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The Combat Heavy Force Reserve–A Drama of the First War with Iraq


The Combat Heavy Force Reserve–A Drama of the First War with Iraq

Article by: Tom Rozman

What follows is a different window of observation on military leadership than normally viewed.

The “play” up to the war had developed, the forces initially determined needed by planners had deployed and were initiating operations in theater.  The force footprint had consumed practically all of the fully manned and deployable heavy component (armored) force capability of the active U. S. Army.  The Army had already initiated the significant reduction in force deemed necessary at the fall of the Berlin Wall and ongoing break up of the Soviet Union.  It  would reduce its Active Army force (it would reduce to essentially an all volunteer Regular Army) by more than a third with commensurate reductions in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard.

The Army of the United States, essentially a temporary mobilized national ground force that began to become more defined in policy after WW I and became an extended active establishment post WWII, was moving toward the pre-WW II model of the U. S. Army (Regular Army) being restored as the active national standing force.  It would not reduce to the approximately 180K of 1939, but would hover at just under 500K.

By a range of policy directions over the previous two decades, the armies of the various states, the Army National Guard of each state, a force that had become increasingly federalized in practice over the years, had become the primary combat arms organized part time reserve force of the national army.  The Army Reserve had given up almost all combat units and was primarily a part time support unit reserve force and individual reserve.

Through the legal device of the Army of the United States, an entity comprised of the U. S. Army (Regular Army), Army National Guard and Army Reserve, the nation had been managing a larger force than the by law authorized U.S Army in active service since 1940.  During the various periods of force expansion and contraction that developed, in mobilizations like WW II and Korea, national order of battle of units were expanded beyond the U. S. Army by federalizing National Guard units, mobilizing cadre or disestablished Army Reserve or U. S. Army (Regular Army) units and manning them with the influxes of volunteers that often initially developed in a period of emergency but primarily with national service (selective service) inductees otherwise referred to as drafted soldiers.  The latter were termed or categorized as  “Army of the United States” and the difference between the categories of personnel in any of the units would in the maturing system show up at the beginning  of the soldier’s service number with the codes RA for Regular Army, NG for National Guard, AR for Army Reserve and US for Army of the United States.

At the beginning of conflicts like WW II and Korea, the Regular units were heavily RA , the National Guard units NG and to a lesser degree, the Reserve units AR.  Fairly quickly once on active service and as personnel were provided from the training centers to bring units to full establishment or to reconstitute them after battle, the service numbers of the personnel on roster began to shift heavily to US even with some personnel still entering the other categories voluntarily.  Even the commissioned ranks reflected this tendency as enlisted soldiers received direct commissions for example, their commissioned status component being initially AUS (Army of the United States).

Post WW II, in the valleys between the hot campaigns of the Cold War the Army, through the AUS legal device, would remain above its pre-WW II U. S. Army strength though barely, at 500K—inadequate in the event as the Korean Emergency and a noisy Stalin in Europe made clear.  But on cessation of active operations like Korea, yet with continuing Cold War global needs, the AUS force began to be maintained in the troughs between accelerated conflicts at levels around 750-780K.

The Viet Nam Era policies initially attempted to increase the standing force as had been done for WW I, WW II and Korea by using the AUS device by activating organized units of the National Guard and Army Reserve.  However, even though the Army of the United States would again expand to Korean War levels, political issues caused the Army to vacate policies to federalize National Guard units and mobilize Federal Reserve units.  Instead, the Army “cloned” additional battalions of the Regular Army by forming cadres from active personnel and filling them from training centers and taking the units through a sequential training and validation cycle to formation level.  This was facilitated by the Army having vacated the standing regiment and moving toward a system of brigaded separate battalions of the regiments not unlike the British system.

The result was an expansion in name of Regular Army units with five, six even eleven battalions of the various Regular Army regiments.  Officers and non-commissioned officers would be assigned to the units from existing and expanded sources of the U. S Army and Army Reserve—the Military Academy, Reserve Officer Training Corps, a greatly expanded Officer Candidate School program and some direct commissions from the ranks.  Thus the officers, unlike previous army expansion periods would be Regular Army and Army Reserve primarily with a small number of National Guard volunteers and Army of the United States officers.  The enlisted ranks would still have substantial levels of volunteers and even some AR and NG soldiers, but would be heavily subscribed by US soldiers.  Officers would hold active duty rank in the Army of the United States with parallel rank in their component, the Regular Army officer typically holding higher AUS rank than permanent Regular Army rank.

The above policy, though politically expedient in the circumstances, had a pernicious effect on the AUS such that a post conflict chief of staff determined that if the Army was called into another major situation the National Guard and the Army Reserve as by law components of the AUS would be in on the “party” as full partners.

A range of policies followed such as “Round Out” units—a National Guard brigade that was provided extra funding for more paid training days during a fiscal year and additional full active duty personnel as well as the latest equipment, as a third maneuver brigade, for example, to an active army combat division.  Other related enhancements and reinforcements were made across the reserve establishment.

The idea was that the U. S. Army would never be sent into war again without its AUS partners, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.  All would share equally in any burdens of service or “appreciation” by the American public.

However, in the eight years leading up to the First Iraq War, a major Army modernization, especially of its heavy maneuver force, introduced other factors that challenged the progress of the force integration.  Consequently and in the event, a situation presented where major force reductions that had been put in motion shortly after the Berlin Wall fell in the active force and dramatically reduced budgets, combined with the ongoing modernization, caused some concern by senior Army leaders of the National Guard and Reserve units’ initial usability in any of the possible developing combat operations.

As well, a major strategic problem loomed.  The force felt necessary to confront the, at the time, battle experienced Iraqi Army after its years of operations against Iran in the Iraq-Iran War, used the entire Active Army heavy force—all of VII Corps and much of V Corps units still organized in Europe, remaining III Corps units and units of  the ground Corps constituted by the Marines(2nd Armored Division was already deactivating, but its Tiger Brigade would fill up and deploy and serve as the heavy armored strike force … it would be the spear point of the Corps’ drive on Kuwait City.

In effect, if the Iraqi Army proved a tough foe as its combat experience over the previous several years suggested, and decimated allied forces or, a situation requiring heavy forces elsewhere developed, there was no heavy force reserve remaining in the current active force.  The only additional heavy force formations existed almost entirely in the Army National Guard.

Essentially, the two above situations played out by the round out brigades not deploying initially.  Active forces that had a Round Out National Guard  brigade, like the 24th Mechanized Division at Ft. Stewart, Georgia, deployed with its third brigade becoming an active army separate brigade that was still organized at another post in the United States.

However, the 24th Division’s round out brigade and two other National Guard round out  brigades, along with two National Guard armored cavalry regiments were mobilized or in process of mobilization.  A program was developed to cycle these formations through an intense period of training at another of the Army’s modernizing force capabilities that had come on line in the last few years, the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California.  The 48th Separate Mechanized Infantry Brigade from the Georgia and South Carolina National Guard would be the first mobilized formation to move through the center for intense training and formation battle validation.

A senior officer team representing the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) commander at the time, General John Foss, was deployed to Ft. Irwin to observe the brigade’s operations.  The officers were drawn from the command’s Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training’s Collective Training Directorate (CTD).  The Directorate, among other responsibilities, oversaw Army unit training programs for the total force.  It had been monitoring the total force training situation and reporting its status during the lead up to active operations.

On arrival, the team interfaced with the commander of the center, then Brigadier General Wesley Clarke, and the 48th Brigade commander at the time.  This interface was followed by the two officers embedding with the 48th Brigade during its ongoing training on the firing ranges and maneuver areas of NTC.  The brigade’s units were conducting the high-end force on force live training made possible by the center and its technology.

The team was greatly impressed by the guardsmen.  Their enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment, having been pulled from their civilian lives rather suddenly, was an inspiration.  But all guardsmen queried, especially junior officers, expressed great appreciation for the ability to come to the center for concentrated training to bring themselves and their units to a more battle worthy level of capability before any deployment.

It must be kept in mind that the “Round Out” National Guard brigade was intended to be at a level of readiness sufficient that it would be able to deploy with its active force division and operate.  One underlying assumption was that Army National Guard personnel were relatively stable residentially, more than the active force where roughly 1/3 of a unit would change out annually.  This was a critical assumption relative to the combat effectiveness of a four soldier M1 Abrams Tank crew where, if a tank commander, gunner, even a loader changed out and had to be replaced, the gunnery proficiency of the crew could be dramatically affected.

In the event, as the brigades were federalized, the assumption proved much less the case.  Due to a number of factors, not least being the American economy and the work force’s mobility relative to remaining employed where job opportunities existed, meant that personnel turmoil in the guard units in many ways paralleled if not exceeded active units.

Adding the other affecting factors on deployability of personnel, the brigade on mobilization found itself having to make good a growing number of vacancies.  The first approach was to do so with available guardsmen drawn from the two states from which the brigade was garrisoned.

When this resource proved insufficient the Army National Guard troop base regionally then nationally was accessed for soldiers with the necessary Military Occupational Skills (MOSs).  But the MOS matches proved beyond National Guard resources at the time and the Individual Ready Reserve, a federal reserve, had to be tapped which developed other issues not least being the medical limitations found in the mobilized reservists, many of whom had to be medically discharged after mobilization.

It must be noted that in the WW I, WW II and the Korean War mobilizations of National Guard units, the units, always under strength on federalization were deployed from their home areas to a major installation where they were filled out to full establishment from AUS resources—additional officers and NCOs from the Regular and Reserve components and soldiers from the training centers followed by concentrated periods of individual and collective training to a “validation” before deployment.   The Round Out concept of deployability as much as possible as is, was proving more challenging in the event than had thought would be the case by planners.

The situation was not a negative one relative to the guardsmen.  They were dedicated patriots.  But the extraction from civil life, then the immersion into a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week operational duty cycle in complex organizations performing intricate collective tasks at many levels in a business that if done wrong gets people killed in large numbers, demanded its own pound of flesh on the journey to individual and collective proficiency.  This demanding situation existed never mind the wear and tear on the individual’s psyche.

Nevertheless, to the larger strategic issue and not discussed publically at the time, the guardsmen were still performing a vital function they have not generally been given credit for.  They were building a strategic national heavy force reserve in being of at least division size.  If the situation that developed in Iraq had gone as some estimates indicated, this reserve would have been critical.

In the event, the experience caused a major relook by the Army of the Reserve Component’s ability to expand the active force quickly within more current economic, political, organizational, technological, equipment, reserve individual medical and dental status and psychological parameters.  This was not an easy process—but some in the mix of the review considered it a vital duty to do two things.  One, assure a viable combat reserve force whose capabilities were known.  Two, assure citizens would not be placed in battle before their time, another form of institutional murder.

A given and thorough imperative—the size active force that was shaping within national fiscal parameters would not be able to address the array of possible contingencies on the horizon without a reserve combat and support force from the National Guard and Army Reserve.  In effect, these components would have to be brought to as close to “Regular Army” active force readiness as possible while normally operating in their unique community based non-mobilized environments.

Emerging training technologies with such capabilities as interactive virtual simulation at local centers and armories and the force on force capabilities of the NTCs would be leveraged.  There were other early developments as well such as the “Lane Training” concept demonstrated at Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin during the initial period of post Iraq War reserve training system upgrade.

Again, the process was challenging but to succeed, it had to be a team effort by all of the Army’s leadership, active and reserve component.  Hopefully, this effort could be accomplished with minimal political play, a real factor when it got to budgets and allocations.

The TRADOC Commander’s team sent to NTC to evaluate the 48th Brigade’s program was tasked to provide an after action report in form of a white paper on return.  As well, its members were absorbed into several ongoing reserve mobilization training related lessons learned panels held in the Pentagon.  For the most part they considered the activity positive and headed in the right direction.

However, at one point the team developed a concern that certain politically motivated influences were developing that might redirect the effort away from its needed purpose.  Despite possible negative personal professional career risks, the team considered it important to communicate the need for Reserve Component training reform to a wider audience.  A team decision was made to adapt the white paper to an article submission to “Military Review.”  The article was published soon after submission.

In the event, very good work was performed by the total Army Team on a very complicated endeavor.  A decade later and for a decade after that—much of the work done by a team of Active and Reserve Component Army leaders and developers bore fruit.  A much reduced active force was able to expand from a full time authorization of under 500K to levels necessary to meet an Afghanistan, second Iraq and many lesser known operations to include the Southern Philippines.  The brand of leadership necessary to bring this effort to fruition was different than that assumed in the military sphere, but its success was just as vital and it, for the most part, succeeded.

At a very high policy level and between the Army’s components an effective form of team leadership formed.  At all levels soldiers of the components rolled up their sleeves and got busy doing what needed to be done to adapt the total force structure into a form that would meet future needs.  This had to be a team effort and it was—the Army was able to expand its strength and effectively operate at the larger force level.

And at the time of the mobilization for the war in Kuwait, the Army, its heavy force assets completely engaged in the Gulf, from the Reserve Components assets, formed a strategic heavy force reserve.  Had events gone differently, this reserve may well have been employed.  Lessons regarding training and the force structure would be learned that would be applied in the second war with Iraq.