FORT HOOD, Texas (Feb. 8, 2016) -- Although the number of Army National Guard and Reserve troops deploying overseas has diminished considerably since the height of the Middle East conflicts, the Army still needs reserve-component units to mobilize for missions.

Between 2005 and 2009, First Army mobilized nearly 90,000 Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers per year. That number is smaller today - closer to 20,000 or 25,000 - but those troops remain critical to accomplishing the Army's ongoing missions in locations such as Kuwait, Africa, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Philippines and the National Capital Region, according to participants in the First Army Mobilization Summit held last week on Fort Hood.

"As our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has gone down, the assumption was that we'd use the Army National Guard and Army Reserve less," said Col. Chuck Hensley, director of plans for U.S. Forces Command. "But, because of the way the Army is structured, and because the world is less stable, we still have a requirement for the Army National Guard and Army Reserve to deploy in support of Army requirements. Future operations will be a total force."

Hensley and more than 100 other mobilization experts and senior leaders from organizations including the Department of the Army, U.S. Forces Command, the National Guard, Army Reserve and First Army spent nearly three days at the summit brainstorming ways to make the process of mobilizing reserve-component Soldiers more efficient and consistent.

In one working group, Hensley and his teammates were charged with discussing operational impacts due to funding shortages. A major question facing him and the other experts in the room, he said, was "how do you pay for it" when "it" is bringing Soldiers from reserve to active status - training them and covering all the associated costs, such as food, housing, pay and allowances.

For more than a decade, Congress provided the Army with extra funding to cover these costs. Now, though, the "funding faucet" has been turned down to a relative trickle.

That was just one of the challenges faced by the experts at the mobilization summit, and just one reason why First Army - the organization that mobilizes, trains, deploys and demobilizes all Army National Guard and Army Reserve forces throughout the continental United States - put the event together.

"We see instability in the world increasing and force strength decreasing," said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Colt, First Army Division West commanding general. "In the current fiscally-restricted environment, with a smaller force, access to the Reserve Component is absolutely essential. We recognize the complexity of mobilization and wanted to bring together the community of interest - the stakeholders.

"A number of our plans and policies regarding mobilization apply to a different strategic environment. It's time to revisit them."

Curtis Bell, the mobilization team leader in the National Guard Bureau Logistics Division, served as a member of the summit's equipment validation working group.

"Our goal is to develop a process that will be less taxing for Army National Guard and Army Reserve units, because they have a limited number of days to prepare their equipment prior to deploying," Bell said. He and the other working group members discussed the relative merits of having units prepare their equipment at their home stations or at mobilization stations, immediately before deploying.

In what the working group described as a "quick win," representatives from Army Materiel Command agreed to conduct equipment inspections at the home stations of Army Reserve and National Guard units, a change that should relieve some logistical pressure from the mobilization process.

Other working groups at the summit tackled topics including training support, maintenance and ammunition support, and the potential expansion of the Continental United States Replacement Center on Fort Bliss, Texas, which is run by First Army Division West's 5th Armored Brigade.

The mobilization mission is enduring, said Col. Robert Robinson, chief of mobilization for the Department of the Army. "It's not a question of if [the Army will need the Reserve Component], but of how many people. Regardless of the scenario, the Active Component needs the Reserve Component to accomplish the mission."

The mobilization summit got participants "on a path," Robinson said. "We're all rolling together on this thing. We looked at the problem set through one set of eyes, and we're coming out of this with one common purpose."

At the conclusion of the summit, First Army commanding general, Lt. Gen. Michael Tucker, said, "I feel like there's been a sharing of knowledge of all the stakeholders who support the mobilization of Army National Guard and Army Reserve units. Each stakeholder is key and essential to the success of rapid mobilization, but not one stakeholder alone can do it."

"It takes a village," Tucker said, to come up with solutions to the challenges facing the mobilization enterprise partners who work together to deploy reserve-component units to overseas mission locations.

"This totally integrated approach is essential to solve efficiencies in meeting combatant commander requirements."

Tucker said he expects to see the Army implement changes recommended by summit participants by June.