September 15, 2014, ARLINGTON, Va. – A pilot program under way at Fort Hood, Texas – the first of its kind – is setting the stage for retaining the experience gained by Soldiers from the past 13 years of combat.
As the drawdown in the size of the Army ramps up, leadership across the Department of the Army, as well as the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, has made a push to retain that experience within the reserve components.
Army Lt. Col. David Eldridge, accessions branch chief, Army Guard Strength Support Division, said active component Soldiers enter the reserve components regularly, but the Active Component 2 Reserve Component pilot program widens the aperture of time Soldiers have to be contracted into the reserves, creating a lot more flexibility for those coming off active duty.
Normally, Soldiers could be contracted into the Army Guard about 120 days out from their end date of active duty service, or ETS, “but the AC2RC pilot program allows us to reach out the these Soldiers up to 365 days before their ETS,” Eldridge said, “which is a significant increase in the amount of time a Soldier can be addressed.
“The intent is – with the drawdown in the active Army – to get as many of these Soldiers into the Guard or Reserve as possible to save that experience. It’s obviously a lot cheaper to get those people in versus training them from scratch.”
According to Eldridge, the reserve components are looking for junior noncommissioned officers, both sergeants and staff sergeants, as well as officers in the rank of senior first lieutenant and captain.
“Sergeant and staff sergeant is the average rank of those Soldiers leaving active duty,” he said. “In the Army National Guard, we need captains as well.”
The AC2RC program keeps the Soldiers’ future after active duty in mind.
“This program allows me to give Soldiers their reserve component briefing earlier, during the [Army Career and Alumni Program] process, which lets the Soldier see whether the reserves can be a part of their civilian life,” said Army Sgt. Maj. Lisa Porillo-Birkhead, the III Corps Reserve Command Career Counselor.
According to Eldridge and Porillo-Birkhead, the biggest benefit of the new program is it allows Soldiers who are on active duty to re-class into a new military occupation before they ETS and transition to their reserve component unit.
“The benefits of retraining these Soldiers while they are on active duty is that the cost is low, and it prevents having to be retrained after joining the reserve component unit,” Eldridge said.
“Normally, you would separate from active duty, hang around for a few days or a month, and then you show up to drill,” he said. “Soldiers then would have to wait for a training slot at a school, and then go off to training.
“This is disruptive to family life, but more importantly to the civilian employer. They just hired this Soldier, who now has to go away for two to four weeks.”
Porillo-Birkhead, who has been spearheading the pilot program at Fort Hood, has had three Soldiers who are cavalry scouts successfully complete their retraining as infantrymen at the Arkansas Army National Guard’s 233rd Regional Training Institute.
“The three of them are in the same company here at Fort Hood, and they are going into the same company in the Colorado Army National Guard when they ETS,” she said.
In an interview with the Fort Hood Sentinel, one of the three Soldiers who attended the 14-day course, Spc. Braydon Gear, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, said the training by the Arkansas Army Guard was top-notch.
“All the instructors were very knowledgeable,” Gear told the Sentinel. “I learned so much more there than I ever have because they knew their stuff.”
Gear, Spcs. Tommy Heckler and Beau Torres, both also with 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, plan to attend the same university once they leave active duty. For Gear, retraining before transitioning to civilian life and a new unit means less to worry about.
“It’s a relief because now we already have the training behind us,” Gear said in an interview with the Sentinel. “We can start college, look for a job, and we don’t have to take time away from that to do [military occupational specialty] training because it’s already complete.”
For Porillo-Birkhead, this means the reserve component unit gets a fully qualified Soldier, and unit readiness is maintained.
It means that the reserve components are able to retain the experience of that Soldier, according to Eldridge.
“It also gives the Guard the opportunity to be selective with those Soldiers coming off active duty, and allows us to fill some critical [military occupations],” Eldridge said. “We see this as not just a way to fill our ranks … but as a way to pick the best.
“It’ll keep the Guard as a trained, experienced, and ready-to-fight force.”
As another program benefit to the Soldier, those who have signed up for the Guard or Reserve could have their ETS date adjusted.
“With the drawdown in the Army, they want people to separate faster and this is one way of doing that,” Eldridge said.
Fort Hood is the only installation piloting the program, but there are plans to possibly expand it elsewhere in the future.
“Our goal is to have this become a nation-wide program, and to create options … for any Soldier or officer. We want to change the paradigm on how Soldiers leave the active component and move into the reserve components,” Eldridge said.
“This is a great program and it’s long overdue,” he said.