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July 19, 2005

Whither the Naval Reserve?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I was having lunch yesterday with a member of the naval reserve.  I asked whether she was at risk for being called to serve in Iraq.  She replied that there seemed to be little chance, since ships weren't involved in the conflict, and few people she knew from the navy had been called up.

Given all the discussions we've had here (and here, here, and here) about the personnel crisis confronted by the military, this came as a surprise.  After all - as she and I discussed - the naval reserve has got plenty of specialists in everything from intelligence to piloting airplanes to maintainance to medicine to food service.  These are servicemembers whose skills should be fairly readily transferrable to the Iraq conflict and other pressing needs around the world. 

Some quickie research suggests that the naval ready reserve is mobilized at a level significantly below the other services.  The naval ready reserve stands at 142,000 of which just 3290 (just 2%) were deployed as of July 13.  By contrast, of the 327,000 in the army ready reserve, 62,000 are deployed worldwide (about 19%).  The Marine Corps has 57,300 in its ready reserve, of which 9022 are mobilized (15%).

According to this analysis, the navy has been working hard to make its forces better equipped for contemporary warfare, including counter-terrorism missions.   It states: "In their civilian careers, many [naval reservists] have established expertise in such fields as computer technology, security operations, business practices and foreign languages."

Call me crazy, but before we start recruiting people who we would ordinarily have rejected as unfit for service, extending tours to the point where real hardships are felt, and talking about a draft, why aren't we tapping into this existing reserve?   I am sure that - given their training, skill sets and civilian obligations, greater mobilization of the naval reserves is no panacea.  But I am curious why the numbers are so low, and whether it might not make sense to dig a little deeper here.

Addendum:  To the commenters who are replying "a sailor in Iraq?  you are crazy." What if any questions does this raise about maintaining a half-a-million strong force (active duty plus reserves) that is suitable for duty only at sea?  What role are these questions playing in the current debates on force realignment?


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Sailors are not trained to deal with Iraq. Sending a sailor is like sending an untrained civilian.

The USN has always had internal tension between the bluewater navy (large shiny warships) and brownwater navy (small ships and boats operating close to shore, inshore, or in lakes and rivers) that has cross tension with the gator navy (amphib forces) and the silent service, among others.

Currently the riverine forces in Iraq are not manned by the USN but that might change. There is a strong movement backed by a new shipbuilding program for the USN to go brownwater again. It's needed and long overdue.

All this aside the Navy exists because most of the world is covered by water and the vast majority of world commmerce travels upon the seas. While they could do a bit more vis a vis Iraq we don't need to degrade the readiness of everyone for the sake of joint fairness. Something happens in the Tawiwan Straits, again, it would be nice if one of the services was prepared for that.

Not for nothing but Iraq barely has a coastline.

Lane Brody

Call me crazy, but before we start recruiting people who we would ordinarily have rejected as unfit for service, extending tours to the point where real hardships are felt, and talking about a draft, why aren't we tapping into this existing reserve?


Military personnel != infantry, and infantry/special ops is what you need for counter-insurgency work.

The military doesn't have a personnel shortage so much as it has a shortage of certain specialties (which is why stop-loss is in effect)... this is pretty much how it's always been. All that really changes is what specialties are in demand.

Suzanne wrote:
"Call me crazy, but before we start recruiting people who we would ordinarily have rejected as unfit for service, extending tours to the point where real hardships are felt, and talking about a draft, why aren't we tapping into this existing reserve?"

I'll take you up on that - in this instance, your are crazy.

I can't think of much of my training in the Navy that would be transferable to Iraq. What training might apply to land warfare (much less counter-insurgency) would need to be picked up in the same training already had by personnel in the Army and Marines. Unlike other services, the Navy begins putting people into specialist positions at the E-4 and E-3 level. Think of it in reverse - if the Navy were short of personnel for ship duty, would you try to bring in people from the Army Reserve? Soldiers and sailors aren't interchangable parts, to be swapped around as bodies in a multi-service personnel system; they are personnel trained for specialized duties. They are in different services exactly because the skills, experience and missions are so different.

I too am calling you crazy (smiling face), but my point is that the snap-shot photograph of the current percentages may be misleading to how much the nation and the administration have been dependent on our "weekend warriors" - especially the US Army component. I want to say the 19% level you show for the US Army is this year's total will only balloon to a much higher value next year when it is the USAR's and NG's turn to provide up to 40 and 50% of the troops necessary for Iraq. This year is the regular Army's turn to provide the bulk of forces to the CENTCOM AOR. The percentage of troops in Afghanistan and other deployable destinations (whether it is for police action and nation building activities or training with foreign countries) may also be drawing from the "weekend warrior" pool. Really dependent on the numbers and how they are manipulated to provide a percentage, which could possibly mean a sizeable number of our "weekend warriors" will be deployed. May be the US Marines are in a similar situation, but I do not know.

Also note that in the four plus years, some Reserve and National Guard units have been called up a number of times already to help with Noble Eagle, OEF, and OIF.

The "weekend warrior" pool also has a high percentage of specialties that is not available to the regular army - Civil Affairs, Engineering, Military Police, and so forth. These units are highly sought after resources to help the particular command to meet its goals. May be the US Navy and US Air Force can help in these particular areas.

It has been nearly a year ago, but in the Air Force Times, there were a few words on the front page hinting to a story within the paper that it was the US Army's "fault" for the longer duration to an airman's deployment - at the time it was an extension from the regular three month tour to a four months tour. I am sorry, but that is still a lot less time what the soldiers are having to do when they could be providing security and other support duties at a base and give the soldiers another mission or time off. I do hope and believe that the Navy and Air Force are helping out by providing resources to the boots as needed - other than placing them in HUMVEEs to patrol an area.

My local reserve center is sending FMF corpsmen and intel personnel.

Saying new recruits are unfit for service is misleading. The military moves the qualification bar up and down all the time to adjust supply and demand.

The bar is set based on likelihood of completing the first enlistment. Members that fail to complete the first-term are considered a financial loss because of the money the service invests in the front end on training.

If the member completes boot camp s/he's qualified for service. They may have a slightly lower chance of completing the enlistment, but the recruits that really shouldn't be in the service are mostly detected in boot camp.

Although I found the negative responses to Suzanne's query here informative, I'm not sure that they met the full challenge of her question. She did not ask whether it would be crazy to call on the Navy to provide more help in Iraq. I can believe that the answer to that question is 'Yes.' She asked whether it would be crazier to ask for such service from the Navy in comparison to the other measures we are already taking or considering that may be weakening and spreading dangerously thin our Army, Marines, and Reserves.

I do not know the answer to her question, but I'd like to. How much damage are our current policies doing to the forces now in Iraq? Is what we are doing sustainable?

What is tapping some squids gonna do to fix Iraq?

And what's it gonna do for Navy and Air Force recruitment to know that joining the Navy and Air Force is just the suckers route to being a grunt in Iraq?

"Military personnel != infantry, and infantry/special ops is what you need for counter-insurgency work."

The assumption that all the Army personnel in Iraq are Infantry/Special Forces is bogus, much like the belief that all Navy personnel sail on warships and all Air Force personnel fly aircraft.

I agree that there is a fair amount of good sense in sending some folks from the blue branches, ie Navy and Air Force. Every branch has its own Security and Police forces, and they are no doubt capable of guarding prisoners just as well as the Army's MPs. There are also supply troops, transportation personnel, and civil and combat engineers from the Navy/AF, to say nothing of the countless clerical jobs that must be done wherever thousands of GIs exist, and could be done by anybody in any uniform.

I'm sure that the Pentagon, with all its collective wisdom, has already started drawing from these vast untapped resources across the globe. Indeed, before I left the Air Force nine months ago, my base had just sent a planeload of Airmen to Iraq for the purpose of driving in convoys. I was also aware of deployments on the part of engineers and security forces, so clearly the Air Force does have a footprint of some sort in Iraq. If the Naval Reserve has the right people in the right jobs, there's no reason why they shouldn't help take a load off from the Army.

Whether or not enough rear echelon replacements could be sent to effectively rest the overburdened Army and Marines is open to question. Certainly, the sacrifices in this war are not being shared equally among the branches. This should come as no surprise to anybody, but that doesn't mean the DoD should sit back and accept it.

I am currently on active duty in the Navy right now. After I get out of active duty I am planning on joining the Naval Reverse as a Supply Officer. The thought of me having to deploy to Iraq for 6 months or more makes me not want to join the reserves. I my as well stayed active duty. I think the best thing to do is to incorporate a short deployment for Naval Reserves in those areas that could be probably transferable, like supply. I think deployments for the Navy should be something similar to the Air Fore, like 3 to 4 months. I am not against being deployed. I am against having to say to my family that I have to be gone for 6 months or so when I told them I would be getting out of that by getting out of Active Duty.

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