WASHINGTON - The future of the Defense Department’s reserve component – including the National Guard – is the topic of a review due this week, a senior defense official said Monday.
Dennis M. McCarthy, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, told the audience at the Reserve Officers Association’s 26th annual exposition that he has been involved in preparing the review for the past eight months.
The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review completed last year called for a comprehensive review of the reserve component’s future role and the balance between active and reserve forces.
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was McCarthy’s co-chair in the review.
McCarthy declined to discuss the review’s findings, saying he will submit the review to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. But he said he’s confident those findings represent a thorough assessment of the reserve component’s changed role after nearly a decade of frequent deployments.
“Ideas about the reserve component have changed very, very significantly,” McCarthy said. “People who used to see the reserve component as exclusively – or maybe at most – a strategic reserve to be used once in a lifetime, have come to understand that isn’t likely to be, ever again, the way we see [reserve forces.]”
A recently published report noted that if the Defense Department were to put the National Guard and Reserve “back on the shelf,” the active-duty Army would need an end-strength increase of 170,000 to fill the gap, McCarthy told the group.
“The reserve component is positioned, I would suggest, to play an important role in putting forth a full-spectrum force around the world in an efficient and cost-effective way,” he said.
With roughly 1.4 active-duty service members, 1.2 million reserve-component members and likely future missions worldwide, he added, the military will need to continue to rely on reserve strength.
“The challenges [the Defense Department] has to face are not going to be handled by circling the wagons here at home,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to continue to need a force that can deploy worldwide … for the full spectrum of missions.”
The current stress on the force from repeated deployments also indicates the reserve component will have a critical role to play in helping to ensure the active component gets adequate time at home stations between deployments, McCarthy said.
“The ‘dwell-to-deployment’ cycle is a significant factor,” he said, adding that the reserve component can play a positive role in maintaining a healthy balance between time away and time at home for the overall force.
Reserve service members today, like their active-duty counterparts, know they can expect to deploy, McCarthy said, recalling that before he was appointed to his position in 2009, he was called to an interview with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
It was a cordial conversation and the secretary is a “consummate gentleman,” McCarthy said, but about midway through the interview, Gates told him he was very concerned that perhaps the department had “pulled a bait-and-switch” on its reserve members and was asking them to do things they hadn’t signed up for.
McCarthy said he told the secretary, “I must disagree.”
From his perspective, McCarthy said, everybody serving in uniform in 2009, like everyone serving today, had either enlisted or re-enlisted since 9/11.
“There’s nobody [in the services] who didn’t know what they were getting into,” he said.
Reserve servicemembers’ families and civilian employers have adjusted to the tempo of the last decade and the likely future as well, McCarthy said.
“That’s because of a lot of hard work by a lot of people, but the fact is that our families and our employers have continued to support the men and women who are serving in uniform,” he said.
“I think all of us recognize that that support is absolutely essential,” he added. “If we ever lose the support of our families and our employers, we’re going to be out of business as a reserve component.”