2 July 2016

Army Total Force Policy

June 30, 2016

The Army has adopted the Army Total Force Policy as its plan to integrate the Army National Guard and Army Reserve with the active Army to create a total force. In the last five years, the requirements on the United States Army for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have decreased, as has the budget and overall size of the army. It is within this budget and size reduction environment, along with the rise of ISIS in the Middle East and Russian actions in Europe, that have created new demands upon the Active Component of the Army. It is within this environment that the Army Total Force Policy adaptation is meant to integrate the Active, National Guard, and Reserve components of the Army into a single force. At the Army Chief of Staff and National Guard Bureau Director level, implementing a policy that dictates a total force approach is much easier than creating and implementing a strategy for integration. The current structure and uniqueness of the Army components is such that simply creating an Army Total Force Policy policy does not translate into an actionable strategy of implementation. Not addressed are the structural and operational differences between the Active Component and National Guard leading to fundamental barriers that inhibit implementation. Army Total Force Policy does not fully address the methods to implement at the operational level.

To understand these implementation issues, it is important to fully understand what the Army Total Force Policy is and is intended to accomplish. Equally important is understanding the unique structures of the Army and the Army National Guard. Acknowledging and understanding the uniqueness of each component enables identification of structural barriers inhibiting implementation. One example is the social contract that exists between National Guard soldiers and their civilian lives and their respective military obligation.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: “The Active Components and Reserve Components are integrated as a total force based on the attributes of the particular component and individual competencies.”

In October 2008, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates established the foundation for Army Total Force Policy, stating the Department of Defense policy that “the Active Components and Reserve Components are integrated as a total force based on the attributes of the particular component and individual competencies.”[1] In this era of continuous conflict, the operational demands placed upon the Active Component require National Guard integration as a paramount component of national security. Secretary of the Army John McHugh’s Army Directive 2012-08 (Army Total Force Policy) clarifies this concept: “The Total Force must be part of Army strategy and planning to fulfill national military needs.”[2] As the budget and size of the Active Component reduces, these documents outline how the Army leadership will address the reductions to meet all current demands. The integration of National Guard formations into the operational force is one means to the end of supporting national security and military strategy.

The notion that the National Guard is an operational force is problematic and does not clearly define the roles of each component within Army Total Force Policy. The Active Component and the National Guard are not equal in regards to responsiveness for many reasons, most importantly because of the way each views and defines time. A shared understanding of how each component defines operational time is required for a strategy to integrate components to succeed. It is generally an accepted understanding that Active Component soldiers are available any time to deploy overseas, which is not the case for National Guard soldiers. A National Guard soldier cannot simply leave on a moment's notice for an overseas deployment. Leaders simply need to acknowledge that time is viewed differently by both components.

It does take longer for the National Guard to prepare for an overseas deployment compared to the Active Component. The mobilization of the National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division to support Operation United Assistance in Liberia, provides an example illustrating the difference in time and its impact on deployment preparation. Operation United Assistance was the Department of Defense’s named operation “in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the lead agency for the U.S. government’s range of efforts against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.”[3] The 101st Airborne Division, the active component division that initially conducted the mission, deployed in approximately 30 days of notification.[4] Although ultimately relieved from deploying to Liberia, the 34th Infantry Division notification came November 17, 2014 with a deployment window of mid March 2015.[5] At first glance, a deployment window four times longer than their active component counterpart looks to be significantly greater time to prepare. However, within those 120 days a National Guard soldier will likely be in a military status for only eight days; attending one, two-day training period per month. This equals approximately four times less time than their active counterpart. The 34th Infantry Division was prepared to deploy within their 120 day, but it created challenges for soldiers.


The circumstances for the 34th Infantry Division surrounding Operation United Assistance were unique. Although not a new time standard for National Guard deployment preparation, the 34th Infantry Division’s ability to meet all training requirements created challenges between the soldiers and their respective civilian world. The social contract is a structural and operational difference that needs addressing in order for the Army Total Force Policy to succeed without placing unnecessary stress on the National Guard.

A distinguishing characteristic of the National Guard social contract is defined by the number of training days funded by Department of the Army. Within a fiscal year, a member of the National Guard has approximately 39 days funded for military training. Generally, it breaks down to one weekend a month and two weeks a year, which is the intellectual anchor of the civilian world on how they see and understand their employees commitment to the National Guard. It is this number of training days required of a citizen soldier that the civilian world defines the time commitment of their military member. The scheduling of annual training and drill weekends more than a year from execution allows employers to visualize when they lose their employees. It this concept of time, within the National Guard social contract, that gives the National Guard its uniqueness against the Active Component, and a societal anchor of the National Guard. As seen by 34th Infantry Division’s successful preparation for Operation United Assistance, it is possible for National Guard to prepare for unexpected missions within the fiscal year, but it comes at a cost unique to each Soldier and their employers.


The simplicity of Army Total Force Policy does not account for the social contract and time requirements and the final cost to society. The uniqueness of the National Guard also forms the foundation of the structural difference between it and the Active Component. The differences that exist are not insurmountable as demonstrated by the relationship between I Corps the 34th Infantry Division from the Minnesota National Guard.

United States Army I Corps and 34th Infantry Division have a working relationship dating back to January 2012 that has evolved and matured as the organizations continue to understand their mutually supporting relationship. Within the National Guard time paradigm, and in line with Department of the Army concept on sustained readiness, 34th Infantry Division provides Division Tactical Command Posts to support the annual I Corps exercises Yama Sakura and the bi-annual Talisman Saber. This enduring commitment from 34th Infantry Division benefits not only its soldiers in training and execution that comes from a Division Tactical Command Post exercise, but allows predictability to the social contract existing between soldiers and their employers. Additionally, besides the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, a subordinate division to I Corps, the commander of I Corps gains another division headquarters to command in the respective exercises. One of the greatest benefits to adding another division to an exercise, is exposing I Corps to working with multiple staffs in a complex environment. It is through these exercises and relationship that I Corps and 34th infantry Division have provided a way to operationalize the Army Total Force Policy at the two and three star General command level.

In this era of continuous conflict and constrained resources, Army Total Force Policy presents as a viable solution to meet the challenges posed to the Active Component and National Guard. Although work remains to create an actionable strategy for implementation, acknowledging the uniqueness in the two organizations is a starting point. The evolution of the relationship between I Corps and 34th Infantry Division took years, and multiple exercises, to reach its current status, one that is mutually beneficial to both units. Regardless of the time provided, the National Guard has the ability to accomplish all missions presented, but there is a cost to National Guard members social contract. One can look to the relationship between I Corps and the 34th infantry Division as a strategy of implementing the Army Total Force Policy. 

Michael Wickman and Jacob Helgestad are officers in the Army National Guard. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


[1] Department of Defense Directive, Managing the Reserve Components as an Operational Force(Washington, DC: Department of Defense, October 2008), 1. 

[2] Department of the Army, Memorandum for Distribution, Army Directive 2012-08 (Army Total Force Policy) (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, September 2012), 1.

[3] United States Department of Defense, “Operation United Assistance Helps in Liberian Ebola Fight,” DoD News, http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/603343 (accessed June 12, 2016).

[4] “101st Airborne Division to deploy to Liberia in support of Operation United Assistance,” Clarksville Online, http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/2014/10/01/101st-airborne-division-deploy-liberia-support-operation-united-assistance/ (accessed June 16, 2016) and “101st Airborne Division assumes Ebola response mission in Liberia,” United States Army,https://www.army.mil/article/137002/101st_Airborne_Division_assumes_Ebola_response_mission_in_Liberia/(accessed June 16, 2016).

[5] Michelle Tan and Patricia Kime, “Army names new units that will deploy to Africa,” Army Times,http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/guard-reserve/2014/11/16/guard-reserve-ebola-deployment/19144239/ (accessed June 16, 2016).

This article originally appeared at Strategy Bridge.

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