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Capitol Hill reviews Reserve role, budget, mobilization

WASHINGTON -- As Congress debates ways to address the federal debt ceiling, reserve component military leaders were on Capitol Hill recently to testify and answer questions about retaining operational roles, changes to mobilization and future budget challenges.

Led by chairman Joe Wilson, of S.C., and ranking member Susan Davis, of Calif., the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Military Personnel met with reserve component leaders from the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard July 27.

The subcommittee is responsible for military personnel policy, reserve component integration and employment issues, military health care, military education, and POW/MIA issues.

"In an increasingly limited fiscal environment, reservists remain efficient and cost-effective solutions to our nation's challenges," said Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., the chief of Air Force Reserve at the Pentagon and commander of Air Force Reserve Command at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. "Our Airmen comprise nearly 14 percent of the total Air Force authorized end strength at only 5.3 percent of the military personnel budget.

"When Air Force Reserve Airmen are not training or performing an operational mission, they are not being paid, yet they remain ready to respond to crises around the globe within 72 hours should they be called upon," he said. "Given the resource challenges affecting our nation's security, this full-time readiness/part-time cost is the most cost efficient model for doing business."

Committee members discussed the reserve components' current role as an operational force and what potential legislative and policy changes could leverage cost-effective reserve programs threatened by downsizing budgets.

Rep. Michael Coffman, of Colo., said that in his view the Guard and Reserve are one of the solutions to the "high-priced trajectory of personnel costs."

He said the U.S. could retain its military capability, despite the current fiscal pressures, by restructuring the military around the Guard and Reserve.

Wilson said the key issue is the ability to maintain access to the operational reserve in peacetime.

He asked the reserve chiefs their opinions on the new Department of Defense proposal for more flexibility in mobilizing reservists.

All of the chiefs said they support the DOD proposal to amend U.S. law and authorize the secretary of defense to approve small mobilizations of less than 10,000 guardsmen and reservists as needed for national emergencies and surge operations.

"This would allow planners to size our forces accordingly," Stenner said. "We need to reshape our structure because today's reservists are no longer a force held back for only big surges but are used every day as full partners with their active-duty counterparts."

According to Stenner's statement to the committee, about 8,600 Air Force reservists are currently activated to support missions across the globe.

"As we speak, Air Force reservists are serving in every combatant command area of responsibility," he said. "That number includes our force's contribution to the Japanese relief effort and direct support to coalition operations in Libya."

Stenner's written statement outlined how the fiscal 2012 president's budget request would fund Air Force Reserve requirements of approximately $5 billion. It provides for the operation and training of 34 wings, funds 117,769 flying hours, maintains 344 aircraft, and provides for the readiness of 71,400 reservists and 4,157 civilian employees.

The Air Force Reserve budget request is about 4 percent of the total Air Force budget and includes $2.27 billion for operation and maintenance for air operations, service support and civilian pay; $1.7 billion for military personnel; and $34 million for military construction.

However, as Congress reviews the fiscal 2012 budget proposal, many resourcing and manning requests are subject to changes and reductions, especially during the current effort to tighten federal spending.