Talk to any serious follower of Military matters, and not the hard core ideologues that sees all military as bad, and the looming budget cuts make about zilch for sense. If you remember in 2007 we were desperate to grow the Army and Marine Corps, because the Active, and even Guard and Reserve forces couldn't keep up with the Op tempo, and the demands placed upon them. Whole units were formed and deployed in record time. There was a lot of talk about how some of the recruits were under trained, or that the stress on the seasoned troops was too much, cripples with P3 (also known as Dead Man) profiles were deploying. Really its hard to argue that both ground combat services weren't scraping the bottom of the barrel. I could talk about Stop-Loss/Stop-Move, or the numerous waivers granted to recruits but that would be simply beating a dead horse.
So now we're getting ready to cut the ground combat services by a staggering amount. Keep in mind we're still at war, and this is to say nothing of the Navy and Air Force, which have already taken massive hits to support the Army and Marine Corps. Why are we giving so many active duty troops the pink slip? The demand isn't going to go away. Chances are if its not Syria, North Korea, Iran, Somalia, or God forbid, Europe (again), there will be some conflict that will arise sometime in the near future that the US will get involved in. In such an unstable world, its almost a certainty. So why cut the active force?
Well it goes back to a way of thinking that is sadly seeing too much play in defense politics. Soldiers of the Active Army are expensive, they do nothing but sit in their barracks until called upon right? Well why have this vast Army (or any other service), we can [insert corner to cut here] and save [insert dollar figure here]. This idea really started with the George H. W. Bush's "peace dividend". In the process of closing certain bases and squeezing troops into others, it was seen that some MOS' were not essential to a peacetime Army. So some MOS' were combined or roles were reduced, and because we weren't preparing to fight the Soviets anymore there was no real complaining there. Thing is, Clinton took it one step farther, by drawing down the force by massive levels, 7 whole Army divisions, were cut from the rolls, and to offset the loss of troops, certain nonessential jobs the Army used to do for itself were taken up by independent contractors. You wouldn't need an Active Duty Army of 700,000 if you had contractors taking care of a majority of the Service/Support roles. . . It seemed to save money, that is until the Army had to go to war again.
One can not argue that the contractors in Iraq were a hassle from a lot of perspectives. I'm not even going to talk about the KBR or Blackwater guys, I'm sure there's more than enough people that will froth and foam at the mouth about the things they did. The point is they would be paid double or three times as much as a Soldier of Marine to do the same job, making the overall war, very very expensive, more so than it should have been. From a political standpoint the politicians won because they didn't have to send 500,000 troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. But the truth is in the numbers, and the amount of money spent and the number of contracters there don't lie.
But what about now? We can't give any more jobs to contractors. If we did we really would have to privatize our entire military. I'm not sure how comfortable people would be with a private company running the US Department of Defense. So if demand is not going away and we can't contract anymore jobs whose going to take up the slack when the Active Duty troops go away? Well the Guard and Reserve are just sitting there aren't they? Again for a lot of good reasons this is a very bad idea, that sadly the bean counters will overlook.
Remember in 2005 when 60% of the forces in Iraq were Guard and Reserve? The Active Duty had pretty much sent every single unit to Iraq or Afghanistan and most needed time off. So the Guard and Reserve took up a lot of the slack. Well a bit of an interesting thing happened before they went. Years of Peacetime had left the Guard with many troops that weren't really fit to fight. 50 year old Specialists, Sergeants First Class that were on the last rotation of Vietnam, the list goes on. A lot of these people should have retired or been quietly chaptered out, but the simple fact is that Reserves and Guard get their funding based on who actually shows up at drill, so every swinging dick was essential, and if they didn't show up in reality, they did on paper. It didn't help matters that pre-9/11 most of the "training" amounted to weekend BBQs and occasional disaster relief training, nor did it help that people who were on the IRR were reported as Active Guardsmen, even though they never showed up to drill. When the call ups started in 2004, it became painfully clear that many units just weren't ready for combat.
Now fast forward to now. The Iraq theater of operations is essentially over, and Afghanistan, despite protests of the commanders on the ground soon will be as well. We have enough figures to draw some interesting, and disturbing conclusions. When compared with the Active forces Soldier for Soldier they would take up to 60% more casualties. In addition, while many units did their job well, it is telling that you tended not to see reservists in major battles or offensives if they weren't in a supporting role. It make it clear that while the JCS might trust the Guard and Reserve to fill the gaps in the Active force, they do not trust them to hold the line so to speak.
Another little wrinkle was made painfully obvious when Katrina hit New Orleans. One of the major complaints was how long it took the Military to deploy to help rescue and relief efforts. But posse comitatus, prevented just that from happening with out a Federal state of emergency being declared. In one of the most painful ironies of the whole lamentable incident, a majority of the Louisiana National Guard, who would have responded to the disaster, were at the time deployed to Iraq. When the 82nd Airborne of all units was called into help with the policing of American soil, things have truly gotten out of hand. You actually had an instance where the Active Duty was filling the Guard role and the Guard was filling the Active Duty role.
These defense cuts tend to make far more sense if one thinks like a bean counter. There's this force that's trained, sure they're part time, but we can have them fall in on the equipment that is already there, and we'll only call on them only when needed. This idea completely discounts every bit of military wisdom regarding the Guard and Reserve, and their original intention when created. Indeed as part of the employment of these soldiers they are locked down and trained relentlessly for 6 months, before they are considered certified to deploy to combat. This means the next time we're stuck between Iraq and a hard place, the Active force will have to hold the line for 6 months before they can reasonably expect any kind of relief. And what if a majority of the Active troops are deployed and "something comes up" as it so often does? We cant call a time out while we wait for the Guard to train up for combat.
Lastly this mindset completely negates the very real impact on these Guardsmen. When AD troops deploy it is hard on everyone, but there is a support system there for them to use. The spouse might choose to go back to live with their parents, as often happens with newlyweds, but if they choose to stay there are systems on post to help them with everything, from getting groceries, to child care. If the systems aren't working Rear D[etachment] will solve the problems their facing. The Guardsmen will have that support only if their family lives close to their training area, and if they're lucky enough to have a strong FRG, but lets face it, most of the spouses, girlfriends. boyfriends, and children are simply not used to living the Army life. Also keep in mind whereas the AD troops may be gone up to and perhaps beyond a year, the NG and AR troops will have to be trained for 6 months before their deployment, making it up to, and sometimes beyond 18 months their away from their families. This is to say nothing of the jobs left behind, slots that the employer has to hold open, even in this economy.
When one looks at all these facts, and views it in context we can absolutely say that we can save [insert figure here] dollars, by cutting the active force and relying on the Guard and Reserve more. We can say that because from a purely Dollars and Cents perspective its true. Sadly when the time comes and we will need our Army to preform brilliantly like it *almost* always does, the cost will be much more evident, and painful to bare. We should beware the idea that a penny saved is a penny earned when talking about war. When it comes to the Military, General George S. Patton Jr said it best "A pint of Sweat will save a gallon of Blood". I can only wonder, and cringe at the cost in blood these cuts will have down the road.