Reserve Forces:

Army Needs to Reevaluate its Approach to Training and Mobilizing Reserve Component Forces

GAO-09-720: Published: Jul 17, 2009. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 2009.

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The Army's strategy for training its reserve component calls for units to conduct training on the primary missions for which they were organized and designed as well as the missions units are assigned in support of ongoing operations. The training is to be conducted over a 5-year cycle with a focus on primary missions during the early years and assigned missions during the later years. In response to mandates, GAO assessed the extent to which (1) the Army is able to execute its strategy for training reserve component forces for their primary and assigned missions; (2) mobilization and deployment laws, regulations, goals, and policies impact the Army's ability to train and employ these forces; and (3) access to military schools and skill training facilities and ranges affects the preparation of reserve component forces. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed relevant training strategies and policies, laws, and data and surveyed 22 Army reserve component units returning from deployments in the past 12 months.

The Army is able to execute the portion of its reserve component training strategy that calls for units to effectively train for their assigned missions in support of ongoing operations, but faces challenges in executing the portion of the strategy that calls for units to effectively train on primary missions. Unit training for assigned missions, which is conducted in the later years of the 5-year training cycle, is generally effective because the Army prioritizes its available resources to support units that are preparing to deploy for ongoing operations--units receive increased training time; mission requirements and personnel levels are stabilized; and personnel and equipment shortages are addressed while support is increased. Conversely, units training for their primary missions in the early years of the cycle receive less time to train and experience equipment and personnel shortages, which adversely affect teamwork and unit cohesion. Also, support for their training is limited. These challenges limit the effectiveness of primary mission training and could impact their ability to conduct their primary missions within the current strategy's time frames. While DOD's current 12-month mobilization policy has not hindered the Army's overall ability to train its reserve component forces and has reduced the length of deployments, it has not fully achieved its intended purpose of reducing stress on the force by providing predictability to soldiers. Because units must spend part of their mobilization periods in training, they are actually deploying for about 10 months under this 12-month mobilization policy, whereas they typically deployed for periods of 12 to 15 months under the previous policy. Under the current policy, the Army's reserve component forces are deploying more frequently and spending more time away from home in training when they are not mobilized. Moreover, unit leaders and personnel GAO interviewed said that the 12-month mobilization policy has decreased predictability and increased stress for individuals. GAO noted alternate approaches that can improve predictability. For example, the Air Force recently developed a deployment model categorizing five grouped occupational specialties based on operational requirements and length of time home between deployments. The model is intended to increase predictability for its forces and thus reduce their stress. Reserve component forces are generally receiving access to training facilities necessary to prepare them for their assigned missions, but the Army lacks capacity to prepare all of its forces for the full range of training requirements. In addressing capacity shortages, the Army has given priority to deploying units and personnel. As a result, active and reserve component forces without assigned missions often experience delays in accessing training for their primary missions. Although the Army is reviewing some aspects of its training capacity, it has not fully identified its training requirements and capacity and therefore will not have a sound basis for prioritizing available resources and cannot be assured that the initiatives it has under way will fully address gaps in its training capacity.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Following the issuance of our report, the Army updated its training strategy and switched to a "Full Spectrum Operations" construct that emphasized the need to train for operations across a continuum rather than training for primary and secondary missions. Furthermore, in a 2010 memorandum, the Army's Acting Director of Training noted that reserve unit training strategies had universally showed increases in collective training later in the training cycle and he referenced an enclosure that showed four new training events had been added in the fifth year of the 5-year reserve component training cycle.

    Recommendation: To improve the Army's training strategy and DOD's mobilization policy for Army reserve component personnel, and to better ensure the Army has an executable strategy for effectively training its reserve component forces, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to reevaluate and adjust its reserve component training strategy to fully account for the factors that limit the effectiveness of unit training for primary missions in the early years of the 5-year cycle. Elements that should be considered in re-evaluating the training strategy should include: (1) Whether the total training days allotted for reserve component training are adequate to train units for both primary and assigned missions, which may require significantly different resources and skill. (2) Whether consolidating collective training later in the training cycle, as opposed to spreading it through the cycle, would enhance the effectiveness of the training and increase predictability.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Following the issuance of our report, OSD and the Army made a number of policy changes that increased predictability for reserve component servicemembers. (Some of these changes increased predictability for active component members as well.) For example, "stop loss"--a policy that allowed the services to keep members on active duty beyond the end of their service contract obligations--was rescinded in 2011. In addition, in 2012, the Army implemented flexible deployment cycles. For certain critical forces, deployments remained at 12 months but deployments for the rest of the force were shortened to 9 months. There was also an associated change in mobilization time frames to reflect the shorter deployments.

    Recommendation: To improve the Army's training strategy and DOD's mobilization policy for Army reserve component personnel, and to better ensure DOD's mobilization policy is having the intended effect of providing reserve component personnel with predictable training, mobilization, and deployment schedules while also improving DOD's ability to effectively train and employ its reserve component forces, the Secretary of Defense should reevaluate DOD's mobilization policy for Army reserve component personnel and consider whether a more flexible policy that allows greater variations in the length of mobilizations or which establishes deployment goals based on occupational specialty or unit type would better meet DOD's goals to reduce stress on the force and improve predictability for personnel.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Following the issuance of our report and the subsequent revision of the Army's training strategy, updated reserve unit strategies were used to request training requirements in the FY 12-16 POM, to include requirements for training days to execute the updated strategies.

    Recommendation: To improve the Army's training strategy and DOD's mobilization policy for Army reserve component personnel, and to better ensure that the Army has a reserve component training strategy that it is able to execute, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to determine the range of resources and support that are necessary to fully implement the strategy. Elements that should be accounted for include: (1) the personnel, equipment, and facilities required to fully support individual training requirements; (2) the range space required to fully support individual and collective training requirements; and (3) the full support costs associated with the Army reserve component training strategy-- including personnel, equipment, and facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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