Army Reserves and National Guard

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Army Reserves and National Guard. The Army Reserve originated in the National Defense Act of 1916, which established the Officers' Reserve Corps (ORC), the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), and an Enlisted Reserve Corps (ERC). This reserve represented a federal force long sought by the army. A 1920 congressional amendment incorporated the ORC and ERC in the Organized Reserves. Finally, the Armed Forces Reserve Act of 1952 renamed the organization the Army Reserve.

When the nation entered World War I, only 8,000 ORC officers were ready to serve; another 80,000 men earned reserve commissions during the war. From 1916 through 1941, officers dominated the reserve, with only 3,233 ERC men in a total strength of 120,000. World War I veterans, joined by ROTC graduates and civilian appointees, manned the ORC during the 1920s and 1930s. Lack of funding hampered the force, for without money or men it could not maintain units. ORC members received no drill pay and few had the opportunity to take active duty training. Reserve officers contributed significantly to the World War II effort by providing thousands of company and battalion officers to army and National Guard divisions.

From its creation in 1916 to the late 1940s, the ORC functioned as a rarely trained inactive force. Given the lack of funding, only the understrength and poorly equipped National Guard functioned as an active reserve. World War II produced an Officers' Reserve Corps of 200,000. It also created a pool of nearly 3 million enlisted men with a nominal reserve obligation. While 50 percent of demobilized officers took ORC commissions, few enlisted men signed up. The postwar years posed many problems for the armed forces. Foreign policy led to a permanent American presence overseas and probable military intervention, but defense spending forced sharp cuts in the regular forces and left little money for the reserves.

Under these conditions, the U.S. Army struggled to devise a viable reserve policy. It had a reserve force of its own, nearly 600,000 in 1949, but no policy to use it. The reserve muddle posed serious problems with the 1950 intervention in Korea. Army plans, such as they were, assumed total mobilization for a mass war. Korea was a limited war requiring only a partial reserve call‐up. The army was reluctant to mobilize the National Guard. It decided instead to activate individual reservists to reinforce understrength regular units. The mobilization fell heavily on World War II veterans, which generated much hard feeling, and led to the Armed Forces Reserve Act of 1952. Just over 241,000 reservists were called, whereas 138,000 Guardsmen, also largely veterans, served.

The army continued its quest for a viable reserve policy through the 1950s. Defense policy now provided increased spending, larger active forces, and selective service. The draft took in thousands of men annually for two years of active duty, followed by a reserve obligation. However, the army could not devise ways to compel these men to join a reserve unit. It failed to commit funds to maintain drill pay units to take them anyway. In 1956, for example, the Army Reserve manned its authorized units at a 32 percent level.

The reserve muddle persisted because army leaders realized belatedly that under the nuclear umbrella, planning for mass war and total mobilization seemed increasingly unlikely. By the end of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's second term, the Department of Defense began to consider reducing both the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara continued the reassessment into the 1960s. He sought to create a genuine ready reserve by manning Guard and reserve units at near full strength while equipping and training them properly.

McNamara erred badly with his proposal to merge the Army Reserve into the National Guard. He encountered a potent lobby in the Reserve Officers Association and reserve units with strong local ties similar to those of the established National Guard. However, McNamara succeeded in reducing Guard and reserve strengths and units even while improving readiness. The 1960s reserve reorganizations may be seen as the time when the Army Reserve came of age. McNamara's reforms gave the reserve a mobilization function: to provide combat and service support. The emphasis on readiness and full manning also heightened reserve unit identity and ensured its permanent status. The Army Reserve still provided individual ready reservists but its units would no longer be stripped of fillers for the active army.

The Vietnam War delayed implementation of the new policy. It also distorted Army Reserve and National Guard development by flooding both with recruits eager to avoid the draft and possible duty in Vietnam. President Lyndon B. Johnson, despite the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, refused to mobilize reserve components. Johnson relented with a limited call‐up in 1968. Forty‐two Army Reserve units answered the call (nearly 8,000 men), 32 of which went to Vietnam. Nearly all the units were detachments or companies providing support services.

The 1960s reserve reforms went into effect after the Vietnam War. Defense Department leaders adopted a Total Force policy that included reserve and National units. The policy eased the impact of defense cuts and ensured use of reserve components in future wars. Larger reserves fielding combat support and service support units allowed the active army to maintain more combat units. The army structured the National Guard to provide most of the combat reserve (71% of its force) and gave the bulk of service units to the Army Reserve (81% of its composition). With the end of the draft the reserve witnessed a dramatic drop in strength—from 1,294,256 men in the ready reserve in 1972 to a low of 338,847 in 1979.

Aggressive recruiting and attractive benefits brought recovery in less than a decade. In 1988, the Army Reserve boasted 600,000 ready reservists and 286,000 individual ready reservists, a dramatic rebound from the 1979 nadir. Total Force policy was designed so that the nation could not fight a war without a reserve mobilization. The Persian Gulf War put the policy to the test. By all accounts Army Reserve support units performed their duties well in 1990–91, deploying 39,000 men and women to the gulf, 6,000 more than the National Guard. Despite the limited nature of the Gulf War and the limited call‐up, this war stands as the highlight in Army Reserve history. Reservists went to war in identifiable units, received media attention, and came home to a heroes' welcome.
[See also Militia Acts; Militia and National Guard.]


Russell F. Weigley , Towards an American Army: Military Thought from Washington to Marshall, 1962.
William F. Levantrosser , Congress and the Citizen Soldier: Legislative Policy‐Making for the Federal Armed Forces Reserve, 1967.
Richard B. Crossland and and James T. Currie , Twice the Citizen: A History of the Army Reserve, 1908–1983, 1984.
David R. Segal , Recruiting for Uncle Sam: Citizenship and Military Manpower, 1984.
Eliot A. Cohen , Citizens and Soldiers: The Dilemma of Military Service, 1985.
Bennie J. Wilson III, ed., The Guard and Reserve in the Total Force: The First Decade, 1973–1983, 1985.
Martin Binkin and and William W. Kaufman , U.S. Army Guard and Reserve: Rhetoric, Realities, Risks, 1989.
Martin Binkin , Who Will Fight the Next War? The Changing Face of the American Military, 1993.

Jerry Cooper