The Canadian Army Reserve needs an overhaul.
Last night on the 3rd of April I was digging through various articles from news sites and think-tanks on the current situation of the Canadian army reserve (or the Reserves in general). This action was sparked by a bit of news I had heard in regards to the Reserves losing a lot of people in quick succession without the recruitment numbers to replace them. Now this is going into the: “Military Hypothetical” section rather than: “The Rhetoric” because this is more of a supposed strategy rather than a rant – let us begin.
The Mackenzie Institute (think tank) published an article that discussed how the leadership of the Army is unable to adjust their expectations when it comes to the Reserves, and that part-time soldiers often are stuck choosing between their civilian careers and their military careers – the difficulty lies in that most leadership courses and professional development courses are geared towards full-time soldiers rather than part-time, thereby causing a lot of part-time soldiers to release voluntarily and thus costing the Reserves valuable experience and manpower. This issue is further compounded by the fact that 80% of soldiers are students and after 5 years of schooling they leave to focus on civilian careers (being in school for 5 years being the average time they spend in the Reserves).
The article goes on to say that the army needs to tailor the reserve training to reservists, citing that a reservist going on course only needs a certain subset of skills while his or her regular force (full time) counterpart needs the entire course – there are differences in capabilities and responsibilities. Indeed the full time soldier will use and practice all of the skills whereas the reservist may only need a handful of skills to get the job done in their capacity. Therefore, the article continues, the army needs and must develop a mindset that reservists only fulfill certain key roles, and that this drive to have full time and part time interchangeable is unsustainable and could hurt the army reserve in the long run.
Right well this isn’t surprising that the army is unable to adjust to change; traditionally the military has been resistant to change and it takes a while for the army to adopt new ideas and put them into action – we see that in World War 1 when generals scoffed at the idea of small unit tactics or the tank being the replacement for cavalry, and we see that in World War 2 with different tank doctrines early in the war and we all know how well that went for some of the participating nations.
Part time soldiers have unique stresses in their lives, and when you factor that in you must – MUST – ensure that their training covers the topics that they need to be familiar with rather than commands’ idea of what they “should” be familiar with. Core skills and professional development can only occur if a soldier has access to these opportunities, otherwise you see the Reserves fail in their mandate to provide additional manpower to the regulars in times of need. Sure the idea of them being interchangeable with the full time army is nice, but that is not entirely possible given the different challenges each member faces in their respective branch per se; full time soldiers can train regularly and are paid accordingly, whereas a part time soldier often has to rely on their civilian careers to allow them to contribute to the army reserve as the reserve pay is never enough to cover bills, expenses, gas and the mortgage.
The reality of relying on citizen-soldiers must also come with the understanding that these men and women have different objectives and challenges – the sooner they realize that the better. Now the suggestion for overhaul is as follows: separate the reserves from the regular force and cater training towards the reserves’ mandate of domestic emergency response and augmentation. Augmentation of regular troops can be done by simply providing staff members to units or soldiers to field units of which they will be subordinate to full time leaders for the sake of convenience. The part time soldiers will still have the basic skills, but because of their specialization the regular forces will need to take the lead when conducting operations and they will need to know the limitations of said units.
Next let us look at the supplementary reserve – a sub-component of the Canadian Forces reserves that is home to a list of standby soldiers who are inactive and are only available for emergency call ups. Break down the supplementary reserves into two categories: active and inactive. The Inactive component should still have to take refresher training annually for two weeks in the summer much like how the French army did during the years leading up to the First World War – this way the soldiers are more than ready to step in and require minimal work up. Next have a civil defense militia; while Canadian Rangers cover remote areas of Canada, the civil defense militia can provide static defensive manpower to the primary reserve (the part time soldiers actively training), and additional manpower ready and able in aid to civil authorities when it is not suggested to send in the primary reserve (lack of funding, long mobilization time, etc) – they will operate primarily in urban and suburban areas (including small towns). The civil defense militia will initially provide arms and ammunition out of the member’s own pockets (civilian firearms – this will require militia members to possess a firearms license) but will receive basic uniforms and webbing and be reimbursed for the equipment used while on exercises and operations in support of the Canadian Forces (kind of like the Canadian Rangers except not in remote parts of the country) – otherwise they are about as militia-like as they can be, and aside from minimal training will function as extra hands and heads for civil authorities.
The added bonus of this strategy is cost savings; relying solely on full time soldiers means a country is trapped in a cycle of spending that increases as time goes on. Indeed if we can gather interest and engage the general public in doing more for their country than vote and pay taxes then we can successfully achieve this objective and it would save the government of Canada millions of dollars in expenses overall. A small core of full time soldiers, and a massive reserves and militia – this way manpower will not be of issue, and when a war breaks out or a disaster strikes the mobilization costs will be offset by the fact that once the members are compensated for their time afterwards the expenses go away as members simply re-enter the civilian workforce and go on from there.
The Reserves needs an overhaul if it is to survive a changing society – this lack of interest from the Canadian government has historically been the norm, and continues into this day. Therefore rather than calling for a massive military apparatus, let us call for a large reserve force which is not only minimal on cost to the government, but can also solve the issues of manpower shortages and enables the government to have on hand ready and willing members to call upon when needed.
Attrition and Retention in the Reserves (The Mackenzie Institute):