The RAND corporation is a Federally Funded Research and Development Corporation (FFRDC), a nonprofit originally sponsored by the Air Force to do big-forebrain thinking about strategic warfare. It was the original “think tank” and the prototype of many FFRDCs that have materially advanced US defense policy. The Army, not wanting to be neglected, sponsored a RAND sub-center called the Arroyo Center, which does the same kind of think-tanking, but on ground forces issues.
Recently, the Arroyo Center conducted an Army-sponsored study on the Reserve Component Special Forces and their relation to and best employment relative to active-duty SF elements. This hit us right where we live; your humble author spent significant time on active duty (in 10th SFG(A)), in the Clinton-disbanded USAR SF (11th SFG(A)), and in the National Guard SF (20th SFG(A)). Each unit had good people and a unique mix of pros and cons both for unit members and for Army planners who would use the unit, and it was crystal clear that some of these pros and cons alike stemmed from the active vs. reserve-component divide. Thus, we were extremely interested in seeing what RAND’s researchers had to say. This report was completed in 2012 by a team of John E. “Jed” Peters, Brian Shannon and Matthew E. Boyer, but has only been subject to a lot of discussion in the community this year.
Technical Report–National Guard Special Forces (RAND, 2012).pdf
This had to happen sooner or later, and we’re glad it did — someone noticed that the guard units and active units were different. The active guys have noticed this and assume that it means the guard units were worse, but in actuality, they’re just different, which means that employment decisions ought well to take those differences into consideration.
There are some small differences in the organization of Guard and Active SF units, mostly flowing from the fact that recent changes to the active force structure haven’t been replicated in the Guard.
ARNG groups have general support companies while the AC groups have general support battalions, the AC groups have special troops battalions that the ARNG groups do not, and the AC groups have four-company battalions while the ARNG groups have three-company battalions. They state that these organizational differences interfere with one-for-one interchangeability and the smooth rotation of units through the deployment cycle.
The Active Army works around that, mostly, by using the building blocks that are the same (ODA, ODB/Company, FOB/BN). The one time a Guard officer commanded a major CJSOTF was a thorough success, but the officer and the unit faced a whispering campaign (for example, a Unit Citation for the element was sidetracked and not awarded). Active officers are extremely jealous of command slots and would prefer to use Guard SF soldiers as individual or small unit plus-ups or replacements.
The authors note that SF’s historic flexibility has resulted in the past in the creation of provisional or mission-limited task units which did not survive beyond the length of their intended mission. These include specific task elements (TF Ivory Coast, the Son Tay Raiders), and more durable elements, such as MAC-V SOG and the Greek projects (Delta, Sigma, Omega) of the Vietnam War.
They note that some states do assign their SF elements state missions, and some do not. (The state they mention as not assigning a state mission to their SF company may be Massachusetts). For example, 20th Group soldiers in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi have been instrumental in hurricane relief in their states, along with their states’ other National Guard units.
Who’s Where. Note that Roanoke Rapids is not in VA, but where the map shows it is, in North Carolina.
There’s a lot of commuters to Guard SF units. In our last company (a unit of 84 men), we drew men from at least 12 states. We also had a real problem with our battalion and group being located 1,400 miles away — we were, at best, out of sight, out of mind, and at worst, ripped off.
20th SF soldier-family locations
For example, we found that the Alabama boys tended to retain our slice of new equipment. In one case, they held some SOPMOD II components before a deployment, and only issued it to us after we got back. We don’t think there was anything nefarious happening here (the AL guys were and are great guys), just the effects of propinquity. Not everybody agreed, as the RANDistas noted:
In some instances, these arrangements have prompted feelings of favoritism and unfair- ness, in which subordinate units located in different states from their parent organizations believe that they are discriminated against in favor of in-state subordinates, who as a result enjoy deployment opportunities, priority for new equipment, and priority for training courses that do not accrue to the out-of-state unit.
That’s probably true. We knew that our guys were not going to get a fair shake at battalion or group command, staff, or sergeant major slots. Just the way it worked.
And then there’s this problem (Read The Whole Thing™ to understand it in full, but “Title 32″ means, essentially, “Guard units when not mobilized onto active duty”):
Under Title 32, there is very little coherence in command relationships for Special Forces units.
Boy, is that ever true.
Here’s a chart showing some of the personnel differences:
This table is a little bit bogus because it was done by adding up the number of 18 series soldier with these qualifications and dividing them by the number of groups. But in addition to the groups, the active component has a large number of 18 series officers and men assigned to the training base or to headquarters, the Joint Readiness Training Center special-ops cadre, etc. The number of non-group 18 series slots is probably at least one group equivalent.
It is not really practical for part-time soldiers to maintain MFF and dive teams. In the last couple of decades, the currency and recency requirements, and the logistical requirements for running a jump or a dive, have exploded; if you were to meet your dive or HALO proficiency requirements, you would literally have to spend 100% of your drill time on that skill alone, neglecting everything else. Accordingly, the active commands parcel out few qualifications schools slots to the Guard, and those Guardsmen that have HALO wings or a Combat Dive bubble usually obtained the qualification on active duty.
Here are the recommendations. We think they speak for themselves:
The colored numbers are explained by this graph:
Here are some thoughts of ours that we did not see Peters et. al. take up.
- The Guard teams tend to stay together much longer. The Active Army personnel system is so bad that there’s no real way to keep personnel turbulence from wracking your team. When we were on active duty, three months with the same personnel was a long time.
- The problem of language proficiency, that they dwell on, comes in part from the Army whipsawing the Guard groups with area, language and priority changes. They do this to their own guys too (it’s not some anti-Guard bias, it’s lack of respect for language as important), but they fund language schools for them much more heavily. Basically, we’ll believe USASOC and USASFC thinks language is important when they start acting like it is important, and providing consistent and stable leadership on it. This, they have never done.