Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Future of the Reserves and the National Guard: A Conference Report

The Future of the Reserves and the National Guard: A Conference Report

The Foreign Policy Research Institute convened a conference on the future of the reserves and National Guard on 6 December 2004 at the Union League of Philadelphia. A very distinguished group drawn from the current and retired ranks of the military (active and reserve component), academia, and policy analysis convened to explore the context, culture, and uses of the reserve components (RC) in contemporary American defense policy. Michael P. NoonanJames Kurth, the Claude Smith Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College, editor of Orbis, and senior fellow at the FPRI; and Harvey Sicherman, the president and director of the FPRI, served as panel moderators. The Hon. Stephen Duncan, the Director of the Institute for Homeland Security Studies at the National Defense University and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs under Presidents Reagan and Bush (41), delivered the luncheon keynote address entitled “A War of a Different Kind and the Reconstruction of U.S. Reserve Forces.”

The conference was structured around three panels that addressed the so-called Abrams Doctrine and the Total Force policy, the citizen-soldier ideal and reserve culture, and RC roles, missions, and assumptions. For each panel, a single presentation served as the starting point of a discussion amongst the presenter and the other three panelists. In attendance were over eighty individuals drawn from academia, non-governmental organizations, the media, the military, and the interested public. The following is a brief summary of the conference proceedings. The complete collection of conference papers will be published in 2005.

The views expressed or reported upon within this report are those of the respective speakers and should not be construed to represent any agency of the U.S. government or other institution.

The Program on National Security of the FPRI gratefully acknowledges the financial support provided for this conference by Dr.John M. Templeton, Jr.W.W. Keen Butcher, the Hamilton Family Foundation, and Dr. John Hillen. Without their support this conference and a follow-on project dealing with U.S. military strategy and force structure would not be possible.

The Abrams Doctrine and the Total Force

James Jay Carafano, a senior research fellow on defense and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, set the historical context of the so-called Abrams Doctrine — named after former Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams — and the Total Force policy. He prefaced his comments by noting that they mainly dealt with the Army reserve components.

Carafano declared that little evidence supports the belief that the increased reliance on the RC after the ending of the draft in 1973 was meant as an extra-constitutional trip-wire on presidential war powers. In other words, the increased reliance on the RC in and of itself was not intended to force presidents to assemble public support prior to undertaking military action. Instead, he argued that increased reliance on the RC was really meant to expand the active component (AC) of the Army from 13 to 16 divisions by placing “round-out” reserve brigades into AC divisions.* As evidence that the Abrams Doctrine was not meant as a trip-wire, he offered three points: (1) in the post-Vietnam period, military thinking shifted totally to Europe and that the decisive phase there would be in the first 30 days, meaning that an RC mobilization requiring 80 to 180 days would make the AC less reliant on the RC; (2) the shift towards using the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions as rapid deployment forces for the conduct of quick wars meant the AC wanted less reliance on the RC; and finally (3) General Abrams was from a generation of officers that prided itself on providing purist rather than politicized military advice to civilian decision-makers.

Shifting his attention to the Total Force, Carafano stated, “what the Total Force policy did in practice was it accomplished [former Secretary of Defense Melvin] Laird’s goal of ensuring the numbers to meet all the national security requirements, but it never came close to ensuring that those forces actually had the readiness to actually do the missions they were allocated for.” Even as resources expanded in the 1980s, the AC received the vast majority of this funding while the RC virtually stood still. He said that three core operating procedures of the Total Force ensure that the readiness of the RC is insufficient to do the assigned missions: (1) the RC developed “mirror-image” force structure to the AC such as divisions which were inefficiently structured and organized and expensive to maintain; (2) the high “first to fight” readiness for AC units ensured that the RC would get the leftover funding; and, (3) cascading readiness ensured that the RC would not modernize optimally to meet its needs and capabilities. “So what the Total Force concept does, really, is strengthen the active force and ensure that [with respect to] the reserve force the numbers are kept but the capability is not. And we see that in the stresses in Desert Storm, and what we’re living now, the stresses we’re seeing on the reserve now, is really the legacy of the Total Force concept.”

Carafano then discussed the future of the Total Force. First, he stated that as more AC forces are pulled back to the United States as envisioned in the Global Posture Review of 2004, the distinction between the AC and RC will diminish. More AC units stationed in the U.S. will create ties with local communities that will de-emphasize and reduce the notion that the RC is a better link to the American people. Secondly, the growing capacity of contractors on the battlefield will reduce reliance on the reserves. Last, and most important, “the military as a percentage of the American population is going to continue to decline, and therefore_the notion that you could rely on [the RC] to kind of affect every local community and kind of whip up support or something is going to be less and less, because less and less of us are going to be in uniform.” On a concluding note, he stated “going forward with the total force concept as an organizing principle for the 21st century national security needs would actually be a really bad idea.”

Allan R. Millett, the Raymond E. Mason, Jr. Professor of Military History at The Ohio State University and a retired Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (USMCR), cautioned that the differences in functions across the services’ reserve components means that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for the Total Force policy. He stated that the Army and its RC are currently experiencing growing pains getting accustomed to the demands of unit rotation as opposed to their past practice of using individual replacements. The AC is getting used to to this, but the RC is having difficulties as its units rotate back to the U.S. Next, he stated that the tremendous employment problems being faced by Guardsmen and reservists mean that RC membership incentives need to be reexamined. Lastly, he said that policymakers needed to “_decide whether we want a reserve policy dictated by the experiences that we’re now having in the Central Command commitment, or do we want to examine [whether it is] possible to look at a reserve policy which will support the war on terrorism but then also be applicable to other types of situations.” He noted that allies such as the South Koreans were concerned about the current stretch of operational commitments of the U.S. military — active and reserve.

Colonel (ret.) Mike Doubler, the author of the official history of the National Guard (republished as Civilian in Peace, Soldier in War), focused particularly upon the Army RC, especially the National Guard. On the issue of readiness he argued that, “you can have all the policies you want that say it’s going to generate readiness, but if you do not give the commensurate resources to go with that, you will have nothing.” He noted that while resources are generally adequate today, there are still problems with getting people into army and air installations to receive adequate training and that there is insufficient access to health care for citizen-soldiers mobilized for more than two years.

Turning his attention to the Total Force, he argued that the lack of conscription now and in the future means, “we are permanently wedded to some form of a Total Force policy and a reliance on our citizen-soldiers.” The AC has grown reliant on the RC due to the drawdown during the 1990s. However, adjustments will be necessary. Finally, he stated that while he agreed with Carafano that the Abrams Doctrine was not a trip-wire, he disagreed about the RC’s role in generating public support for the military. “I do believe in our local communities out in the American heartland the National Guard is thought of as one of our first responders, and I think it’s integral to the link between the average American person and our military institutions.”

Rounding out the panel was Frank Hoffman, a national security affairs analyst, consultant, and retired Lieutenant Colonel in the USMCR. Hoffman agreed that while manpower and efficiency were the primary drivers for General Abrams, “_there is a sub-context that we need to understand that comes from the lessons of Vietnam and the missed lessons of Vietnam and the mythologies that come from the military from Vietnam.” He noted that the Department of Defense’s website officially endorses the Abrams Doctrine to ensure national will through the mobilization of the RC during conflicts. (See: According to Hoffman, however, presidents do not seem to see it as a limitation. President Clinton, for example, deployed reserve forces often to the Balkans during the 1990s without apparently worrying about public support. The social dimension was only one element of strategy and the protracted nature of the global war on terrorism will require policymakers to take a holistic view of national security policy.

The Citizen-Soldier: the Ideal and Reserve Culture

America’s leading military sociologist Charles Moskos, professor emeritus of sociology at Northwestern University and former U.S. Army draftee and reservist, began his paper presentation by stating that it was a given that in terms of people our AC and RC are under-strength. The reserves now supply 40+ percent of forces currently serving in Iraq and this trend will continue. He reported that a survey that he conducted in Iraq in 2003, by invitation of Central Command combatant commander General John Abizaid, showed that AC morale was higher than he expected but that RC morale was much lower. The RC felt like second-class citizens due to training and equipment issues, etc. Moskos stated, however, that this was fixable and was not mission-oriented. “Reservists frequently have non-monetary motives, very importantly, not only patriotism but having an added dimension to their life, but there is a double-bind that reservists confront that the active duties confront at a much lower level: family, employment, things of this sort.”

In order to address future manpower issues, Moskos argued, we needed to re-define the citizen-soldier concept in line with the realities of the 21st century. He pointed out that the personnel officials within the Department of Defense drastically under-appreciate the demographic effects of higher education on younger people. Today, two-thirds of high school graduates go on to some form of higher learning and half of those are earning bachelor’s degrees. “So we have one-third of all youth today are college graduates or will shortly be college graduates, and yet the number of enlisted recruits with college diplomas is minuscule in the active duty force,” said Moskos. In surveys that he has conducted at Northwestern, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Arizona, and at the University of Illinois-Chicago, he says that 23 percent answered that they would seriously consider joining the military if they could serve a short-term enlistment (15 months total; as opposed to current options of 18-24 months). In a follow-on survey in October 2004 at Northwestern, he was surprised to learn that 11 percent of students would be very likely to enlist, and another 18 percent said they would seriously consider enlisting, to serve as prison guards at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay if their student loans were forgiven and they were given generous GI Bill benefits for graduate school.

Short-term enlistments, he argued, would be the only way for the military to make itself attractive to college graduates who likely would not enlist under any other circumstances. If you could attract 10 percent of the annual number of college graduates that would translate into 120,000 potential recruits. In absence of such a new stream of recruits he stated that in order to make mission the military would: (1) lower entrance standards, (2) raise enlistment bonuses and pay which can lead to higher attrition, (3) increasingly rely on contractors whose costs are hard to determine because their funding comes from the operations budget, or (4) rely more heavily on non-American recruits. At this point, he noted, U.S. forces serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom include three percent in the ranks who are non-U.S. citizens.

He closed by saying, “we need new thinking on the citizen-soldier in the 21st century. Such a short-term recruit would be a supplement, not a replacement, for reserve components. Let us keep in mind, too, there are other long- term benefits not just to the military but to the larger society if we had privileged youth serving as well as those who come from the working class, because these will be tomorrow’s leaders.”

John Allen Williams, Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago and a retired Captain in the Naval Reserve, began by acknowledging that there is no political support for a draft, now or in the future, and that Moskos’ idea of short-term enlistments should be explored. He said that short-term enlistments could help personnel requirements for the AC and RC, but also provide societal and individual benefits by expanding the base of those who serve. Turning his attention to the reserves, Williams stated that the RC has very important manifest and latent functions. In manifest terms they support the AC by: increasing the size of active forces, providing capabilities not found in the AC, and providing a military capability to the states. More important, the RC’s latent function provides a partial linkage between the AC and civil society and also serves as “a check on military actions.” He finished his remarks by stating that the RC is a vital force multiplier. It is increasingly difficult to do anything in support of U.S. global strategy without mobilizing the reserves, but to be effective they must have the respect of the AC. “To get that respect, they have to deserve it, and I think it’s a reminder to all of us that war is too important to be left to full-time professionals alone,” said Williams.

Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Ralph Peters, a writer, strategist, and commentator, opened his remarks by disagreeing with Moskos’ call for short-term enlistments. He argued that bringing in college graduates on special terms would hurt AC morale. “If you’re going to bring in more college kids, then put them down with the NASCAR kids, where they will learn a little bit about America,” he said. He said that he did not necessarily disagree with providing increased educational benefits to service-members, but they should not be targeted solely on college enlistees.

Shifting his remarks to the RC, he remarked that the most crucial factor affecting the reserves and National Guard today is not money, nor motivation, but instead it is an issue of time. The complexity of modern military operations makes it difficult for the reserves to maintain skills and readiness. That being said, he affirmed that the RC does link the military and society, and that even if you doubled or tripled the size of the AC he would want the RC there because they link the structures of everyday life to the military and do not allow war-making to become too easy. The RC, however, had to embrace effectiveness and the leadership needed to get over parochial interests. Finally, he argued that in order to fix recruiting problems, serious consideration should be given to creative solutions such as giving tax incentives to employers.

Richard H. Kohn, Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and former Chief Historian of the United States Air Force, opened by commending Moskos’ call for expanding national service but later stated that it would be too expensive and might cause negative socio-economic divisions in the force based upon assignments. The major problem today, according to Kohn, is that the realities of America’s global commitments were no longer “conducive to or appropriate for a citizen army or citizen-soldiers.” Furthermore, the notion of the citizen-soldier is dead. Kohn argued that the RC are now part-time professionals. Citing survey data from a Triangle Institute for Strategic Studies study of 1998-99, Kohn noted that RC officer attitudes were “almost exactly congruent with their regular counterparts in values, attitudes, opinions, and perspectives.” What is needed is a radical, holistic review and reconsideration of the entire military establishment. Kohn endorsed the creation of a national blue ribbon commission on the future of the national defense of the United States in order to get over political hurdles.

Roles, Missions, & Assumptions

For the final panel, Frank Hoffman delivered a paper addressing the roles, missions, and assumptions of the RC. A critical problem, according to Hoffman, is that “Despite the consequences of 9/11, we have not examined obsolete assumptions about the way we are organized nor admitted that the enemy and this entire way of war challenges our mind-set and approach to security, all of our little institutional boundaries, blinders, and stovepipes.” He began by laying out four schools of thought for organizing the AC and RC in order to cope with current operational realities: the military revolutionaries, the strict constructionists, the neo-traditionalists, and the global realists. The military revolutionaries would rely heavily on technology to solve military problems; the AC would be smaller than today’s forces and would focus only on warfighting while the RC would also be smaller and would focus entirely on stability and support operations (SASO). The strict constructionists go by the Constitution itself and prefer a smaller AC force structure and budget and a larger RC force structure and budget. The neo-traditionalists hark back to the Second World War and prefer basically the current system in terms of AC force structure and budget and the RC focused primarily on warfighting, but with an increase in modernization funding. Last, the global realists believe in American primacy and prefer massive increases in AC force structure and budgets while the RC would get slightly smaller and be used solely as a strategic reserve for the AC.

Hoffman found all of the above schools to be wanting. Seeking a synthesis, Hoffman laid out two propositions about the RC. First, the RC are critical in terms of providing a link between the military and the American public. And second, the RC are necessary to cope with uncertainty by providing ready elements in times of crisis — internationally and domestically. In order for the U.S. to be capable of dealing with the new forms of warfare it must retain “conventional” dominance. Ready, capable RC forces help ensure such a capability. Hoffman cautioned, however, that the RC must be fully trained prior to being alerted and mobilized rather than the old system of being alerts followed by training and then finally mobilizing. This will require “higher levels of readiness requiring more focused preparation and organizational alignments to provide first- class training during peacetime.”

Hoffman, dealing mainly with the Army, proposed an RC force structure to deal with warfighting, stability and support operations, and homeland security missions. He called for 5 division equivalents (5 light maneuver brigades, 5 medium, and 5 heavy) of the National Guard to be used as strategic reserve to be trained and prepared primarily, but not exclusively, for warfighting. Next, he recommended that one or two divisions comprised of “stability enhancement” brigades be established in the Army Reserve. These units would work in post-conflict environments to help bridge the gap between winning the battlefield and winning the war.

Last, he recommended the establishment of three division equivalents (12 brigades) in the National Guard to deal with homeland defense issues. The National Guard is uniquely suited for this because of its Title 32 status — which makes it a state force not subject to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 unless mobilized by the President — and the fact that it is “already forward deployed in 4,000 sites near future battlefields in Pennsylvania, Washington, New York, or Oklahoma.” Of these 12 brigades, possibly one would be assigned to each of the Department of Homeland Security’s 10 national regions, one would be earmarked as a reinforcing brigade for special events domestically or internationally, and the last would be designated for national missile defense requirements. Across the board, Hoffman asserted, “high levels of readiness in terms of structure, training, equipment for specific missions will be the hallmark of the reserve component in the future, and while the Guard may be, as a whole, dual-mission capable, it must field capable units for specific missions.”

Hoffman concluded: “Today’s Guard and Reserve must evolve in response to the strategic, political, and technological revolutions that swirl about us. Standing still may be an option, but it is not an option that serves the nation, the taxpayer, and even the Guard well in the long run.”

Richard I. Stark, Jr., a senior fellow with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a retired Army officer, opened by stating that the increased reliance on the RC began well before 9/11. The use of the RC in Bosnia was a real watershed. “There [was] little debate about what this did to the compact or the agreement between the Guard and Reserve members, and I think that perhaps there was a rather shortsighted view that this made the Reserve component more relevant and that attached to that relevance would be increasing resources_.” He warned that while the RC was doing exemplary work there was a limit about how often these individuals could be called upon. He advised that RC resources needed to be commensurate with their assigned tasks and that there needed to be a fundamental shift in how service members are utilized — both in terms of assignment flexibility and in terms of understanding what they are willing to sign up for. More pointedly, he suggested that those who voluntarily perform some sort of national service, whether military (AC or RC) or civilian (such as the Peace Corps), ought to have a tax deferment or tax avoidance benefit for the rest of their lives.

Antulio J. Echevarria II, the Director of National Security Affairs and Director of Research of the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College and a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, questioned whether Hoffman’s force structure was adequate in the context of contemporary U.S. commitments. According to him, time requirements are problematic for the RC to create new capabilities in an era where requirements are constantly changing. What is really needed is a top-down and bottom-up review of the force structure that looks at what increasing civilian capabilities mean for the current force structure and also what sort of forces will be necessary 5 or 10 years from now. Echevarria noted that technological change and the realities of modern war mean that “_we may be at an era where we need something entirely different, we need to re-look at the whole idea of what the RC should be and how it should look.”

Jack Thomas Tomarchio, a senior fellow of the FPRI, a partner of Hill Solutions, LLC, and a Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, noted that the high tempo of operations for the RC since 9/11 has caused great stress on individual soldiers, their families, and employers. Despite this, the RC are performing magnificently, but the old RC paradigm no longer works. The RC must: (1) be given realistic, definable, and achievable goals and missions; (2) have training that reflect those goals and missions; (3) receive more robust and realistic training with AC units and more AC personnel should be assigned to their units; (4) receive family support services on par with those provided the AC; (5) consider whether roles such as military police, civil affairs, transportation, and logistics might better be handled by contractors; (6) consider shifting units such as military intelligence to the AC; and, (7) decide whether more homeland security and SASO-related units rather than combat arms units be placed in the National Guard.


While not all participants share these views, during the concluding plenary session Harvey Sicherman summarized a few points of broad agreement:

  • The stresses on the RC began well before 9/11. As the active component shrank during the 1990s, the reserves became more important, but frequent deployments began to compromise the part-time nature of the force. Iraq accelerated these trends.
  • The reserves remain an important mechanism for maintaining a link between the military and American civil society. But the concept of the citizen-soldier itself is under stress. “Patriotism” should be redefined to include a presidential call for national service. To broaden participation, AC and RC volunteers might receive incentives such as favorable tax arrangements; RC employers might also receive tax benefits.
  • The War on Terrorism is a new and different struggle where the front is everywhere. Guard and Reserve roles need additional definition with respect to overseas missions (warfighting and stability operations) and homeland security. Concerted effort needs to be put in to work with the Congress, the state governors, and the leaderships of the National Guard Association and Reserve Officers Association to convince them that force structure adjustments are necessary.


  • * From the Second World War until the present, Army divisions had been made up of three “maneuver” brigades. The round-out brigade concept, which lasted until the early 1990s, simply substituted an RC maneuver brigade for an AC brigade in selected divisions.

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