By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Dec. 06, 2011) -- With force cuts looming for the active component, the Army Reserve is looking for ways to preserve some of that investment which might otherwise be walking out the door, for good.
Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve, said he's been trying to push for almost a year now a "continuum of service" concept that would make it easier for those who've donned an Army uniform to move back and forth between statuses in the Army and to stay connected with the service.
"When you join the Army, our intent is to make you a 'Soldier for life,'" Stultz said.
Stultz said now about nine percent of Soldiers leaving active duty opt to continue serving in the Army Reserve. He presented data that showed the total investment, in dollars, that the active component makes to develop Soldiers at two different ranks. For a staff sergeant, for instance, that number is about $430,000. For a captain, that's about $690,000.
"What we are trying to portray here is really preservation of investment," Stultz said. "One of the reasons for really making the continuum of service come alive is that we are investing a lot today to develop the Soldiers we have on the battlefield."
The Soldiers the Army has today, he said are the best the service has ever had, in both technological and tactical competence.
"We cannot allow, as we draw down our force structure, to lose that investment," Stultz said. "It costs too much to regenerate it."
He said creating a "continuum of service" might require changes in Army culture, law, and policy.
For one, he said, Soldiers moving into the Reserve component will need jobs -- as they are civilians who drill with an Army Reserve unit. The service already takes advantage of the "Employer Partnership," that provides employers with a direct link to already trained employees -- Soldiers.
But Stultz the Reserve can use the private sector to keep Reserve Soldiers trained in the same skills they use when they put on their uniform.
"My idea was look at skill sets that translate very easy into the civilian sector," he said. Medical is one such example.
"If we are taking Soldiers that maybe we trained them as an active-duty Soldier to be a radiology technologist, or a lab technologist, and we are able to provide them out to the civilian establishment and keep them in the Reserve, when we need them or when they desire to come back to this side -- they've maintained their technical competence and their capability."
For "emerging capabilities," such as technical career fields like information technology, for instance, the private sector may even be able to keep Soldiers better trained than the Army Reserve can, he said.
Policy changes in the Army can also help the "continuum of service," Stultz said.
One idea is creation of an "Inactive Ready Reserve volunteer" status. Both officer and enlisted Soldiers complete an eight-year service obligation, and if they complete that while in the Inactive Ready Reserve, known as the IRR, they are asked to either leave permanently, or continue on with susceptibility for deployment.
Stultz proposes a third option, a volunteer status in the IRR. "The only way you can get called back is if you volunteer to come back. I know there are people out there that we could preserve in our force that we have invested in if we made it more flexible."
Such a program would leave Soldiers affiliated with a unit near them that they would go to in order to conduct yearly musters that are part of being in the IRR.
The Army Reserve is now conducting a pilot program that affiliates Soldiers with a unit while they are in IRR status, even though there is yet no "IRR volunteer" status. But the affiliate program provides a base of support to the Soldier and his family while he is in IRR status, and provides him support if he gets called up.
"Should that Soldier ever get called up, that unit is responsible for his family, and responsible to take care of that Soldier when he comes back home," Stultz said.
Stultz said he expects the affiliate program to move out of pilot program status and become a full program in March. Then, active-duty Soldiers leaving the Army and moving into IRR status would be affiliated with a unit that they can muster at and become familiar with, so they know somebody will look after their family if they get called out of IRR status.
Right now, Stultz said, there is "no hard timeline yet" for implementing the continuum of service concept.
"I think what we are trying to establish now are some milestones," he said. "This is not a six-month or twelve-month overnight success."
But the Reserve in the short-term may post more career counselors and recruiting stations on active-duty installations to "synch them with the transition process." He also said the Army Reserve could map soon-to-separate active-duty Soldiers to holes in the Reserve force before they leave active duty.
The Army Reserve is also managing its end strength in a way that it can be ready to absorb the Soldiers it most wants to preserve. Right now, the Reserve is authorized about 206,000 Soldiers.