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U.S. Army Reserve - History

The United States that gained its independence in the American Revolution chose to rely on a very small Regular Army augmented in time of crisis by militia or civilian volunteers. The practice continued throughout the 19th century. During the Civil War, when the Regular Army divided between north and south, both sides resorted to state militias, to the raising of volunteer units, and finally to conscription. Once the war ended, however, soldiers were mustered out as quickly as possible and the status quo restored.

The training and preparedness of either militia or volunteers was always suspect at best and non-existent at worst. As the United States entered the 20th century, with the Spanish-American War a recent memory, the nation's leaders became more aware of America's potential and of the risks the new century might bring. Competing military alliances stretched across Europe, and each major military power had elaborate mobilization plans. While still hoping for political, if not economic, isolation, the United States began to look to a greater level of military preparedness and strength within federal control.

The U.S. Army Reserve traces its beginnings to April 23, 1908, when Congress passed Senate Bill 1424. This act authorized the Army to establish a reserve corps of medical officers. The Secretary of War could order these officers to active duty during time of emergency. This was the nation's first federal reserve. Four years later, a provision of the Army Appropriations Act of 1912 created the Regular Army Reserve, a federal reserve outside the Medical Reserve Corps authorized in 1908.

The first call-up of the Army Reserve came in 1916 as a result of tensions between the United States and Mexico caused by the Mexican bandit, Francisco "Pancho" Villa, and the subsequent punitive expedition after Villa led by Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing. For a time, it looked like there might be a war between Mexico and the United States and for the first, but not the only time, the Army looked to its citizen-soldiers for added strength and expertise. This first mobilization was an important development for the Army Reserve -- and a great shakedown for the Army's reserve components prior to America's entry into World War I -- as was another piece of legislation that was passed in 1916.

The National Defense Act of 1916 established, by statute, the Officers Reserve Corps, the Enlisted Reserve Corps and the Reserve Officers Training Corps. One year later in 1917, the initial Reserve organization, the Medical Reserve Corps merged into the Officers Reserve Corps. On April 6, 1917, America entered World War I. By the end of June 1917, there were 21,543 officer reservists and 35,000 enlisted reservists. Less than a decade earlier, there had been no reservists. The Reserve's importance to Army medicine, its original specialty, was particularly striking: Reserve medical officers outnumbered Regular Army doctors more than four to one. Of the Army nurses on active duty on April 6, 1917, almost half (170 out of 403) were Reservists.

As the Army expanded for World War I, so did the Army Reserve. In all, about 80,000 enlisted Reservists and almost 90,000 officer Reservists served in the First World War. They served in every division of the American Expeditionary Force, whether those divisions were Regular Army, National Guard or National Army. The Reserve doughboys of 1917 and 1918 -- among whose ranks were America's Ace of Aces Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and Col. Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. of the 1st Infantry Division -- set the standard of dedicated service that Army Reservists have followed ever since.

Since World War I, Army Reservists -- or Organized Reservists as they were called until 1952 -- have taken part in every major American conflict of the 20th Century. They have been in the forefront of other types of crises as well. The years between the world wars were austere, with few opportunities for training. An opportunity for service, however, was created during the Great Depression. One of Roosevelt's New Deal programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), placed young men in barracks and military-style organizations to work in national forests and other outdoor projects. Between 1933 and 1939, more than 30,000 officers from the Organized Reserve Corps served as commanders or staff officers at the 2,700 CCC camps.

As World War II neared, the Army Reserve was mobilized again to provide the junior officers needed to build the huge Army necessary to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. On February 6, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt orders all Organized Reservists not already on active duty into active service for the duration of the war. Actually, there were more than 11,000 Organized Reservists who did not get called up for various reasons. About 1/3 of these were men considered too old to serve on active duty. Others had achieved high rank in the Reserves but vacancies in the Active Army were unavailable at their grade. A few were not called up because they were Congressmen, Senators, and Judges. Many of these men, who had spent years in dedicated Army Reserve service, were bitterly disappointed in not being able to get on active duty during World War II.

Almost one of every four Army officers -- more than 200,000 of the 900,000 Army officers during the war -- was an Army Reservist. Two wartime studies give an indication of how important the Reserve contribution was to the Army. A 1944 War Department study in one Regular Army infantry division found that 62.5 percent of the battalion commanders, 84.5 percent of the company commanders and 30.3 percent of the platoon leaders were reservists. Another survey noted that between Sept. 1, 1943, and May 31, 1944, 52.4 percent of the Army officers killed in action and 27.7 percent of those missing in action came from the Organized Reserve.

The Army Reservists of World War II included men like Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. He was the first general to land on a Normandy beach on D-Day and received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle led the first raid to strike back against Japan and also received the Medal of Honor. Lt. Col. Strom Thurmond crash-landed in a glider with the 82nd Airborne Division into Normandy. Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder led Rudder's Rangers up the Pointe du Hoc cliffs on D-Day. Another officer did his assigned duties well, but whose greater claim to fame would come later, was Capt. Ronald Reagan.

Recognizing the importance of the Organized Reserve to the war effort, Congress authorized retirement and drill pay for the first time in 1948.

Five years after victory in World War II, the Army Reserve was needed again. In 1950, Army Reserve men and women were called up to rebuild the dangerously weak U.S. Army during the Korean War. The Korean Conflict saw more than 240,000 soldiers of the Organized Reserve called to active duty to serve in Korea, at home and elsewhere in the world during the Korean War. That large number reflected the Army's need for organized, trained personnel in a short period of time. More than 400 Reserve units served in Korea.

Among the Army's Korean War Medal of Honor recipients were Army Reservists Staff Sergeant Hiroshi Miyamura and Captain Raymond Harvey. Miyamura received his Medal of Honor after his release from a Chinese POW camp in 1953, by which time it was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who presented it to him. Harvey received his earlier, in 1951, so it was given to him by a fellow Army Reservist, President Harry S. Truman. World War I veteran Truman joined the Organized Reserve in 1920, rose to the rank of colonel and retired from the Army Reserve in 1953.

While the Korean Conflict was still under way, Congress began making significant changes in the structure and role of the Reserve. These changes transformed the Organized Reserve Corps into the U. S. Army Reserve (USAR). This new organization was divided into a Ready Reserve, Standby Reserve and Retired Reserve. Reserve units were authorized 24 inactive duty training days a year and up to 17 days of active duty (called annual training). The president was given authority to order up to one million Reservists, of all services, to active duty. These Congressional actions were directly related to experiences gained during the activation and subsequent service of Reserve units in the Korean War.

During the late 1950s, the Army Reserve became increasingly combat support and combat service support oriented. An Army reorganization of the period called for the Army Reserve and Army National Guard to provide supplemental forces to the active Army (the Army Reserve's role included individuals as well as units).

More than 69,000 Army Reservists were called to active duty in response to the Berlin Crisis of 1961. The call-up lasted from September 1961 to August 1962 and was hampered by a number of problems, including old equipment, lack of equipment, shortage of unit soldiers, and difficulty locating individual soldiers. A subsequent reorganization of the Army's Reserve Component occurred in 1967 and 1968. That reorganization resulted in an Army Reserve composed primarily of combat support and combat service support units, with combat arms units concentrated in the Army National Guard. The position of Chief, Army Reserve was established by federal statute, to be filled by a USAR general officer appointed by the president for a four-year term, with advice and consent of the Senate.

The Cold War stayed cold in Berlin but not on the other side of the world in Vietnam. Although the Johnson administration opted for no large Reserve call-ups for Vietnam, thousands of individual Army Reservists did serve in Vietnam, as did 35 USAR units deployed there in 1968. The first Army Reserve units were ordered to active duty in 1968. There was no large-scale call-up for Vietnam, however, as President Johnson favored a minor role for the Army Reserve and other reserve forces. Ultimately, some 5,900 USAR soldiers comprising 42 units were ordered to active duty, and 3,500 soldiers in 35 units went overseas.

Today's Reserve refined and continued a process that began at the end of the Vietnam war in Southwest Asia. Former Chief of Staff of the Army, General (Retired) Gordon R. Sullivan, built on a process that General (Retired) Creighton W. Abrams began when General Abrams was Chief of Staff of the Army in 1974. The end of the Vietnam war brought a change in foreign and domestic policies. General Abrams shifted the military position from one of manpower to national security. President Richard M. Nixon saw the need to sustain operations on two and a half fronts. President Nixon accomplished this goal by downsizing the Army to 16 divisions. This concept closely parallels the words echoed through the halls of ALMC today: "2 fronts and 10 divisions."

As General Abrams began to search out where to cut the Army, he realized a correlation in career fields between the civilian world and the military occupational specialties in combat service support (CSS) operations. Some RC officers and soldiers actually were practicing similar wartime tasks on a daily basis. He also realized that President Lyndon B. Johnson was able to sustain operations in Vietnam before President Nixon's term of office because the Army activated and constituted several CSS units for the war mission. This military action prevented an extensive call-up of the US Army Reserve and Army National Guard. When President Nixon made the decision to downsize the active Army, General Abrams deactivated several CSS units and realigned others.

General Abrams' thought process followed two avenues. The first was that the US Army Reserve and Army National Guard would receive initial training from the active Army in specialties that had civilian applications. The second was that downsizing would force the Commander in Chief to call up CSS units when required to sustain an operation. This ended the President's ability to commit a substantial number of forces without Congressional approval.

The end of the draft coincided with announcement of the Total Force Policy in 1973. That policy called for the United States to maintain an active duty force capable of maintaining peace and detering aggression. Those forces would be reinforced, when necessary, by a well-trained, well-equipped Reserve Component. The effect of an all-volunteer active Army and the Total Force Policy was a shift of some responsibilities and resources to the Army Reserve. Both unit and individual Army Reserve manpower declined from 1973 to 1978. Readiness improved during the 1980s when more emphasis was placed on training, recruiting and retention.

In 1983, volunteers from Army Reserve civil affairs units deployed to Grenada in support of Operation Urgent Fury to help rebuild that island nation's infrastructure. Six years later, Army Reserve provisional military police and civil affairs units, composed of volunteers, helped restore order and services in Panama during Operation Just Cause. Each deployment was significant in that the active Army simply could not provide enough qualified personnel for those specific tasks, given its other responsibilities. The use of USAR volunteers was necessary because no presidential call-up authority was in place.

More than 84,000 Army Reserve citizen-soldiers provided combat support and combat service support to the Army, at home and in the combat zone, during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. Among the hardest hit Army units of the conflict was the USAR's 14th Quartermaster Detachment, victim of a SCUD missile attack on Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Thirteen men and women from this unit were killed in the attack.

The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990 led to the largest call-up of Reserve Component personnel since the Korean War. More than 84,000 Army Reservists provided combat support and combat service support to the Total Force in Southwest Asia and site support elsewhere. Of that number, over 40,000 served in Southwest Asia. Included in the call-up were 20,000 members of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) who filled vacancies in units or performed other specialized duties. During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the Army Reserve provided transportation, medical, civil affairs, postal, engineer, military police, maintenance, linguistic and other types of support. The validity of concentrating the support mission in the Army Reserve was clearly proved by the successes of these units. Army Reserve soldiers were among the first Reserve Component personnel called to active duty, and were among the last to leave the desert, with units and volunteers preparing equipment for retrograde to the United States or Europe long after the conflict ended.

A key step in the continued development of the Army Reserve took place in 1991 with establishment of the U.S. Army Reserve Command (USARC) in Atlanta. The USARC has responsibility for command and control of Troop Program Units nationwide and the 65th Army Reserve Command in Puerto Rico. The Chief, Army Reserve commands the USARC, and also serves as Deputy Commanding General for Reserve Affairs, U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM).

Since 1991, the USAR has been engaged almost constantly around the world, in combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations. Reserve citizen soldiers went to northern Iraq following the Gulf War, provided hope in Somalia from 1992 to 1994 and went into Haiti in 1995 to restore democracy. More than 13,000 have been mobilized for the Bosnia operations JOINT ENDEAVOR, JOINT GUARD and JOINT FORGE.

In 1992, volunteer USAR soldiers provided postal, logistical and other assistance in support of American relief operations in Somalia (Operation Provide Hope).

When the United States intervened to help restore democracy in Haiti in 1995, an Army Reserve transportation detachment was one of the first units ordered to active duty. Another early-deploying Army Reserve contingent was an airborne-qualified civil affairs unit that was prepared to jump into Haiti in event of an assault. USAR soldiers were among the first forces into Haiti and the last to leave in 1996. Overall, about 350 Army Reservists from 17 units served in Haiti.

A mixed battalion of Army Reserve, active Army, and Army National Guard soldiers deployed to the Sinai in 1995 as part of the American contribution to the Multinational Force Observer (MFO) Sinai Peacekeeping Operations in Egypt. The 41 Army Reserve volunteers included engineers, military police, ground surveillance radar specialists and others, primarily from the Individual Ready Reserve.

In December 1995, the president authorized the call-up of Reserve Component forces as part of America's support to the NATO peacekeeping forces in the Bosnia-Herzegovina area. Within a short period of time the Army Reserve provided civil affairs, postal, medical, engineer, transportation, psychological operations and firefighting units, the first arriving in Bosnia in mid-January 1996. The initial manpower ceiling from the Reserve Component was 3,888, with soldiers activated for up to 270 days. In May 1996, the ceiling increased to 7,000 to allow overlap of deploying and redeploying units and individual soldiers. The majority of Army Reservists ordered to active duty served as backfill for active Army soldiers in Germany, but substantial numbers pulled duty in Bosnia and Hungary.

By the end of FY97, the US Army Reserve consisted primarily of combat support (CS) and CSS and a few Aviation units. The US Army Reserve remained under the control of Forces Command, Fort McPherson, GA.

The Army Reserve's responsibility for major installation management expanded, when in October 1997 the USAR took on Fort Dix, N.J., one of the Army's 15 designated power-projection platforms (another is Fort McCoy, Wis., also USAR managed). The shift in National Military Strategy from full to partial mobilization, which prompted a reorganization of USAR training divisions into divisions (institutional training) and divisions (exercise), enhanced peacetime and operational readiness. In logistics, Army Reserve initiatives increased equipment-on-hand, expanded the use of commercial practices and dealer networks, and improve capabilities through technological advancements. On the personnel end, improved computerization and implementation of the Reserve Officer Personnel Management Act provided a better managed, more professional force.

In 1999, Army Reservists supported the NATO operations against Yugoslavia in a number of ways. One of these was by conducting the refugee operation at Fort Dix, N.J., assisting more than 4,000 men, women and children displaced from their homes in Kosovo. That same year, more than 7,200 USAR soldiers went to Central America to assist the people there to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Mitch. Also in 1999, USAR soldiers took part in peacekeeping operations in East Timor and in Kosovo, following the end of hostilities there. As the 20th Century ended and the 21st began, Army Reservists continued to serve in the Balkans.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:37:38 ZULU