According to Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of the Army Reserve and commanding general of Army Reserve Command, budget cuts have been taking a toll on both the readiness and modernization of the Army Reserve - even as the demand for Reserve soldiers and their unique capabilities is on the rise.
In an interview with ArmyTimes.com, Gen. Talley is happy with how the Reserve is handling its limited budget, but he's worried about the future.
"When you look at our reduced budgets, we’re probably faring as well, if not better, than the other two components", Talley said, "the problem is we are becoming strategic, not because of end-strength reductions or force structure changes, but because of a cash flow problem."
The Reserve component currently has about 198,700 soldiers, but expects to be down to about 198,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2016. The attrition of soldiers in the Reserve is currently in good shape at 12%, down from 24% just three years ago, but Talley is worried about keeping his soldiers happy and involved if the readiness of Reserve units drops much more.
But the Army Reserve's ability to operate effectively with the active-duty Army and other branches is currently limited, since about 75% of the Reserve's mission command hardware and software is too old and not compatible with the equipment in use by other branches. Since 9/11 the Army Reserve's funding levels have dropped noticeably - from about 6% of the Army's budget pre-9/11 to about 2% afterwards.
Of course, it's not just about the amount of money - sequestration drastically reduces flexibility in how the money for each branch is spent. According to Talley, the Reserve ended fiscal year 2015 with extra money in the overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget, but money allocated for OCO can't be used for non-OCO items, such as updating equipment or pre-mobilization readiness.
The shrinking active-duty Army is also increasing the demand for Reserve soldiers - Reserve soldiers are currently in every Army command across the world, with about 18,350 currently mobilized. Right now Talley has had to resort to "cross leveling" - moving soldiers from one unit to fill open slots in needed units - a process that was used during the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom I and II to maintain the needed readiness levels.
Right now, though, Talley says that he wants his soldiers to focus on leadership and training, "We have no clue what the future is...We are going to have a more uncertain world at home and abroad, and the way you deal with it...is to invest in leader development.”