by Col. (Retired) North K. Charles
Two significant factors — the changing global security environment and fiscal constraints — are shaping how the United States uses the Guard and Reserve today and in the future. These two factors are at odds with each other.
While the global security environment demands greater engagement all across the globe, fiscal constraints limit the amount of funding to prepare and provide forces. Emerging and evolving missions at home — homeland defense, defense support to civil authorities and cyber — will continue to rely on reserve component forces. Future employment of reserve compo- nent forces may not look like Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom, but the country will continue to rely on reserve component service members for near and long term.
Global Security Environment
The changing global security environment presents a number of threats that ultimately affect employment of the Guard and Reserve. Two of today’s top threats include the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Russian intervention in Ukraine. Both these examples provide insights into today’s and tomorrow’s evolving use of the reserve component. Operation INHERENT RESOLVE is conducting airstrikes in Syria and Iraq to degrade and defeat ISIL. The Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve are contributing to many aspects of this operation. To name just a few, C130s from the 139th Airlift Wing (Missouri Army National Guard) and A10s from the 163rd Fighter Squadron (Indiana Air National Guard) contribute to the force package that includes not just active/reserve mix, but also joint and coalition partners. This mix of forces provides a glimpse of what the future holds for reserve component service members who participate in these types of operations.
Operation ATLANTIC RESOLVE responds to Russia’s actions in the Ukraine and demonstrates America’s commitment to security in Europe. The National Guard’s State Partnership Program has a significant number of long-term, well-established partnerships in eastern Europe that are contributing to the operation. The 46th Military Police Company (Michigan Army National Guard) participated in Winds of Change, an exercise with Latvian forces. In addition to the State Partnership Program, many other reserve component forces are providing critical support to the operation. The 125th Fighter Wing (Florida Air National Guard) provides the theater security package and trains alongside partner nations from throughout Europe.
Operation INHERENT RESOLVE involves kinetic operations against an active enemy and Operation ATLANTIC RESOLVE reassures allies. Both tasks will remain key functions of the reserve component in the future.
Considering only these two examples of global hot spots, it is easy to see there is a significant demand for U.S. intervention. However, the country cannot afford to deploy forces to counter every threat. Today’s fiscal realities mean the nation’s leaders must make difficult choices about when to use reserve component forces.
In March of 2013, the Army decided to use active component forces instead of reserve component forces for the Multinational Force Observer Task Force Sinai. The Army had notified four units from the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Indiana Army National Guard) that they would deploy and those units had trained for the deployment. As a cost-saving measure, active component forces replaced 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment; 1st Squadron, 152nd Cavalry Regiment and two companies of the 113th Brigade Support Battalion for the mission.
The Department of Defense initially alerted a number of reserve component units and service members for Operation UNITED ASSISTANCE, the response to Ebola virus in Africa. Funding and changing conditions meant most of those members of the Guard and Reserve never deployed to Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea.
While reserve component forces are more affordable during peacetime operations, these units require additional funding to train for and deploy to emerging operations. In today’s fiscally-constrained environment, defense leaders face increasing challenges to allocate scare resources to prepare Guard and Reserve service members for operations like Multinational Force Observer Task Force Sinai and Operation UNITED ASSISTANCE when active component forces are already available.
U.S. Army National Guard 1st Sgt. Kevin Mulcahey, and Sgt. Nicholas Tarr, a troop medic, both with Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry Regiment (RSTA) (Mountain), prepare to move during an air assault exercise at Fort Drum, N.Y., during an Exportable Combat Training Center rotation in preparation for a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Sarah Mattison)
Future Use of the Guard and Reserve
Given the changing global security environment and while considering fiscal constraints, the U.S. will continue to rely on reserve component forces to meet today’s and tomorrow’s national security challenges. Many senior leaders and elected officials recognize the strategic and operational roles filled by the reserve components.
At the strategic level, the reserve components provide the capability, capacity and depth to deter war and resolve conflict, and, if necessary, fight and win our nation’s war. The range of military operations includes large-scale combat operations, requiring significant forces and manpower. Given recent reductions in active component forces, the reserve component provides the forces necessary for the U.S. to respond to a major regional conflict or large stability operation in a timely manner. To accomplish this task, the reserve components must retain a significant capability to engage in combat operations. Having a capable reserve force mitigates strategic risk for the U.S. and ensures continuation of the all-volunteer force.
At the operational level, the reserve components fulfill a wide array of requirements from the Combatant Commands. These tasks range from steady state engagement and building partner capacity to the surge requirements of unexpected contingency operations. Reserve component service members routinely conduct theater security cooperation activities to build and maintain relationships that support U.S. interests. When necessary, Guard and Reserve forces participate in operations to counter specific threats or conditions. As a full partner in the joint force, the reserve component almost always contributes unique capabilities or adds depth to the active component forces.
The nation will continue to rely on the reserve component as the strategic hedge against large-scale conflict. Reserve component service members can anticipate the Combatant Commands will continue to call upon the Guard and Reserve for a wide range of missions at the operational level.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jacob Erpenbach, 114th Civil Engineer Squadron engineer assistant, directs U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Zach Jorgenson, 114th Civil Engineer Squadron HVAC superintendent, on the location of the next area to be cleared during the unit’s state activation in support of the community of Delmont, S.D., May 11, 2015. The unit was sent to Delmont to assist with the tornado recovery efforts after the city was hit by a tornado. (Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Nancy Ausland, South Dakota National Guard Public Affairs)
Homeland Security and Cyber
In addition to the traditional roles of participating in and supporting operations overseas, members of the reserve component can also anticipate increased activities inside the U.S. These missions will include homeland defense, defense support to civil authorities and cyber.
Defending the homeland has long been the most important mission of the armed forces. As the world becomes more interconnected and hybrid threats evolve, homeland defense becomes more complex and demands increased skills. The Guard and Reserve will continue to have missions and tasks in defending U.S. airspace and borders. For example, National Guard units routinely provide the forces requited by the National Capital Region Integrated Air Defense System.
The National Guard has a long and distinguished history in providing Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA). In addition to traditional roles of support to authorities for natural and man-made disasters, the National Guard has made significant investments in the chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) enterprise, including fifty-seven weapons of mass destruction civil support teams, seventeen CBRN enhanced response force packages and ten homeland response forces. The National Defense Authorization Act 2012 contained language providing the authority for the other five reserve components to provide DSCA when ordered.
Still in the homeland, reserve component units are entering the cyber fight. Guard and Reserve service members often bring unique civilian-acquired skills from industry that could prove invaluable to U.S. Cyber Command. Training cyber warriors requires extensive education. In many cases, reserve component service members could already have many of the necessary skills. Cyber remains one of the few growth areas for future forces.
The emerging global security environment and fiscal constraints will significantly change how the U.S. employs the Guard and Reserve in the future. While demands for reserve component forces will increase, the nation will not be able to provide forces everywhere there is a need. Despite these challenges, the nation will continue to look to the Guard and Reserve to fill both strategic and operational requirements. In addition, members of the reserve component will increase their work in homeland defense, DSCA and cyber. Although the fundamental nature of the reserve components has not changed, the way those forces support the nation will continue to evolve over time.