The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Bill (S. 2400) recognizes that strong Reserve components are vital to the country's future security. The Senate bill calls for a national commission to examine the strain of current operations on the National Guard and Reserves and recommend productive solutions. The House bill (H.R. 4200), however, omits this provision. The conference committee should agree to retain this measure, as it is inevitable that using part-time soldiers full-time, all the time, will undermine this critical force. The Administration and Congress need to find a better solution.
Today, more than 194,000 citizen-soldiers are deployed worldwide. These citizen-soldiers, men and women with regular jobs who are called to active service whenever the country needs them, are doing the heavy lifting for the United States in the war on terror. Without the Reserves, the Pentagon would not have been able to destroy al Qaeda sanctuaries in Afghanistan, provide security in postwar Iraq, hunt down terrorist cells in the Horn of Africa, supply security assistance and training in Southeast Asia, and support homeland security missions domestically. The men and women of the National Guard and Reserves, providing the bulk of U.S. military presence and peacekeeping troops worldwide, have faced unexpected deployments, back-to-back overseas tours, and involuntary call-ups and extensions.
But the answer to this problem is not to rely less on the Reserves. They are the best weapon in the inventory, providing a cost-effective, all-volunteer legion that allows the military to expand rapidly when necessary. The better solution is to move the Reserve issue to the center of the Pentagon's transformation efforts and build the Reserve components that are needed for the 21st century.
The Senate proposes establishing a national commission to study the issue and report back no later than December 31, 2005. The commission would focus on the roles, missions, compensation, and benefits of this force. The House version of the Defense authorization bill does not include language for any such study. That needs to be fixed. The conference report must include this provision.
Once established the commission should:
Monitor and evaluate the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The QDR is required by law to assess all military forces and outline a program to guide structure, organization, missions, acquisition, and resource allocation for the next four years. The commission should judge whether the QDR adequately addresses the needs of the Reserves, which have been treated as an afterthought in past QDRs.
Hold public hearings. Americans need to hear from our citizen-soldiers and their families, employers, and leaders. Theirs is a proud story of service and sacrifice that needs to be told. The American people need to understand the challenges today's citizen-soldiers face.
Make the Reserves the centerpiece of defense transformation. The Pentagon's transformation effort must change the military for the missions of the 21st century-and the Reserves must have a prominent role.
Establishing a commission to study the Reserve components of the U.S. military is the right thing to do. The task of building the right Reserves for the future has been ignored for far too long.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., who served for 25 years in the Army and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.