By Master Sgt. Michel SauretJune 18, 2015
DARIEN, Ill. - After World War II, Winston Churchill is credited with saying, "Gentlemen, we have run out of money. Now we have to think."
The chief executive officer of the Army Reserve repeated that quote when he visited the 416th Theater Engineer Command (TEC) to speak with its command leaders and headquarters staff in Darien, Illinois, June 16.
To be fair, even though the Army Reserve faces budget uncertainty, it is not financially broke, nor does it face the same problems Churchill did. Overall, the Army Reserve's budget is projected at a slight increase over the next two fiscal years, said Mr. James Balocki, chief executive officer and director of services and installations for the Army Reserve.
Balocki works in the Office of the Chief of Army Reserve and has oversight responsibility for 12,000 civilian employees and manages the contracts and installation operations and services that support the 200,000-strong command.
On his visits to Army Reserve commands around the country, Balocki stresses to leaders that throwing money at a problem doesn't solve anything. Additionally, the Army Reserve is in the process of losing approximately a thousand civilians from its workforce, plus it will downsize its overall Soldier force over the next few years.
Under these circumstances, leaders must apply strategic planning and hard thinking to meet the Army's continual needs.
"The first underlying principle of any military operation is good planning. ... But it's a skill. It's got to be practiced ... And then it involves some feedback, and usually that involves some level of scar tissue being added ... Some successes and some failures," said Balocki.
Balocki has been in this position for 18 months, and already he's experienced his share of lessons learned and scar tissue. He was there when he received a call on Dec. 3 - just weeks before Christmas - that RLAS went down. RLAS is the system used to pay Army Reserve Soldiers. In response, he witnessed finance Soldiers and civilians pull together to process more than 180,000 Soldiers' payments manually. During that period, they actually outperformed the system with fewer pay errors than RLAS would have produced. That was a great display of good stewardship, he said.
He also knows of the frustrations that full-time Soldiers and civilians face in performing their day-to-day jobs, whether due to a clogged and slow network, or because of policies that resulted in unexpected "second- and third-order effects."
"The point of these battlefield circulations is to demonstrate to those units, any member of that organization, that you are present and among them. That you really are genially concerned about having difficult conversations because these are difficult times," he said.
Already Balocki is two-thirds of the way through visiting every major Army Reserve command across the country. He plans on visiting the rest by the end of this year.
"I hope that folks carry away from this is the idea that we'll be okay. The army and the Army and Army Reserve are strong, solid institutions that have a long history and relevance for our nation that I don't see changing in the near - or even long-term - future," he said.
Balocki's visit in Darien began with a briefing from the TEC's leadership on the command's mission. Then, in the afternoon, Balocki held a town-hall meeting with the headquarters' staff to stress the importance of using resources wisely and answer any of their concerns.
Staff asked questions on a variety of topics to include: Army Reserve units supporting deployment needs, how to improve information technology support down to the company level, how to properly budget for upcoming fiscal years, how to better manage training days and more.
In visiting the 416th, Balocki learned of the TEC's redesign plans and its training process to validate as a Joint Task Force command within three years. The redesign would keep the TEC relevant in the ongoing evolution of the Army's needs.
"It's heartening to see an organization as a learning organization, that it's attempting to think about its relevance in the current environment and think about the future environment ... This demonstrates to me incredible mental flexibility and agility on behalf of the TEC," said Balocki.
That's a recurring theme he's seen throughout the Army Reserve during his visits: command leaders who have a desire to solve the problems they face, while making the most out of the limited resources they have at hand.
"Managing resources is really every leader's responsibility. It doesn't start or stop with me," said Balocki. "It really is a continuum of requirements to ensure that the taxpayers of this nation are getting the security they need and deserve at the most affordable cost."