March 18, 2010: In a new effort to increase overall capabilities, the U.S. Army is now screening reservists to weed out underperformers. There is plenty of evidence that such an effort is needed. Since September 11, 2001, over 90 percent of the 208,000 reservists have been activated, with many going to Iraq or Afghanistan. About 22 percent are on active duty right now. While most of these men and women performed well, many did not. This deficiency may never have become an issue if so many of the reservists had not been activated.
The army realized that too many reservists looked at their work as an easy part time job (troops worked, and got paid, for about a month of training a year.) Promotion standards were often low, and scrutiny of performance often nonexistent. No more. Particular emphasis will be on the performance of officers and NCOs (about a third of the force.) This program is seen as essential, because over 75 percent of army engineering, civil affairs, logistics and medicine specialists are in the reserve. These are essential to combat performance, especially in operations like Iraq and Afghanistan. Quality matters.
However, most army reservists (350,000) are in the National Guard, and upgrading these personnel are complicated by local politics. The frequent call ups of National Guard units, for service in Iraq and Afghanistan, caused state governors much anxiety. Some governors began putting more resources into the "other" Guard force most states maintain. This force is much smaller than the National Guard, and exists mainly as a cadre, to be expanded if there is a major war that will keep most of the National Guard away, and in federal service, in the event of a major war. But expanding these "State Defense Forces" (SDF), costs money, and the Department of Defense has long opposed them. For example, surplus Department of Defense equipment can be donated to the Boy Scouts, but not to SDFs. However, the states can stick it to the Department of Defense by assigning some National Guard equipment to the SDFs, thus keeping it away from any federal mobilization.
All this is happening because National Guard units are there mainly to provide the state governor with a force of emergency workers. If there's a natural, or manmade, disaster, the governor "calls out the Guard," and that tends to make things better. While Guard units don't have all the people or equipment they need for combat, they don't need all that stuff to help out during a local emergency. That, however, is less important than political considerations. It has always been that way with the National Guard.
Normally, Congress does not like to look too closely at how the National Guard is run. That's because the National Guard belongs to both the state government (most of the time) and the federal government (when called on, usually for overseas service). Many National Guard officers are involved in state politics, and members of Congress cannot afford to annoy these people. The Department of Defense also tends to treat National Guard units as second class citizens, giving priority to active duty units and their own reserve units. The National Guard is technically part of the reserve force, about half of it actually is. But the regular reserves are federal, not state, forces.
There are other problems. Since 2004, most National Guard units have gone to Iraq, and taken most of their gear with them. When the troops came home, the weapons and equipment usually stayed behind, either to be used by the unit replacing them, or to replace stuff destroyed, or worn out, during operations. While this makes sense from a logistical point-of-view, it doesn't really work if the troops don't get replacement equipment after they return home. Many units have not. Some have been disbanded as a result, but most are told to wait, and make do with whatever bits and pieces they are able to scrape together. While billions of dollars has been spent on replacing the equipment, many units are still short.
The troops are not happy with all this, and have prepared to use personal equipment (including their own cars and trucks) to fill the gap for any disaster calls. That sort of thing can be a publicity disaster for the U.S. Army, which has the ultimate power over what kind of weapons and equipment National Guard units have. So far, all this talk, of National Guard shortages leading to inadequate response to a local disaster, has been unrealized. There have been accusations, but none could be proven. Doing the math, it's obvious that there are sufficient National Guard personnel available in the United States, as well as enough equipment, for dealing with natural disasters. Still, it makes a great media story, and will not doubt continue to appear as such. Meanwhile, a screening of National Guard personnel, as happened in the army reserves, is obviously not going to happen.