Pentagon ponders changing Reserves' role

Problem with big call-ups, need for specialties noted

January 26, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Noting problems with the mass call-up of Reserve and National Guard forces, Pentagon leaders are rethinking the way America goes to war, even questioning whether relying on these citizen soldiers to perform some crucial duties hamstrings urgent military operations.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld now openly expresses unhappiness with how military mobilizations - for the war in Afghanistan, for domestic security and now for a possible war with Iraq - have been planned and carried out since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He says they caused needless hardship for too many members of the Guard and Reserve, for their families and for their employers.

"They're perfectly willing to be called up, but they only want to be called up when they're needed and for something that's a real job," Rumsfeld said. "And they prefer not to get jerked around and called up two or three or four months before they're needed, and then find they're not needed and sent back home with a `Sorry about that.'"

As the Pentagon orders the largest mobilization since the Persian Gulf war, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was reviewing decisions dating to the post-Vietnam era that reassigned many important missions from the active-duty military to part-time forces.

"We need to look at that mix very carefully and see if we put, in some cases, 100 percent of our capability in the Reserve component," Myers said.

The current approach has created a situation where "you can't even do some of the things you need to do day to day without calling up the Reserves," he said.

For example, in devising war plans for Iraq, a desert nation that fired chemical weapons against Iran and its own population, planners had to wrestle with the fact that 100 percent of the Army's water supply battalions and 100 percent of its chemical brigades are in the Reserves.

Almost all Army civil affairs personnel, who help rebuild war-torn nations, reside in the Reserve arm. So do more than 80 percent of medical brigades and psychological operations units. Two-thirds of the military police battalions - an important mission in an era of heightened terrorist threat - are in the Reserves.

Just as Army reservists and National Guard members have joined in operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Kuwait and South Korea, Air Force reservists and National Guard pilots patrol skies over Afghanistan and bomb Iraqi air defenses in the "no flight" zones.

Full-time Air Force crews fly 92 percent of the bomber assignments, a holdover from their Cold War nuclear missions, but active-duty crews fly only 61 percent of fighter sorties, and less than half of the tanker, airlift and rescue missions.

The Naval Reserve provides 100 percent of the personnel for important maritime assignments, including logistics support squadrons and heavy logistics support, and for a crucial port security job called mobile inshore undersea warfare.

Similarly, military intelligence staffing has shrunk 27 percent since the gulf war, and reservists are essential to staffing of intelligence centers that compile data and write analyses.

But mass mobilizations in the past year and a half have raised concerns at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. Many look to streamline the system to more nimbly counter the unpredictable terrorist threat. Others are asking whether the number of active-duty personnel is too small if the U.S. military cannot fulfill global commitments without relying so heavily on the Guard and Reserve.

"In the aftermath of Sept. 11, we realized that the enemy was on the doorstep, that we would not have warning, might not have time to mobilize and train for a great length of time, because the world had changed," said Thomas F. Hall, the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.

Hall has completed the first phase of a review asking whether some capabilities in the Reserve component should go back to the active force.

Specialties assigned to the reserves "are the kind of people we use every time," Hall said. "We are going to the well time and time again with the same units each year. We are simply going to have to change that."

Suggestions to move Reserve skills back to the standing force would slam against budget constraints capping the numbers of active-duty military members.

The first draft of Hall's review has gone to the armed services for analysis and comment, and officials are hinting that it could be the Army - which is providing the bulk of the Guard and Reserve call-ups - to first feel the pressure. Some of Rumsfeld's senior advisers have advocated moving some of the Army's brigades - or even divisions - into the Reserve to free money for new technologies, or room for moving the high-demand Reserve specialties back into the standing Army.

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