The National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force needs to look closer at the Air Force Reserve

Since 9/11 there has been a significant evolution in how the active component manages its assigned and attached individual reservists.  Undeniable improvements have been made in integrating these reservists into the personnel systems of the units they are attached to.  What is lacking is an understanding by many in the active component’s senior leadership regarding the untenable bureaucracy impacting this operational force multiplier, and the reserve component’s inadequate management of individual reservists.

Examples of areas needing intervention:  The Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) uses an administrative bureaucracy called the Readiness Management Group (RMG) to manage thousands of individual reservists who are already well managed through their assigned and attached active duty unit reserve managers.  The RMG bureaucratic price tag is likely in the millions for an organization that is competing administratively with active units where these reservists reside, as well as the Air Force Reserve Personnel Center that should be handling any issue not managed by the active duty units.  The Air Force should look at restructuring the RMG footprint. 

There are also Air Force Instructions (AFI) and policies tied to reserve management that are broken.  Looking at reserve management guidance, it becomes clear that associated documents are still being updated with legacy thinking instead of addressing guidance from the operational perspective brought on by 12 years of war. 
This should be unacceptable to Air Force senior leaders. 

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One easy but significant example is the guidance document referred to as AFI36-3121, based on Title 10 law (USC § 12686(a)). The AFI says that reserve and guard members reaching 18 years are to be retained until they retire at 20 years, giving those members access to active duty benefits which they have earned.  The AFRC however requires all members reaching the 18-year point to sign a waiver to this protection or they will no longer be able to serve when called.  It is critical for the force structure commission to look at such legacy guidance and recommend changes not only in the law if needed to bring them up to date, but in how the Air Force applies them.  The operational reserves deserve better guidance, but they do not have it. 

Another example is tied to MAN-DAYS, the days budgeted for and allocated to active units so they can put their individual reservists on orders to do the mission. The mind-numbing bureaucracy involved with putting reservists on orders and keeping them until a mission or task is complete requires a hard look.  History shows reservists can rarely be on orders that cross fiscal years, and many times orders aren’t issued for weeks after the beginning of a fiscal year. Once issued, the unit is limited on how many days an individual reservist can be on orders to fill the unit’s requirements, making it very hard to plan.  If a reservist on orders is required to go TDY for the unit he/she is assigned or attached they have to file their travel voucher through the RMG instead of the active unit who is funding the travel, adding even more bureaucratic pain for the reservist. 

Although there are a number of other examples of shortfalls needing review, there are also positive examples when leveraging individual reservists that many senior military leaders still do not understand.  For new and emerging missions, there is no better way to quickly stand-up and execute the mission than using individual reservists.  These individuals are usually older, more experienced, and it has been proven they can be on the ground working faster than any contractor, and they can be solving problems long before active or civilian billets can be brought to bear.  They are also cheaper than contractors and active members, which recent studies are validating.  It is time to re-look at individual reservists, not to get rid of these critical assets, but to leverage them better. 

The force structure commission can play a key role in shaping a better outcome for these operational reservists.  I just hope members of the Commission and General Welsh are listening.        

Bartley, a retired colonel, is the CEO of StratCOA, strategy consultants.