Gen. Ray Odierno said that National Guardsmen and reservists will continue to have training periods away from home each year that would grow from a two-week block to up to seven weeks. (Army)
The end of fighting in Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan will not mean a return to a peacetime schedule of drilling one weekend a month and two weeks a year for the 550,000 citizen soldiers of the Army's National Guard and Reserve, according to the Army’s top general.
Instead, they will keep preparing for war, with training periods away from home each year that would grow from a two-week block to up to seven weeks, Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said in an interview Monday with USA TODAY. Drilling one weekend a month would continue.
"As they go through it, their readiness will increase, the number of days training will increase," Odierno said.
Army Maj. Michael Moricas, a member of the Rhode Island National Guard who served in Afghanistan, predicted there might be push-back from employers eager for the previous minimalist approach. And he anticipated mixed reviews from soldiers. "You might have some guys who will be OK with that and some people who will part ways," Moricas said.
The change, which will take effect next year, is a far less demanding schedule than what's occurred after 9/11 when Guardsmen and reservists suddenly left jobs and families for a year or more, preceded at times with four- to six-month periods of training, the general said. But it will be more than the traditional peacetime commitment of drilling one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
"What it will mean for the families is that when they do have extra training, it will be very predictable and they should know very far in advance when it's going to happen," Odierno said. "That's key as we work with employers."
Select National Guard or Reserve units would be part of a five-year cycle of training, available for deployment the last year of that period probably for no more than 30 to 45 days, he said.
In the past decade, National Guard and Reserve soldiers were mobilized at record levels. During 2005, the full-time Army was bolstered by more than 100,000 National Guard soldiers.
Odierno said that National Guard members and reservists acquired combat skills the Army sorely needs now as it tries to save money by reducing its ranks of full-time soldiers from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017, and cuts the number of combat brigades from 45 to 32.
"How do we sustain the readiness and experience that we've gained in the National Guard and Reserve component?" Odierno asked. "That's what we've been working on."
Current commitments to Afghanistan could mean a year of deployment for National Guard and Reserve troops will continue until the U.S. withdrawal of forces there concludes in 2014.
Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, said the wars went on for so long, that fewer people remember the peacetime schedule. But she cautioned about adhering to the promised limitations on training.
"If families can plan during peacetime, they'll by OK," she said. "If the Army puts out the schedule and then doesn't stick to it, all bets are off."