By Fred W. Baker IIIFebruary 28, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 28, 2007) - The Defense Department is committed to implementing changes in policy that will mean fewer, shorter and more predictable deployments for reserve-component troops, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the National Guard's 54 adjutants general yesterday.
Speaking to the Adjutants General Association of the United States mid-winter conference, Gates said his goal is for Guard members to serve a one-year deployment no more often than every five years.
This met with resounding applause by the adjutants general, whose state forces have been strained in the past five years supporting federal and state missions of historical proportions.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 275,000 Guard members have been mobilized in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. This, in addition to state emergencies such as snowstorms, floods and forest fires, and border-patrol missions have heavily strained pools of National Guard troops available for deployment. In a historical mobilization in response to a natural disaster, 50,000 Guard members were called up in 2005 from across the nation in support of Hurricane Katrina disaster relief.
Until now, National Guard troops called up for the Army's standard one-year tour in Iraq would actually serve for 18 months, including pre-deployment training and post-deployment administrative requirements. Gates is imposing a one-year limitation to the length of deployment for National Guard Soldiers effectively immediately, he said.
The defense secretary stressed, though, that some troops may be caught in the start of the cycle and face deployments faster than once every five years. His department is looking at developing compensation for those who serve additional mobilizations, and officials are reviewing hardship policies that allow for the exemption of some troops based on personal circumstances. The one-to-five-year cycle does not include activations for state emergencies.
Gates said the influx of 92,000 troops into the active Army and Marine Corps over the next five years should help take some of the load off of the reserve component. He said the larger pool of ground forces available will make it less likely Guard troops will be needed for deployments.
"The goal is to distribute more fairly and more effectively the burdens of war among our active and reserve components, while providing a more predictable schedule of mobilizations and deployments for troops, their families and civilian employers," Gates said.
Gates said that since Sept. 11, 2001, the Guard has undergone a "remarkable transformation" from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve, and he pledged additional resources to help keep the Guard ready.
In the next two fiscal-year budgets, Gates said, the Defense Department is asking for $9 billion to reset and reequip the Guard. Many units face severe shortages after returning from deployments with either missing or broken equipment.
"Reconstituting and resetting the Guard and reserve ... is the top priority for the Department of Defense," Gates said.
Gates' goal is a National Guard that is fully manned, trained and equipped and capable of taking on a range of traditional and nontraditional missions at home and abroad, he said.
Despite the strain on the National Guard, Gates said, recruiting and retention numbers show that troops still want to serve and believe in the mission. In fiscal 2006, the Army National Guard exceeded its retention goals by 18 percent. Also that fiscal year, the Guard reached 99 percent of its recruiting goal and signed up 19,000 more Soldiers than in fiscal 2005. The Army National Guard had a net increase of 14,000 Soldiers in the past year, Gates said.
Other recent changes include rescinding the policy that stated a Guard member could not be activated for more than 24-months in a six-year enlistment. That caused the Army to have to put units together in a piecemeal manner, sometimes from different states, Gates said.
Also, DoD will quit the practice of slicing up units to fill deployment demands. This happened to many states that had to cough up cookie-cutter-sized task forces, leaving odd-sized units back home basically non-deployable as a unit. "It is important, I believe, that citizen-Soldiers who live together and train also deploy and fight together," Gates aid.
Gates also has directed officials to minimize the use of "stop-loss," a policy that freezes personnel in specific jobs or units and prevents them from getting out or changing jobs.
All of these changes represent a shift in how DoD intends to use the Guard and reserve in the future, Gates said.
"In the future, our troops should be deployed or mobilized less often, for shorter periods of time and with more predictability and with more quality of life for themselves and their families," Gates said.
One adjutant general thanked Gates for implementing the one-year deployment. "We've promised this to our employers and families back home. It means a lot to them," he said.
He asked for support in preventing the "creep" of additional pre-mobilization training and post-deployment administrative requirements added on. "We ask that you help us hold that line," he said.
Gates responded, "We've made a commitment. We need to keep our word."
Gates also praised reservists for giving leaders unabashed feedback. Gates said that when he eats with troops in Iraq or Afghanistan, they never hold back in telling him what they think.
"America's citizen-Soldiers are unique in the history, ... not just because of their patriotism, dedication and skill, but because they are American citizens first and foremost," Gates said. "Thus, they are not overly impressed with rank, and they're not afraid to ask questions or offer advice or criticism.
"I hope we never change that, because it means American democracy is planted firmly in the spirit and the hearts of our citizen Soldiers," he said.
National Guard Chief Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum introduced Gates, and said that in just a month Gates has announced long requested and desired changes in the mobilization policy for the reserve components.
"He listens. He's smart. He is a decisive, visionary leader who is sensitive to the citizen Soldier and does appreciate and understand its critical role and essentiality in the defense of America today," Blum said.
(Fred W. Baker III writes for the American Forces Press Service.)