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The Army Reserve at 100: An Emerging Operational Force

As Chicago Cubs fans this year ruefully note the 100th anniversary of the last time their team won the World Series, the men and women of the Army also are marking a centennial—and their anniversary is one truly worthy of celebration. It was 100 years ago, in 1908, that the first step was taken toward creating what is now the United States Army Reserve. As logisticians know, the Army Reserve plays a crucial role in the Nation’s defense because much of the Army’s logistics force structure resides in the Reserve and many of the Army’s logisticians are reservists themselves. So it is fitting that logisticians join with other Soldiers and with all Americans to commemorate a century of service to the Nation by America’s Warrior Citizens.

Birth of a Federal Reserve Force

The Army Reserve traces its beginnings to the creation of the Medical Reserve Corps, which was authorized by an act of Congress signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt on 23 April 1908. The idea behind the Medical Reserve Corps was to create a pool of trained medical officers who could be called to active duty in time of war. Under this new program, 160 medical professionals were commissioned as Medical Reserve Corps officers in June 1908. By June 1917, as the United States entered World War I, the Medical Reserve Corps had a strength of 9,223 doctors, dentists, and veterinarians.

In the meantime, Congress in 1912 had created a Federal reserve force outside the Medical Reserve Corps, known as the Regular Army Reserve. In 1916, the infant Reserve was mobilized for the first time as part of the expedition into Mexico led by Brigadier General John J. Pershing to pursue Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa. Approximately 3,000 reservists participated in that operation.

The National Defense Act of 1916 mandated a major reorganization of the nascent Federal reserve force. It established an Officers Reserve Corps (into which the Medical Reserve Corps was merged the following year), Enlisted Reserve Corps, and Reserve Officers Training Corps (the birth of ROTC). The National Defense Act of 1920 joined the Officers and Enlisted Reserve Corps to form the Organized Reserve (renamed the Organized Reserve Corps in 1948).

Service in War and Peace

Since its first decade, the Army Reserve has made significant contributions in all of the Nation’s wars and in many peacetime operations as well. Almost 170,000 reservists served on active duty during World War I, including 89,500 officers (one-third of them medical personnel) and 80,000 enlisted Soldiers.

Some 30,000 Reserve officers commanded or served at the 2,700 camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Of the 900,000 officers in the Army during World War II, more than 200,000 were reservists. The importance of the Reserve to the war effort led the Congress to authorize drill pay and retirement benefits for reservists in 1948; the same legislation also authorized women to join the Reserve. Approximately 240,500 reservists served on active duty during the Korean War.

In 1952, an act of Congress renamed the Organized Reserve Corps as the U.S. Army Reserve and divided it into three components: Ready Reserve, Standby Reserve, and Retired Reserve. Surprisingly, fewer than 5,000 reservists and only 42 Army Reserve units were called up for service in the Vietnam War. However, almost 84,000 reservists provided combat support and combat service support during the Persian Gulf War, with over 40,000 deployed to Southwest Asia. In 1991, the U.S. Army Reserve Command was created as a component of the Army Forces Command.

21st Century Transformation

In its centennial year, the Army Reserve is in the midst of some of the most significant changes in its history, transforming from a strategic force in reserve to an operational force that works in partnership with deployed Active Army units. To perform effectively in this role, the Army Reserve is changing its organizational structure from one based largely on geography to one based largely on function. The Army Reserve’s chain of command has been based mainly on regional readiness commands that parallel the geographic regions used by most Federal civilian agencies; in a similar fashion, training has been conducted by training divisions with geographic areas of responsibility. From this structure of regional readiness commands, institutional training and training support divisions, and direct reporting commands and units (the legacy force), the Army Reserve is restructuring into operational and functional commands, training and training support commands, and support commands. (See chart below.)

The operational and functional commands will command units performing similar functions without regard to their geographic locations. Operational commands will be deployable, while functional commands will not. The four training commands will train Active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve Soldiers through formal classroom instruction and hands-on training. Each command provides a specific type of training for units throughout the country. The two training support commands, both organized under First U.S. Army, will plan, conduct, and evaluate training exercises for Active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve units.

The traditional geographic structure of the Army Reserve will continue in the form of four regional support commands. However, unlike the 11 regional readiness commands they are replacing, the regional support commands will not have operational or command and control relationships in their geographic regions; they will only provide base operations and administrative support. The regional support commands and their geographic regions will be the 99th in the northeast United States; the 81st in the southeast; the 88th in the northwest; and the 63d in the southwest. For Army Reserve units outside the continental United States, the 1st Mission Support Command (MSC) will be responsible for Puerto Rico, the 9th MSC for the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility, and the 7th Civil Support Command for the U.S. European Command area of responsibility.

Today, the Army Reserve has an authorized strength of 205,000 Soldiers. Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, approximately 191,000 reservists have mobilized to serve in the Global War on Terrorism, and about 27,000 are currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and 18 other countries.

The Army Reserve provides a disproportionate amount—about half—of the Army’s sustainment force structure. This includes 100 percent of railway units; more than two-thirds of expeditionary sustainment commands, petroleum groups and battalions, and combat support hospitals; and almost half of the Army’s movement control battalions, water purification companies, terminal battalions, and transportation commands.

In this centennial year—a year of celebration, change, and wartime service—the Army Reserve is guided by four imperatives: to sustain Soldiers, their families, and employers; to prepare Soldiers for success in current operations; to reset and rebuild readiness for future operations; and to transform to better meet the demands of the 21st century.