Doing right by our citizen soldiers and our country

Dr. David S. C. Chu, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Special to The County
17 years ago

In recent months the Department of Defense has reexamined policies regarding the size and use of our nation’s military, both active and reserve, in light of the demands of operations in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the globe.      Most recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced an increase in the strength of the active Army and Marine Corps by some 92,000 troops, which should, over time, help ease the stress on our nation’s ground forces. In addition, Secretary Gates announced significant changes in the way we use and employ America’s citizen soldiers: the National Guard and Reserves.
The goal of the recent changes 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 and their families.
Up until now, the deployment of a Guardsman or Reservist for one year in Iraq or Afghanistan – the standard tour length for the Army – would usually entail up to 18 months on active duty, including time for pre-deployment training and post-deployment recovery. Starting immediately, all Reserve Component units, including the Army, will be mobilized, or called to active duty, for a maximum of 12 months at a time, with the goal of five years at home before the next mobilization.
The Secretary of Defense has also rescinded the policy, established in the months following the September 11 attacks, that set a cumulative limit of 24 months of being mobilized involuntarily. This limit no longer makes much sense in today’s “operational reserve” – where Reserve Component units are considered part of the pool of forces that the military expects to use for the forseeable future. Most Reservists and Guardsmen have already decided whether they want to join, remain or leave the military based on the expectation of being part of an operational Reserve.
Those who choose to remain do so with the clear understanding that, after an appropriate period of rest, their units may be called again. This change is part of an overall shift in our mobilization policies away from being focused on individuals and toward improving the cohesiveness and capability of units.
The intent of these changes is to establish a predictable cycle for Reserve and Guard units of one year on active duty followed by five years at home. But we are not there yet. Because of the demands on our military today, some Reservists and Guardsmen will have to deploy sooner than they had expected or wanted. Others will serve longer than they anticipated or would like. Secretary Gates has ordered that we provide additional compensation for those so affected, and has directed a review of our current waiver policy for men and women who may experience undue hardships.
When referring to the limits placed on mobilizing Guardsman or Reservists, either now or in the past, we are usually talking about “involuntary” mobilizations – where a serviceman is legally compelled to go on active duty.
The goal of Department policies has always been to limit, to the extent possible, these involuntary mobilizations. We should remember, however, that tens of thousands of citizen soldiers have agreed to either go on or stay on active duty – so called “voluntary mobilizations” – even when it is not mandatory. For example, when one reads or hears of Army Reservists or Guardsmen on their second or third tour of Iraq, it is almost always because they have volunteered to do so. Our nation is truly in their debt.
From the beginning of this conflict, we have asked a tremendous amount of our men and women in uniform, both in the active-duty branches and in the Reserves. It is only right that we pursue policies that provide a predictable and sustainable path for our service members and their families, while also providing the capabilities and people that our military will need for some time to come.
Dr. David S. C. Chu is Under Secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness. He received both his undergraduate degree and Ph.D. from Yale University.