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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 15, 2011) -- Known as the Continuum of Service, the Army Reserve wants Soldiers to have the ability to move between the active and reserve components, and civilian service.

The basic concept of Continuum of Service, or COS, said an Army Reserve senior leader, is to allow Soldiers to move between different statuses while preserving the Army's investment in training and education. It also aims to preserve the Soldiers' accumulated benefits.

"I think this is going to take years" to implement, said Maj. Gen. Marcia Anderson, deputy chief of the Army Reserve, "because this impacts (as an example) retirement systems."

"If you're moving back and forth from one status to another, that's going to impact how people's retirement is calculated," Anderson explained. "It certainly will affect pay, benefits, so all those pieces are going to need to move, not necessarily in tandem, but we have to take a look at each of those pieces and reform the system that governs those, as well."

The Office of the Secretary of Defense Reserve Affairs has an implementation plan for Continuum of Service, but Anderson said there's no timeline yet. The process needs to be started now though, she said, to take advantage of the drawdown.

Over the last decade, the Iraq and Afghanistan commitments required the Army to increase end strength in both the active and Reserve Components. Today, the active Army is faced with an end-strength reduction. In years past when this happened, Anderson said some of the most seasoned and best-trained Soldiers left the Army.

The aim of the Army's COS initiative is to retain this pool of experienced, talented Soldiers through continued service in the reserve component. And faced with a period of fiscal austerity, COS will provide an efficient and cost-effective solution to retaining the investment and experience of the best Soldiers, she said.

Anderson knows it hasn't always been easy to transition between the components. With more than 30 years of military service, she is the first African American woman to become a two-star general. Her civilian job is clerk of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Madison, Wis.

Currently legislation, government policies and regulations all contribute to the difficulty of moving between different military components and the civilian sector, Anderson said.

The intent of Continuum of Service is to give an individual the opportunity to move back and forth between those different statuses throughout their life and to make that as seamless as possible, she said.

"For example, say you started your Army career as an enlisted or are serving as an officer ... you served for four to six years on active duty and then decided you really wanted to continue your career, but not on active duty ... you want to go to school," she said.

The Soldier still has a military service obligation of eight years, with the next move into the Individual Ready Reserve. At this point, the former Soldier, no longer on active duty, has the opportunity to either go to school and pursue that goal, or to start a civilian career.

"Then, say about five or six years later, you decide you'd really like to participate in a more active way.

"You might join a traditional Reserve unit where you have your weekend a month and your active-duty-for-training period, or you might say, 'I'd really like to go back on active duty,'" she said. "We need to be able to leverage the skill sets that people bring to the Army Reserve, whether from their military personnel specialty or from their civilian career."

"We really need to reform some of those barriers that currently exist, we need to fix our own regulations that are barriers to that, we need to look at our legacy systems which in many cases are stove pipes which make it difficult to move between active and reserve, and whatever legislation is necessary to allow that to be easier, as well," Anderson said.

Reform also involves a culture change.

"We have to have a new way of thinking about this in order to start moving this forward. We have to kind of get out of our little safe way that we've all grown up in terms of how we view ourselves and how we fit in terms of working together and start to look at each other in more of a cross-cultural way. We're not doing that right now," she said.

One thing she's referring to is the Information Technology piece when talking about cultural change.

"For example, right now the Army Reserve has its personnel system that we use to manage people," Anderson explained. "It doesn't talk to the active-component personnel system. Our finance systems do not talk to each other. It's a manual function, in effect, to move someone from one duty status to another, in other words from active duty back to traditional troop program units."

Continuum of Service also depends on partnering with employers so they can leverage the skills of Soldiers in the Army Reserve.

The Army Reserve has an employer partnership office, started by its chief, Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, which has now spread to the other services. Currently, about 2,400 employers, from Fortune 500 employers down to city and local organizations, have about 700,000 jobs available.

This is a web-based initiative where individuals can go in by zip code and find jobs in their area with employers who are interested and have agreed to hire veterans and Reserve Soldiers.

"This is a time when we are looking at very constrained resources in the Army. You've all heard about the drawdown, and it's going to make it even more important to have access to the special skills that we have in the Army Reserve," Anderson said.

"So allowing and creating an environment and a culture that permits a person to be a Soldier for life is going to be even more important as we go forward," she said.

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