember how the Reserve components were viewed by many senior leaders as recently as the months preceding the Persian Gulf War of 1991, i.e., Operation Desert Storm.

As you know from the discussions this morning, in August 1970, then Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird issued policy guidance to the military services which first articulated in express terms a Total Force approach to the design of military forces. Henceforth, force planners were to “determine the most advantageous [Active/Reserve force] mix to support national strategy and meet the threat.”3 The early implementation of the new Total Force Policy encountered several obstacles,4 but by the mid-1980s, tangible improvements could be seen in the number and quality of individual Reservists and military force planners were assigning increasing responsibilities to Reserve and National Guard units.

It was a well-known fact as late as 1990, however, that no American president since the conflict in Vietnam had involuntarily activated a single Reservist for an armed conflict. A limited number of volunteers had served in Grenada in 1983 and in Panama in 1989-90, but strong doubts remained among the uniformed Active Force leadership about both the readiness of the Reserve components, and the willingness of political leaders to rely upon them. In its 1990 Total Force Report, for example, the Navy declared that “The limited availability of Selected Reserve personnel is the biggest obstacle that must be overcome in using Naval Reserve assets to support contingencies short of mobilization. The equipment is there; it is combat-ready. The problem is being able to call up Reservists to man it.”5

On August 8, 1990, only six days after Iraq invaded Kuwait, I had a lengthy memorandum delivered to then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney immediately upon his return from a meeting in Saudia Arabia with King Fahd. I made the following point:

“As you know from recent.discussions,.no military department has ever recommended the use of the Reserve call-up authority, and no Secretary of Defense has otherwise recommended the use of the authority to the President. The current conflict with Iraq presents a unique political opportunity to send a strong message of deterrence to that nation, to ensure the availability of Reserve manpower needed for the execution of military options, and, as a collateral matter, to put to rest the false impressions about the perceived reluctance to use the call-up authority.”6

The result, of course, was the activation of more than 202,000 Selected Reservists and over 20,000 members of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Some 106,000 National Guardsmen and Reservists served in the theater of operations. While some problems were incurred, particularly in large maneuver units, their overall performance was, by any reasonable standard, excellent. It even surprised many career professionals, especially those who had little association with the Reserve components and who failed to recognize that in the era of an All Volunteer Force, the kind of individual who was volunteering to serve in a Reserve component was much different than many of those who had served during the days of conscription. In an address to Congress shortly after the conflict ended, President George Bush declared that “This victory belongs…to the regulars, to the reserves, to the National Guard. This victory belongs to the finest fighting force this nation has ever known in its history.” Indeed, it did.

By the mid-1990s, however, the speed of the pendulum in the direction of greater use of Reservists had increased at a rate much higher than was expected in most quarters as the concept of “operations other than war” gained traction. It was no longer a question of whether Reservists would be activated, but rather, how much. Reservists were now routinely considered for a wide range of peacetime operations, including disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, treaty verification, non-combatant evacuation operations, security and advisory assistance, arms control, support of domestic civil authorities, shows of force, peacekeeping, counterdrug operations, and others. Pentagon officials announced plans for Reservists to build a pier for fishing vessels in an economically depressed fishing community, to repair housing, to dig wells, to restore the environment, and to survey the safety of dams and airport runaways.7 One Clinton administration defense official even called for Reservists to be used at home to attack “low literacy levels, high unemployment rates, increasing numbers of high school dropouts, unavailability of health care, rising crime, and drug abuse.”8

In 1997, I warned of this trend in my book Citizen Warriors. This is what I said at the time:

[I]f the armed forces are diverted from the fundamental mission of war fighting, if we continue to presume upon the patriotism and limited time of our part-time citizen warriors by using them as a cheap labor pool for public needs that do not involve serious threats to the nation’s security, a day of reckoning will slowly but surely arrive. At some point, the high-quality Reservists whose skills and experience make them the seedcorn for future combat leadership will reluctantly but inevitably conclude that they simply don’t have enough time to remain in the armed forces and to adequately fulfill commitments to their civilian careers, to their families, and to educational and other private needs.9

By the time of the presidential election of 2000, the number of Active Army divisions had effectively been reduced from the eighteen which existed at the time of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, to ten, and the intense use of Reservists had become the subject of national attention. It was not surprising that only twenty-five days after his inauguration, President George W. Bush declared at the headquarters of the West Virginia National Guard that he intended to “be careful about troop deployment-judicious use of our troops.” In the continuum between the past and the future, that declaration was made seven months before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Few decisions makers could foresee then, just how much the nation would be relying upon Reserve forces only three years later.

Six months after the attacks of 9/11, some 80,576 Reservists from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had been activated. That number did not include the National Guard personnel—approximately 9,000 at the peak—who had been activated in a Title 32 or “state status” for airport security duties. Almost two years after the attacks, the mobilization was not going well. In an August 21, 2003 report which described “a stark contrast between the mobilization of Reservists during the 1991 Gulf War and in the chaotic post-Sept. 11 climate,” 10 the Government Accounting Office (GAO) concluded that existing operation plans “did not fully address the mobilization requirements needed to deal with the terrorist attacks or uncertain overseas requirements,” and that the Army “does not have a standard operating cycle to provide predictability to its Reserves.”11

Eleven months before the start of the Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Secretary of Defense had anticipated the likelihood of a future manpower crunch. It was urgent that the Guardsmen performing security duties at the nation’s airports and along our international borders be relieved, he said, because those duties are “civilian functions, and they ought to be performed over any sustained period of time by civilians.” We train our people, he said, “to be warfighters.”12

In September 2003, six months after the war in Iraq began, defense officials extended the tours of Army Guard and Reserve forces serving there from approximately six months to twelve months. The Chief of the Army Reserve was candid about the implications. “Numbers tell the story,” he said. “Army Reserve soldiers have been deployed 10 times in the past 12 years for operations from Bosnia to Iraq. During the 75 years before that, the Army Reserve had been mobilized just nine times. Since December 1995, we have been in a continuous state of mobilization.”13

This last July, the Army found it necessary to activate 5,600 members of its IRR, individuals who have a remaining military service obligation under their eight year enlistment contract, but who are usually not assigned to a unit and do not engage in regularly scheduled training activities. Unfortunately, by late September, more than 37 percent of those ordered to active duty had failed to report. The same month, two other relevant and significant developments occurred.

First, a GAO report noted that over 335,000 Reservists had been involuntarily called to active duty since September 11, 2001, and that “the pace of Reserve operations is expected to remain high” in what was described as an “indefinite Global War on Terrorism overseas.”14 The report concluded that the Army was “not able to efficiently execute its mobilization and demobilization plans,” because the plans contained certain outdated assumptions. The conclusion was not inconsequential, because in recent months, more than 40 percent of the roughly 140,000 U.S. forces in Iraq have been Reservists. By early spring, 2005, it is expected that the Army’s Reserve components will make up about 55 percent of Army forces in Iraqi Freedom III.

The second development in September was a report by the Defense Science Board15 which contained several relevant conclusions and recommendations. Noting that stabilization operations after the combat phase of a conflict can last longer and require resources as great as the combat phase, the Board concluded that the Armed Forces currently have “inadequate total numbers” of troops, particularly ground troops, to “sustain our current and projected global stabilization commitments.”16 It recommended that in the future, stabilization operations be accorded higher priority in the force planning process.

All of this has been taking place in the midst of a war that one respected Army analyst asserts “has accelerated change in ways that DoD theoreticians could not imagine.”17 The change includes “force structuring experiments inside [Army] combat divisions that modularize the brigade and division headquarters and develop smaller brigade organizations.”18 The idea is to build units that are interchangeable. A specific objective of the “modularity” idea is to reduce the headquarters staffs which have been an integral part of the divisions. Plans also call for the Army to increase the number of enhanced brigades for rapid mobilization in its Reserve components from 15 to 22. The objective is to relieve stress on the high demand units and to improve the readiness and deployability of larger numbers of units.

Structural deficiencies in the Armed Forces were recognized at least as early as November, 2002 when the Secretary of Defense directed his staff to identify critical skills in the Reserve components that could be transferred to Active force units. Declaring it a “shame” that large-scale operations could not be mounted without the activation of Reservists who possess many of the critical skills normally needed, he asserted that “we intend to see that we’re no longer organized that way in the future.”19 Since then, the Army has developed plans to “rebalance” its Military Occupational Specialties by shifting significant numbers of Reservists serving in field artillery, air defense, engineering, and certain other battalions, to military police, intelligence, civil affairs, information technology, and general security missions, and to further shift Active force personnel into psychological operations, transportation, and other combat support and combat service support jobs traditionally held by Reservists. Widespread agreement exists that the Armed Forces, and the Army in particular, are currently engaged in the open-ended, low-level counterinsurgency operations that define a large part of the Global War on Terror, with a largely Cold War organization and force structure.

Structural deficiencies were the subject of a July, 2003 memorandum from the Secretary of Defense to the military services, but that memo did little more than order the services to review their policies regarding Reserve deployments with an eye toward limiting involuntary activations during the first 15 days of a deployment overseas and further limiting the call-up of any individual unit to no more than once every six years. Under present circumstances, even that goal is unlikely to be met. The individual services have taken certain initiatives — such as the seven-state test project at Hill Air Force Base that will combine Active Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve personnel in a single operational unit for certain missions — but the only other department-wide change which has been proposed within DoD for the implementation of current policies on the Active/Reserve force mix, is a streamlining of personnel management practices. A “continuum of service paradigm” has been offered which would permit Reservists who volunteer to do so, to serve on active duty each year for more than the traditional thirty-nine days of training duty. Others could serve fewer days.

Meanwhile, and in order to meet short-term manning problems, “stop-loss” orders20 have been used in all of the Reserve components, as well as for the Active force. Unlike the activation of members of the IRR, however, stop-loss orders affect military personnel who have completed their military obligation. Even though roughly three-fourths of the National Guard is not affected directly by the stop-loss orders, the practice affects more Reservists than soldiers in the Active force. Senator McCain has called it a kind of backdoor draft. A respected military sociologist who has met with U.S. troops in Iraq in recent months has declared that the stop-loss orders are “having a tremendous impact on morale.”21 Concern is growing that the orders will have a significant adverse impact upon Reserve recruiting and retention.22

It is this concern which has caused the Army, which has the largest Reserve components and which has mobilized more Reservists than all of the other services combined, to reconsider its earlier extension of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. While some Army officials continue to argue that longer tours are necessary to maintain troop strength there and that they have the added advantage of permitting troops to gain valuable expertise in fighting the insurgencies, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau bluntly declared in September that “All the Army leadership agrees that 12 months is too long.”23

Some force planners take the upbeat position that as the current members of the Reserve components grasp the new realities of Reserve service in the foreseeable future, many will leave, to be replaced by more highly motivated Reservists who are fully aware of their likely activation for extended periods of time. This analysis is flawed for at least two reasons. First, it incorrectly assumes that there are sufficient numbers of people who previously left active duty or who chose not to accept it in the first place, but who would be willing to serve almost full time. Less than two weeks ago, the Army announced that National Guard recruitment for the first month of the new fiscal year was more than 30% below the target. Second, it assumes that the overall quality, including the skills and experience of the new Reservists, would match that of those who leave. Experience suggests the contrary. The high quality of Reservists since the mid-1980s has been due in large part to officers and NCOs who are sufficiently talented, experienced, and interested in Reserve service that they are able to pursue successful civilian careers and serve in the Reserve components. Almost full time service may well attract only those individuals who can’t compete successfully as a career soldier, and/or those who have no or few options for a successful civilian career.

Not surprisingly, many Reserve leaders also continue to express enthusiasm for any new overseas mission which gives them greater responsibility. Having been treated, or at least perceiving that they and other Reservists were previously treated as second class warriors by the Active forces, they are delighted to find that they are now badly needed. Just last week, a Major General in the National Guard was interviewed in connection with the redeployment next month to Iraq of the 3rd Infantry Division. Two brigades from the Division will be under the command of a National Guard Headquarters unit. It will be the first time that has happened in at least a half of a century. “The significance of this,” he said, “is that the Army is demonstrating we are one team. They are relying on the Reserve components to do what they are supposed to do.”24

About all I can say in response is, “perhaps.”

The Senate and House Authorization Committees did, of course, vote recently to permanently increase the Army’s end strength by 30,000 initially, with planned future expansions. But, the Secretary of Defense and others have consistently opposed any such increase. Rather, they assert that the Army’s new “modularity” process will ease the burden on the new combat brigades which the Army is forming out of its 10 Active divisions. The Army Chief of Staff was quoted recently as saying that “This [manning problem] isn’t about end strength. It’s about how many deployable entities do you have in the Army.”25 The Army currently plans to convert its 33 Active combat brigades into 43-48 smaller, more modular “units of action.”

On its face, the concept appears to have merit. I don’t think there is any doubt, for example, that the Army’s Reserve components have been overstructured in the past. But, I submit that an increase in the number of units will not necessarily make the Total Force more effective, especially if there are still too few troops on the ground. The Defense Science Board has also concluded that “Modularity, in and of itself, does not ensure an effective stabilization capability.”26 Moreover, the concept will be applied primarily to combat units. It is not at all clear how it will help combat service support units which provide critical logistical support. Most of those units are in the Army’s Reserve components.

The concern about recruiting and retention in recent months has not been limited to military leaders. All kinds of ideas were offered in Congress during the election year which would give Reservists additional benefits. Senate Democrats introduced what they called a Reserve “Bill of Rights.” Improvements in health care, retirement pay, GI Bill benefits, bonuses, civilian job protection, and limitations on deployment, were all discussed. The presidential candidates dueled over the extent to which the Tricare system would be made available to Reservists. Lost in the shuffle was the obvious fact that benefits are not free and that at some point, the cost differential between Active and Reserve forces—one of the main attractions of the Reserve components—could lose its significance.

Rumors of the resurrection of the draft also continue to make the rounds. Proposed legislation reinstituting conscription was introduced in the House and Senate in 2003, but in a strange legislative action taken in early October, and no doubt influenced by election year politics, the proposal was defeated in the House of Representatives by a vote of 402-2. Whatever may be said about national service building character, about the need to ensure that the required sacrifices in the War on Terrorism are not borne only by those who volunteer to serve in military uniform, and about the need to appeal more to patriotism instead of economic incentives to build the Armed Forces, there is obviously little political support for a draft. Pentagon leaders are some of the most outspoken opponents and on 4 October, President Bush declared emphatically that “We will not have a draft, so long as I am president of the United States.” No one wants to dilute the uniform high quality of today’s American warriors.

None of the developments I have described thus far, however, have addressed or relate directly to what I believe to be the fundamental force structure issues. It must be recognized that the attacks of 9/11 initiated a fundamentally different kind of war than those of the past.27 We are now in a totally new security environment.28 The new form of terrorism does not start or stop at the waters’ edge or at our land borders with other countries. The lines between “foreign” and “domestic” and between “war” and “crime” are no longer as clear as they seemed to be before September 11, 2001. The American homeland is now part of the battlespace. The term “war fighting” now has an entirely new meaning.

A primary question which must now be answered is what conventional and homeland security missions can, and should, be assigned to Active force units and personnel, and to Reservists, including the National Guard? What Active/Reserve force mix is required to ensure that the War on Terror is successfully prosecuted, that our other strategic challenges are successfully met, and that all necessary missions — whether they are to be performed overseas or at home — are performed effectively? What military skills, experience, and resources are critical to homeland security and to what units and personnel should they be taught and given? Should Reservists with unique or critical skills and experience be organized, trained, and compensated differently than other Reservists? To what extent is it possible to allocate manpower, equipment, training and other resources to the Active and Reserve forces not on the basis of conventional planning principles, political pressure, tradition, or long-standing practice, but solely upon the basis of national needs at home and abroad, demonstrated capability to perform specific missions and operational tasks, and costs? What military units should be dedicated exclusively, or at least primarily, to security missions at home?

During the three years since the attacks of 9/11, it has been the position of the Department of Defense that military capabilities should be used at home only in emergency situations and even then, only for short periods of time. The Armed Forces, so the thinking goes, are the only American institution that can deal with major threats overseas, and that alone should be the focus of the Department of Defense (DoD). So strongly held has this view been that defense officials added a new term to the DoD lexicon, ( “homeland defense”) to distinguish DoD responsibilities from the “homeland security” responsibilities of civilian departments and agencies.

This view was illustrated early in a couple of Pentagon Town Hall Meetings where senior defense officials met with uniformed personnel and civilian employees. In a November, 2002 meeting, a questioner asked about the military’s role in homeland security. The Secretary of Defense declared that “[I]f we’re asked to do an emergency assignment, like [guarding] the airports when there’s no other capability,.it ought to be for a short period of time. We ought to get in, do it, and get out, and get back to doing military assignments and not essentially civilian functions.”29 At another meeting in March, 2003, he said that “the task of defending America was best performed forward by preventing things from threatening our country. It is understandable,” he continued, “that some people would look and say “Well, my goodness, if we have threats right here, shouldn’t we keep forces right here to protect against those threats?” and I guess,” he added, “the answer to that is, Isn’t it better to deal with those threats elsewhere?”30

Whatever the merit of the reasons upon which the Department of Defense has based its distinction between “Homeland Security” and “Homeland Defense,” I submit that the distinction is no longer useful, if it ever was. Like the lines between “foreign” and “domestic” and “war” and “crime,” the line between “military assignments” and “civilian functions” is no longer as bright as it was before 9/11. The National Strategy for Homeland Security rightly characterizes the task of securing the homeland as the most important mission of the U.S. Government and as “a challenge of monumental scale and complexity.”31 Unfortunately, we are still far from being fully prepared.

A recent study by the RAND Arroyo Center illustrates a small part of the problem. Given the willingness and capability of terrorists to conduct mass-casualty attacks within the United States, the study addressed the questions of (1) the circumstances under which military medical assets could be requested by civil authorities, (2) what type of assets or capabilities would likely be required, and (3) whether an effective planning process is in place. Recognizing that “DoD possesses unique capabilities, including detection and decontamination of agents, treatment and evacuation of contaminated casualties, and preventive medicine capabilities,”32 the study reached several disturbing conclusions. First, that no effective planning process is in place for determining the requirements of military medical support to civil authorities; second, that no active duty or Federal Reserve component units have been assigned a mission responsibility for support to civil authorities; and third, that there is no comprehensive training program for either Title 10 or Title 32 National Guard units for providing civil support.33

Only a few days ago, a new report by the GAO highlighted another part of the problem. Noting that recent transfers of equipment within the National Guard to meet short-term requirements have degraded the readiness of nondeployed units, and that current Army funding plans call for continuing to maintain nondeployed Army National Guard forces with only a portion of the personnel and equipment required for warfighting operations, the report contained a disturbing conclusion. The Guard’s “preparedness to perform homeland defense and civil support missions that may be needed in the future,” it said, “is unknown.”34 Why? Because the Guard’s role in those missions has not been defined, the requirements have not been established, and preparedness standards and measures have not been developed.

Another recent RAND study 35 focused on the issue of whether the Army should do more to hedge against the risks of being inadequately prepared for potential Homeland Security tasks. Its recommendations were no less significant than those of the first study. First, it concluded that statutory changes should be made that would permit the National Guard to share its resources more easily across state borders and permit the Federal Reserve components to conduct Homeland Security missions. Second, the study recommended that the Army should dedicate a mix of National Guard task forces to Homeland Security emergencies, including law enforcement duties, and make them ready for rapid deployment and ensure that they are appropriately trained.

It is, of course, understandable that the leadership of DoD is sensitive to the budget implications of any assignment of new domestic missions to the Armed Forces. The War on Terror is manpower intensive and personnel costs in an All Volunteer Force are very high. Congress is quick to assign new missions to DoD, but it often fails to add funding for the missions. The other federal departments covet the DoD budget and are always happy to let military personnel perform tasks that their own personnel should perform. State governors much prefer to let Uncle Sam pay for things which, if they had to pay for them, would require unpopular political decisions.

But, several conclusions in a recent report of the Defense Science Board are also disturbing. Noting that resource constraints must always be considered, the Board nevertheless concluded that “DoD will play a vital role in the overall Homeland Security mission;” that local first responders will be “supported by unique DoD capabilities and assets;” that neither DoD nor civilian agencies have “fully explored the potential role DoD may need to fulfill for homeland security;” that the Department of Homeland Security “has very little understanding” of the role of the U.S. Northern Command; and that at least as of early Spring 2003, the “top DoD leadership [had] not actively sought…partnership with civil agencies.”36

A hopeful hint of possible change in DoD’s restricted view of “Homeland Defense” has emerged in recent months. Last spring, the Office of the Secretary of Defense issued a Strategic Planning Guidance to the military services for the years 2006-2011 which expressly placed all potential threats into four categories, one of which is a “catastrophic” surprise attack on symbolic and high value targets, presumably targets at home. As recently as late September, however, the Secretary of Defense continued to reject calls for any form of a permanent manpower increase or major restructuring on the ground that additional “efficiencies” can be squeezed out of the current force.

Meanwhile, it has become apparent to increasing numbers of other policy makers and analysts that the question of manning the forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in other locations overseas, is related directly to the question of how we prevent and respond to, major terrorist attacks at home. One analyst argues that the Army has already broken with its “historic cycle of mobilizing, fighting, and retraining after each war” because of the open-ended nature of the War on Terrorism and the resultant absence of any after war period.37

One of the many things which officials at all levels of government need to know in their efforts to secure the homeland, is what kind of help, and the extent of the help they can expect from the Department of Defense. They need certainty, or at least predictability, about what DoD personnel and resources they can and cannot count on in the event of a major attack. State governors have already been outspoken in their concern about addressing possible terrorist attacks, as well as natural disasters, when large numbers of their National Guard are performing federal missions overseas. Military and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) planners remain uncertain about the relationship between DoD and DHS in the planning for the response to a major attack at home. Planners at other agencies remain uncertain about issues as simple as how many hospital beds DoD could make available.

Some states have more than 75 percent of their Guardsmen on active duty today, and some 80 percent of the Guard will serve on active duty in the next three years.38 The Chief of the National Guard Bureau declared last April that “The Guard’s mission has shifted from a strategic reserve built on a Cold War deterrence construct to an operational reserve that must be capable of joint and expeditionary missions.”39 It has been rightly noted, however, that if this development is permitted to spread and become permanent, it will deprive the Armed Forces of a true strategic reserve that can be used in larger, more conventional conflicts.40 And, as I noted earlier, removal of the distinction between Active service and Reserve service is likely to ensure that fewer soldiers with Active service experience choose to enter a Reserve component upon the completion of their initial military obligation. It is worth noting that a September 2004 GAO report said that “Much of the Army’s Reserve component force has [still] been organized, trained, and resourced as a strategic reserve that would receive personnel, training, and equipment as a later – deploying reserve force rather than an operational force designed for continuous overseas deployments.”41

Using the argument that the National Guard is now a de facto federal force and that most of the Guard is needed to augment the Active Army and the Air Force, some observers have recommended reliance on State Defense Forces, i.e., volunteer groups that exist in 19 states to assist with local or statewide emergencies.42 These groups are funded by the individual states. The total national membership is approximately 12,000 but they have been criticized for being too political and insufficiently rigorous in their training and performance standards. Others have suggested a new non-expeditionary Homeland Security Corps, which would serve under the governors, but be funded by the Department of Homeland Security. I do not believe these ideas have merit except as such groups might be used to supplement better trained responders.

I submit that all of these problems, and the suggested solutions, illustrate the need for a complete re-thinking of our security requirements and the related force structure of the Armed Forces. No longer can we afford to view our foreign military requirements as distinct and separate from our homeland security requirements. Strategies and policies which integrate all of our military and civilian experience, capabilities, technologies, equipment and other resources, and especially planning, are required. This is likely to require an unprecedented inter-agency approach to the assessment of national security and homeland security threats and vulnerabilities, including both those threats which originate and have an impact overseas, and those which impact at home.

It may also mean that in order to be fully prepared, additional military units and perhaps significantly greater numbers of individual Active and Reserve personnel will have to be assigned specific, primarily, and perhaps even exclusively homeland security missions beforehand, not after a devastating attack occurs. Preparations for a possible terrorist attack, especially critically important training, cannot wait until an attack occurs. The Department of Homeland Security’s new National Incident Management System — which was prepared at the direction of the President — expressly declares that preparedness “is implemented through a continuous cycle of planning, training, equipping, exercising, evaluating, and taking action to correct and mitigate.”43 Unfortunately, the Armed Forces remain organized, trained, and equipped to fight overseas military adversaries. When units are also assigned domestic missions, they are often unable to practice the various skills which are needed to maintain combat proficiency for the overseas missions.

In September, it was reported that the Department of Defense had prepared a new draft “homeland defense” strategy that would rely upon the existing force structure and place more reliance on the Reserve components.44 Whatever the scope and ultimate merit of the various provisions of this proposed strategy, however, it is very unlikely to go far enough since it is limited to “homeland defense” as that term is understood in the Pentagon. To any extent that it assumes that part-time Reserve units can be fully trained for both traditional over-seas war-fighting missions and homeland defense missions, it may also be unrealistic.

I further submit that the totally new evaluation of our force structure and of the Active/Reserve force mix which I recommend should be conducted by an independent body. It is no reflection upon the Department of Defense to suggest that it is simply not possible for it to effectively conduct the kind of fresh, fundamental, and objective analysis that is needed, while it is simultaneously engaged in the management of complex conflicts overseas.

In this context, it is important to remember that military manpower systems are inherently political in nature. French Marshal Saint-Cyr captured the idea succinctly in 1867 with his remark that systems of military service must be treated as political institutions because of the “direct, powerful, and permanent effect they have on the dearest interests, aspirations, mores, and practices of the entire population.”45 Each of the military services and each of the Reserve components has its own special interest pleaders. The National Guard of each state has its own tradition and culture. The House of Representatives is aggressively protective of its constitutional authority to “raise and support Armies,” and to “provide and maintain a Navy.”46 The Senate guards its own prerogatives. The employers of Reservists want to have a say about the use of their employees. Reserve families also need to be heard. My own family is a case in point.

The husband of my youngest daughter is an Information Technology manager. In January 2003, he was fulfilling the requirements of his full time civilian job, completing a Master’s Degree, and anticipating a promotion to Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve. He and my daughter were the parents of a three year old and a two year old and they were looking forward to the birth of their third child a few weeks later.

Thirty days prior to the birth, he was mobilized and immediately deployed to the Persian Gulf. A few weeks later, he was part of the Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade engaged in fierce fighting from An Nasiryah to Baghdad. He returned home in July with the Presidential Unit Citation and other awards. It soon became clear, however, that his Reserve unit would be mobilized again within the next 12-24 months. His professional and personal circumstances simply did not permit him to leave again so soon. So, only four years short of a military retirement, he found it necessary to remain a civilian when his current enlistment expired. We cannot afford to lose quality Reservists like him.

Under the circumstances I have described, I see no way to address the hard questions that lie before us except through a presidential and congressionally-sponsored commission of bi-partisan experts, not unlike those who served on the 9/11 Commission. Subject matter expertise would be essential, but not sufficient for commission members. Credibility, balanced judgment, personal experience, an open mind, and other similar attributes would be required. Precisely because major changes in force structure are political in nature, the best elements of the political process would have to be welcomed.

To be clear about what I am suggesting, I propose a commission with a broader charter than that contemplated by the recently adopted FY 2005 National Defense Authorization Act. The commission I propose would focus on the force structure, roles and missions of all of the Armed Forces, not just the Reserve components, and it would do so not in the context of the current DoD concept of “Homeland Defense,” but rather in the context of the broader concept of “Homeland Security” and the nation’s national security vulnerabilities at home, as well as overseas.

All interested parties would have to be heard. The work of the commission could not be seen as usurping the constitutional role of the President or the Congress. Members of the commission would have to think in “time streams.” Recommendations on the future role and responsibilities of the Reserve components would have to be supported by relatively undisputed facts and first rate, independent rate analysis. The Department of Defense would have to be given full opportunity to react to the analysis and recommendations of the commission, either at the time of the next Quadrennial Defense Review, or separately.47 To the greatest extent possible, however, the worst elements of the political process would have to be excluded. It would be very important to marginalize special pleaders who view any potential change only from the narrow perspective of their particular constituencies.

This kind of idea would appear to be precisely what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff advocated recently. At a counterterrorism conference in late September, General Myers posed the following question: “Are we being as bold and innovative as we need to be?” He then declared “I don’t want to ask that question after… the next 9/11. The time to ask the question is now.”48

In her recent book on Statecraft, Margaret Thatcher reminds us that “It is always important in matters of high politics to know what you do not know. Those who think they know, but are mistaken, and act upon their mistakes, are the most dangerous people to have in charge.”49 I submit that on the high politics issue of the most appropriate structure of the Armed Forces for the complex and dangerous new world in which we now live, we do not yet know the correct answer and we don’t have much time to learn it. To put things in perspective, if the “detection and countering of the production, trafficking and use of illegal drugs” can be a “high priority national security mission of the Department of Defense”—and it was so declared by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 198950—it cannot be reasonably argued that the design of the Armed Forces for the protection of the American homeland from terrorist attacks which could involve weapons of mass destruction, is anything less.

I believe that now is the time to develop a bold and innovative new approach to the manning of our Armed Forces. Now is the time to seek a national consensus on the future composition, organization, and use of our Reserve components. Now is the time to recalibrate the Total Force Policy so that it more effectively achieves its original goal: “the most advantageous [Active/Reserve force] mix to support national strategy and meet the threat.”

It is entirely possible, of course, that the changes recommended by the commission I propose, would require increases, perhaps substantial increases in federal and perhaps state expenditures for security purposes.51 They might also require major changes in the roles and missions of the Active/Reserve components or the elimination or reduction of military units which are rooted in history and tradition. Such increases or changes would almost certainly be politically unpopular. But, political popularity is not the issue. The issue is clearly one of duty.

This point was made by Churchill in November 1936 in a speech on the floor of the House of Commons. During the course of a defense debate on the rapid growth of Germany’s air force, he turned to the government’s excuses for delays over the previous three years in embarking upon a rearmament program. “I have heard it said,” he declared, “that the Government had no [political] mandate for rearmament until the General Election. Such a doctrine is wholly inadmissible. The responsibility of Ministers for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact the prime object for which Governments come into existence.” 52

If we do anything less than face these difficult questions regarding the size, shape, and use of our Armed Forces directly, effectively, and soon, future generations of Americans will wonder in astonishment how we permitted parochial interests, tradition, selfish motives, temporary cost considerations, and simple bureaucratic inertia, to deter us from doing everything we could to “provide for the common defense.” So, I recommend that we get on with it!

The views expressed are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. government.


  1. ^Richard E. Neustadt, Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York: Free Press), 1986.
  2. ^The Reserve components of the Armed Forces include the Army National Guard, the Army Reserve, the Air National Guard, the Air Force Reserve, the Naval Reserve, and the Marine Corps Reserve. Together, the Reserve components constitute approximately 45 percent of the nation’s total military manpower.
  3. ^Secretary of Defense Melvin B. Laird, Memorandum to the Secretaries of the Military Departments, August 21, 1970.
  4. ^See Stephen M. Duncan, Citizen Warriors: America’s National Guard and Reserve Forces and the Politics of National Security (Novato: Presidio Press), 1997, pp. 140-146.
  5. ^A Report on the Navy’s Total Force FY 90, p.ii.
  6. ^Stephen M. Duncan, Memorandum to the Secretary of Defense, August 8, 1990.
  7. ^William Matthews, “Pentagon Insists on Call-up Authority,” Army Times, July 25, 1994, p.22.
  8. ^Deborah R. Lee, Remarks to the National Guard Association of the United States, Boston, MA, September 2, 1994.
  9. ^Stephen M. Duncan, Citizen Warriors: America’s National Guard and Reserve Forces and the Politics of National Security, op.cit.
  10. ^>Bill Burke, “Reservist Call-Up Draws Fire,” Norfolk Virginian Pilot, August 26, 2003.
  11. ^GAO-03-921, “DoD Actions Needed to Improve the Efficiency of Mobilizations for Reserve Forces,” Highlights, August 21, 2003.
  12. ^David Postman, “Rumsfeld Says Guard Should Be Focused on War,” Seattle Times, April 20, 2002, p.B1.
  13. ^James R. Helmly, “A Streamlined Army Reserve,” Washington Post, September 22, 2003, p.23.
  14. ^GAO-04-1031, “DoD Needs to Address Long-Term Reserve Force Availability and Related Mobilization and Demobilization Issues,” September, 2004, pp.1-2.
  15. ^The Defense Science Board was established in 1956. Its thirty-two members and seven ex-officio members are appointed for terms ranging from one to four years and are selected “on the basis of their preeminence in the fields of science, technology, and its application to military operations, research, engineering, manufacturing, and acquisition process.”
  16. ^Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Military Is Stretched Too Thin, Defense Board Warns,” Los Angeles Times, September 30, 2004.
  17. ^Robert B. Killebrew, “It Is a Daunting Time to be a Soldier,” (U.S. Naval Institute) Proceedings, June 2004, p.75.
  18. ^ Ibid.
  19. ^Rowan Scarborough, “Active-Duty Forces Taking Reserve Guard Missions,” Washington Times, November 11, 2002, p.A1.
  20. ^“Stop-loss” orders are effectively involuntary extensions of enlistment contracts which keep soldiers on active duty until ninety days after the return of their units from Afghanistan or Iraq. The objective is to keep units together for better cohesion during combat. Ultimately, the Army intends to implement a new personnel policy of “unit manning,” under which soldiers in a unit will remain together for three years, instead of being assigned to new duties in a process which continuously moves individuals into and out of units.
  21. ^Vincent J. Schodolski, “Pentagon Rule Worries Some,” Chicago Tribune, September 25, 2004.
  22. ^For the fiscal year ending 30 September 2004, the Army National Guard missed its recruiting goal by 12 percent. Most of the shortage was attributed to the reluctance of soldiers being released from the Active Army to join the National Guard. Richard Whittle, “As Army Holds Troops, Guard Loses Out,” Dallas Morning News, October 20, 2004.
  23. ^Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Army May Reduce Length of Tours in Combat Zones,” New York Times, September 27, 2004, p. 1.
  24. ^Ron Martz, “Part-Time Troops Assume Full-Time Roles in Combat,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 28, 2004, p.3.
  25. ^Sean D. Naylor, Megan Scully, “Future force: It’s about readiness, not end strength,” Times, November 1, 2004, p.18.
  26. ^Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Military Is Stretched Too Thin, Defense Board Warns,” op. cit.
  27. ^See Stephen M. Duncan, A War of a Different Kind: Military Force and America’s Search for Homeland Security (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press), 2004.
  28. ^A recently completed report of the Defense Science Board noted some of the differences between the Cold War and what it called a “vastly changed world.” They include the facts that our adversaries are not well known; familiar geographic boundaries are gone; the weapons capabilities of adversaries are not well known; potential adversaries have different goals, objectives and motivation; and the familiar “indications and warning” are not very useful and effective new ones have not been developed. Defense Science Board 2003 Summer Study, DoD Roles and Missions in Homeland Security, Vol. II-Part B: Supporting Reports, September 2004, p.4
  29. ^Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), “Secretary Rumsfeld Pentagon Town Hall Meeting” news transcript, November 12, 2002, Washington, D.C. (emphasis added).
  30. ^Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), “Pentagon Town Hall Meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld,” news transcript, March 6, 2003, Washington, D.C. (emphasis added).
  31. ^Office of Homeland Security, National Strategy for Homeland Security, July 2002, p.1.
  32. ^Gary Cecchine, Michael A. Wermuth, Roger C. Molander, K. Scott McMahon, Jesse D. Malkin, Jennifer Brower, John D. Woodard, Donna F. Barbisch, “Triage for Civil Support: Using Military Medical Assets to Respond to Terrorist Attacks, RAND, 2004, pp. xvii-xix.(emphasis added).
  33. ^Ibid.
  34. ^GAO-05-21, “Reserve forces: Actions Needed to Better Prepare the National Guard for Future Overseas and Domestic Missions,” November 2004, p.4.
  35. ^Lynn Davis, David E. Mosher, Richard Brennan, Michael Breenberg, Scott McMahon, Charles Yost, “Army Forces for Homeland Security,” RAND, 2004, pp. xiv-xv.
  36. ^Defense Science Board 2003 Summer Study, op.cit., pp.7, 74-75, 82.
  37. ^Robert B. Killebrew, “It Is a Daunting Time to be a Soldier,” op.cit.
  38. ^George Cahlink, “Changing of the Guard,” Government Executive, April 15, 2004, p. 44.
  39. ^ Ibid. (emphasis added).
  40. ^See Tom Donnelly, Vance Serchuk, “A Bigger, Badder, Better Army,” The Weekly Standard, November 29, 2004, p.17.
  41. ^GAO-04-1031.
  42. ^John R. Brinkerhoff, “Restore the Militia for Homeland Security,” Journal of Homeland Security, November, 2001.
  43. ^U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Incident Management System, March 1, 2004, Chapter III, 41A1.
  44. ^The draft version of the new “Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support” reportedly calls for a layered set of defenses that would present “multiple barriers” to future attacks. Reservists would be assigned addition missions in air and missile defense, maritime security, and land defense. Jason Sherman, “US Drafts Homeland Strategy,” Defense News, September 27, 2004, p.1, Jason Sherman, “Plan adds new roles for Guard, Reserve,” Army Times, October 25, 2004, p.31. The Defense Science Board has also recommended that the relationship between U.S. Northern Command, the National Guard Bureau, and the Guard units of the separate states be “strengthened.” Defense Science Board 2003 Summer Study, op.cit., p.87.
  45. ^See my discussion of the attempt by the Bush administration in 1992 to restructure the Armed Forces during a presidential election year in Stephen M. Duncan, Citizen Warriors: America’s National Guard and Reserve Forces and the Politics of National Security, op. cit.
  46. ^United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clauses 12, 13.
  47. ^>In July 2003, the GAO recommended just such an independent assessment of the force structure. The Department of Defense objected to the recommendation on the ground that “force structure changes should be determined through the ongoing force management processes that will culminate with the fiscal year 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review.” GAO-03-670, “DoD Needs to Assess the Structure of U.S. Forces for Domestic Military Missions,” July 2003, p.4.
  48. ^Jim Garamone, “Chairman Poses Question to Counterterror Experts,” American Forces Information Service, September 27, 2004.
  49. ^Margaret Thatcher, Statecraft (London: Harper and Collins), 2002, p.104.
  50. ^On September 18, 1989, while I was serving as the DoD Coordinator of Drug Enforcement Policy and Support, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney issued formal guidance for the Commanders of the Unified and Specified Commands on the implementation of the President’s National Drug Control Strategy. The guidance defined the drug interdiction mission as a “high priority national security mission.” (emphasis added).
  51. ^One recent estimate is that 5-6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, or $500- $600 billion per year, would be required to build the force that is needed. See Tom Donnelly, Vance Serchuk, “A Bigger, Badder, Better Army,” op.cit.
  52. ^Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (New York: Hewey Holt And Company, 1991), p. 565.