Armed forces reserve and guard units at the D.C. armory, the Washington Navy Yard and other installations that serve the District are operating at below authorized strenght, reflecting the national downward trend in the number of reserves.
Because of that trend, said deputy assistant secretary of Defense for reserve affairs Will Hill Tankersley, the Pentagon has launched a study of incentives that could be used to attract people back into the reserves. Pentagon recommendations will require Congressional approval before they can implemented.
The trend reflects the end of the war in Vietnam and the end of the draft - double incentives that once drove large numbers of draft-aged men into the reserves and produced a waiting list.
Now, with the picture radically changed, local reserve units are stepping up recruiting efforts in a bid to correct a situation that Tankersley and others say might threaten the reserve forces' ability to provide first rate training.
"What concerns us is not the present," noted Tankersley, who said the shortfalls are not a serious threat to the country's ability to mobilize. "It's the trend."
Nationally, the armed forces reserves and the national guard are at about 94 per cent of authorized strength - a figure that reflects, in a part, recently reduced goals, rather than needs, for some branches of the service.
Locally, the D.C. National Guard is between 90 and 95 per cent of authorized strength. Theater Army Area Command reserve units at Ft. Belvoir are at about 87 per cent of authorized strength, and the 97th U.S. Army Reserve Command at Ft. Meade is at about 10 per cent below authorized strength.
Local Marine reserve units are at about 95 per cent of authorized strength. The 459th Tactical Air Lift Wing is at about 95 per cent of authorized strength, and the Navy's Reserve Readiness Command, region six, with units at the Washington Navy Yard, is currently manned at about 85 per cent of authorized strength.
"For a long time, we were in a buyer's market," said Tankersley. "It was like the King Tut exhibit. We had a line and could just shut it off when we wanted to," he said.
In 1974, when the draft ended, the numbers of reservists began to slide downward as reservists who had joined as an alternative to being drafted left the service without re-enlisting. At the same time the number of new reservists began to fall off.
"We've got plenty of people coming in, but there are also plenty going out," said Arnold Mathias, recruiting officer at Ft. Belvoir. "A lot of those people were inspired to join because they didn't want to be drafted," he said.
The guard and reserve units are generally attacking the shortfall in their ranks by increasing recruiting staff and through other programs. One of those essentially offers a bounty to new recruits, increasing their rank and pay for bringing in yet other new recruits.
Some of the answer is simply harder work, said Brig. Gen. Wayne Bridges, adjutant general for the D.C. National Guard. "It's a never-ending effort," he said. "The all-volunteer force is a new concept and we're all working on how to do this," said Bridges.
Recruiters go out to schools, federal buildings, "any source of potential recruits," said Bridges. "That kind of market analysis takes considerable vigilance," he said.
Also important, according to Tankersley, is to let people know that the guard and reserves have changed.
"In recent years the guard and the reserves have been in transition from the militia concept," said Tankersley. Instead of a pool of not very highly trained people who might take as much as a year to make combat-ready, the reserves now provide a highly trained cadre that can be mobilized as quickly as within 48 hours, he said.
The reserves' image has suffered, he said. "People thought of it as a bunch of old, fat men telling war stories" or as draft dodgers, an unfair label, he said.
Now, he said, the training and equipment is better and, unlike the past, the guard and reserves are evaluated by the same scale used for evaluating active forces. The 459th Tactical Air Lift Wing unit at Andrews Air Force Base, for instance, trains on its own C-130E aircraft, the same type of aircraft used by the Israelis in their rescue at Entebbe airport, according to public information officer Mike Singer.
"There's been an improvement in general in morale now that we have taken units and tied them more closely with their active duty counterparts," said Capt. Frank Briggs, deputy commander for the Naval Reserve Readiness Command, region six. "This not only helps with recruitment but also with retention," he said.
Currently 30 per cent of the armed forces units and 40 per cent of the trained manpower is in the guards and reserves, said Tankersley.
Marketable training, along with life insurance, limited retirement and sense of camaraderie and service are among the benefits that the reserves offer, according to proponents.
The D.C. National Guard is available for civil service as well defense. About 1,000 of the apporximately 2,200 D.C. army guardsmen turned out last week to help with traffic control for the inaugural, as they also did for the Bicentennial July 4. "They respond very well to an emergency or to something glamorous," said Bridges.
The inaugural duty, directing traffic in sub-freezing temperatures, was extra duty, out guardsmen turned out in good numbers, he said. Part of the incentive is the chance to be a part of history, he said.
The reserves and guard are a bargain for the taxpayer, said Tankersley. "A strong, effective guard and reserve is the only alternative" to larger, more costly active services, he said.
Tankersley said the Pentagon is studying incentives that might be used effectively in recruiting, such as partial tuition payments for reserve members. The Pentagon is also reviewing pay rates for reservist, he said. Recommendations to send to Congress are expected to be ready by summer.
One major problem produced by the current need to recruit is that time and energy now being spent on recuiting means some reduction in the time and energy available for training, said Tankersley.
"We're still fairly new in the business," said Mathias. "The active army has been recruiting since the army began. We've only been doing it really since the 1970s, when the draft ended. We're not up to where they are yet," he said.
Not all units are below strength. Units that offer training in relatively galmorous area such as intelligence appear to have less trouble recruiting. Of five Marine reserve units at the Washington Navy Yard, four are nearly 100 per cent of authorized strength, but a fifth is only at about 85 per cent, said Lt. Col. Wayne Bjork.
Supply units are harder to fill, he said. "People would rather do something more exciting," he said.
The reserves and the guard require one weekend a month and two weeks training in the summer after six months basic training for new recruits. A new recruit at the lowest rank will earn about $2,600 in his first year.
"Our biggest selling point is that you canbe both a Marine and a civilian," said Bjork.