Recall that in 1990-1991, none of the Army National Guard's most highly prepared brigades, the fifteen enhanced readiness brigades, were sent to fight in the Persian Gulf War. Forget about the Guard divisions which weren't even on the radar screen of our planners. They'd take a year or more to get ready for combat and were far more useful in domestic scenarios where uniformed manpower was needed. I wrote about the need to get our Guard divisions into the warfighting picture back in 1999 (from a synopsis, the article is not online):
The National Guard's combat divisions have few missions in America's military planning. This disregard for the possibility that the Army may need to fight an enemy willing to challenge American interests on a major scale is disturbing. The National Defense Panel, assuming in error that nobody can challenge America conventionally, proposes weakening today's military to free resources to exploit the Revolution in Military Affairs. We must equip and train the Army National Guard (ARNG) as our nation's sole mobilization asset in case the unthinkable happens and the United States finds itself confronted with a large-scale ground war.
In the article I wrote both about the need to fight a larger war or a smaller war that doesn't end quickly as Desert Storm did.
Today the Guard's combat units are routinely being used for frontline combat. This is necessary while the fighting in Iraq goes on. We are shrinking the number of Guard combat brigades while raising the standards of those remaining so that every year, after five years of increasingly intensive training and equipping, four or five Guard brigades will be available to support the active component combat brigades. Our active Army has been increased by about 10 brigades by moving troops into combat brigades and can in theory rotate 14 Army brigades through combat with two years off in between deployments.
Once our forces are no longer in combat in Iraq in large numbers, the Guard's units may simply go to the ready stage without actually being mobilized since the active component could handle a smaller rotation of combat brigades on its own.
Still, while Guard combat units are being mobilized for the war, recruiting for the Guard will be tougher when members must assume they will go to war or at least go on active duty deployment once in a six-year enlistment. I wrote in a letter to the editor in Army magazine published in July 2003, stating, in part:
For citizen-soldiers who have civilian careers (remember, they chose reserve duty and not active duty), failure to address the issue of repeated call-ups is to refuse to face a real problem, for even though these soldiers will continue to show up, when it comes time to sign on the dotted line for another term of service, frequent deployment will absolutely be a factor in their decision.
I signed up for the Army National Guard in 1987 because I felt that my place was with the Army if the Soviets decided that they were going to roll through the Fulda Gap. In that era, calling up the reserves was a big deal. Short of a major conventional war, I didn’t expect to be called up for anything other than a bad snow storm. I don’t think I would have joined if I thought that I would likely be called away from my chosen civilian life to serve in a peacekeeping mission or occupation duty every few years because the active component was too small to do the job.
Reservists should not be cheap day laborers called up for the dirty jobs and then sent home to rest up (at low pay) for the next peacekeeping rotation. They get the worst of both worlds: interruptions of their civilian career and the poorer compensation and military opportunities of the military reserves. If reservists are going to be sent off at the same pace as full time soldiers (who get full time pay and benefits), why will reservists continue to sign on the dotted line?
We will will need to change the compensation for our Guard (and Reserve) soldiers to match their increased duties if we expect people to be reservists under the new assumptions. Being paid for a weekend a month and two weeks in the summer just doesn't cut it when you can expect to be at war one year out of six (only half the rate planned for active duty units whose benefits and prestige are much greater than twice the Guard's). As the Army report notes:
Just how much the Nation will support an expeditionary ARNG remains unknown. While our military strategy demands it, the unique status of citizen-Soldiers will challenge it. Providing the Army a fully modernized, ready, part-time force capable of maintaining a steady deployment posture has its costs. Investment must center on readiness, infrastructure, and interoperability.
This is new territory for the Guard which relies on civilians with careers. While mobilization is a near certainty and combat highly likely, this will be a harder sell. I question whether it will even be possible to compensate civilians enough to be temp active soldiers. Once the Guard isn't needed for currently underway operations, it will be a much easier task. Requiring active component troops who leave the service to serve their reserve time in Guard combat units would help, too.
In my article, my ideal situation was to have an active Army capable of fighting a major theater war (a Desert Storm-sized scenario) without the Guard's combat units; and have a Guard capable of joining the active component for a larger or longer war that would require more troops at once for a larger opponent or over a longer duration for an opponent that can resist longer. But in either situation, I assumed an end to Guard mobilization after victory rather than an endless commitment to mobilizing the Guard to supplement the active Army.
I personally don't think that the Guard can provide an operational reserve for long. The Army has more combat brigades now within the existing end strength and so can support a larger rotation on its own (and get some Marine help for a couple regiments at a time), but it is still not large enough to support the current rotation at an acceptable pace without Guard combat brigades.
When going to war is just a theoretical outcome in the sixth year of a Guard brigade, the new operational reserve concept will work just fine. But if the current situation of constantly mobilizing Guard brigades to fight continues, the policy will fail. Then we will need to expand the size of the Army's end strength if the current policy of freeing up slots for combat units exhausts its potential to create more active combat brigades.
Much depends on when the Iraqis can fight without more than a dozen American combat brigades participating.