How Many Reservists Are Actually Ready To Deploy?

The Government Accountability Office has just taken a look at availability in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard, and the results don’t make for happy reading. It seems that quite often units don’t know exactly how many soldiers they can call on. That has serious implications for defense planning.

The US military has an excellent record in integrating regular and reserve troops for exercises or deployments. Some countries have large reserves but struggle to make effective use of them, but the US Army has demonstrated, time after time, an ability to either put whole formations of reservists into the field or use individual specialists to bring depleted regular units up to strength. It’s an enviable capability, and a cost-effective one. The already powerful regular military can boost its strength considerably by effective use of the Reserve and ANG; that’s going to become even more important if budgets, and regular strength, continue to shrink.

But while relying on reserves for a major part of your combat power is economical and effective, it also depends on knowing exactly how many reservists you have. Regular troops are easy to keep track of; you just count the bodies on parade every morning. If someone’s away on a course, that will be on a board in the platoon office. If they’re on vacation, sick or in jail that will be on another board. The regular Army is usually pretty good at knowing where all of its soldiers are.

National GuardIt’s different in the reserve and National Guard, though. That’s not because reserve and ANG admin staff are any less good at their jobs; it’s just not the same situation. Reservists have a real life outside of the military. They have a job, a civilian social life, a family who don’t live on post and shop at the commissary. If they go on a business trip, it isn’t organized by their chain of command like a course or TDY is, so unless they tell their unit about it the unit won’t know. If they get sick, calling the ANG armory is probably the last thing on their mind. It’s the same if they get in trouble with the law, which is why the GAO found soldiers listed as ready to deploy when they were actually in an orange suit at the county lockup.

It does look like quite a few people have slipped through the cracks. In total, the GAO evaluated 85,000 troops across six units. Out of those, 19,000 (22.3%) were listed as unavailable. However, another 750 were listed as available when they weren’t – mostly because they were already deployed or mobilized, but also because they were under 18, medically unfit or locked up. 350 more had incomplete records and nobody really knew if they were available or not.

It would be easy to blame human error for this, but it seems the biggest problem is data systems that don’t talk to each other properly.  Staff shortages also play a part. Whatever the cause, though, it’s an issue that needs to be looked at because the reserves will be just as vital in the future as they have been in the past. That means, most of all, that we need to know where they are.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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