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Stepping outside of the business of selling supplements for a moment. Let’s talk about a dirty subject: Reservists.
Some background: I started my career as an active duty Marine with 2nd Battalion 7th Marines. I stand by 2/7 and consider them to be an outstanding unit. When I wear moto shirts they have a 2/7 logo or some reference to my old battalion. Had there not been the “B” billet requirement I would have reenlisted and stayed with my unit (or another infantry battalion, defiantly not recruiting or DI). But failure to serve in a “B” billet was a career killer at the time, this has since been fixed with the 0365 program. In this case, I should have practiced some patience – which is excellent Marine Corps career advice. But having made my choice to EAS it was not four months before I found myself back in the Corps with the Reserves. I have learned a lot since then.
Reserves vs Active Duty
Let’s get one thing straight: on the average reservists lack the proficiency of their Active Duty counterparts. Especially at a basic technique level. A reservist gun line will be a hot sloppy mess in comparison to an active duty equivalent. It all comes down to time. A reserve unit does not have the time to gain and maintain that higher level of proficiency. Some basic math: with 48 drills consisting of two drills per day and adding on the two-week training block a reserve unit has 38 days to work with for training in a year. An active duty unit (adjusted for leave) has 335 days. This places reservists at roughly 11% of the training time of active duty counterparts. Add in your normal annual training and administrative requirements and that percentage starts to drop very fast. I would make the argument that the current drill configuration leaves enough time for the bare minimum of training (from an Infantry prospective) and it may need to be increased in the future as warfare is becoming more complex and distributed.
From a leadership perspective, the problem is even harder. The Marine Corps has essentially tapped out the I&I staffs with enough collateral duties to make them ineffective at planning training. Part of this is also a training mismatch with the I&I, who essentially have to learn an entirely new job on the fly. Reserve leadership has to exploit every possible moment of the drill time they have two huge problems arise: leaders do not get developed and pushed and training is mainly planned with unpaid reservist time.
Leaders do not get developed:
As a reservist, you must constantly be training your Marines, at the end of the day the Lance Corporals are the most important part of the Marine Corps, they get all the work done. The rest of us are there to support that effort. But, given the lack of time, when do the Corporals learn to be Corporals and Sergeants learn to be Sergeants? In very small white spaces and PME schools and not much else. Fortunately, the Marine Corps is placing a ton of effort into PME which is even more applicable to the Reservist than their Active Duty counterparts. But even these PME efforts are shoved into tiny timeframes capable of producing the minimum requirements.
Training is mainly planned and coordinated with unpaid reservist time:
If you are a reservist or are thinking about being a reservist, you need to really love the Marine Corps and be okay with working for free. Planning takes time, reservists have very little time, and the time they have is usually focused on controlling the current fight. Most of the mid to deep fight planning in the reserves will be done on unpaid time. If you plan on staying in for more than an enlistment you will be doing Marine Corps work on unpaid time. Honestly, Active duty is the same way with you staying at work very late to complete planning work and create training products. In either arena actually caring about your Marines training means you will be putting in a lot of extra time. Quote somebody I recently learned from on the Active component (and cleaning it up for work): “Nobody cares about your training”. This is very true, everyone wants to go home and the upper commands tasked with training have little contact with the lower levels. As a small unit leader, your Marines training is on you, if you need training it is on you to figure it out. This problem is even more pronounced in the Reservist world. Training plans, SOPs, training products, and classes are up to you on your own time. But, there are people out there that can help. As a note here: developing training is a small unit leader’s job so there’s no honorable way out of this.
Why Reservists are a Critical Part of the Corps
Given the disadvantages, it would seem the Reserve program is a low-quality tack-on to the Corps. However, the reality is the Reserve component is a vital component of the Corps, as the Reserves in all services are at a national strategic level. One only has to read about the Korean War to see the value of the Marine Corps Reserve. After WWII the Corps manpower dropped from the all-time high point to a small fraction, unable to do real power projection at the needed level. Reservists filled this gap, with their poor training (even worse in that case) and performed very well. The Reserve allows the Corps to be more aggressive strategically back and front filling manpower needs.
Reservists have one very huge thing going for them: they learn fast and bring a new perspective to problems. Given the time constraints, reserve Marines do not receive training or education anywhere near their Active Duty counterparts, but they still have to at least meet minimum requirements. They have to learn and re-learn very fast and retain knowledge with little reinforcement. I have often been impressed by Reserve Marines coming out of left field with proficiency on something they have not touched or worked on in over a year or more. Now we’re not talking magician status, physical and cognitive constraints still apply, but Reservists don’t expect as much time to learn a skill or task, consequentially they learn faster – which is very handy for rapid workups and deployments.
Also, Reservists bring a new perspective. Active duty types are cognitively locked into a very narrow left and right lateral limit of thought and action. When you live in an echo chamber you tend to become a certain way. This was a huge friction point when I transitioned from Active Duty to the Reserves. On Active Duty we have a rough formula of ( inputs = outputs ) in our thinking, we can judge proficiency from some only slightly relevant details like being able to properly align gear and or a Marines ability to spout out obscure knowledge that they may not even understand on a conceptual basis. The echo chamber creates very rigid thinking. This rigid thinking leads to very fast decision-making, which is ultimately what drives combat power, and discipline fills a similar role. But sometimes this rigid thinking can put you completely off target, the classic example is worrying about mustache regulations while preparing for combat. But it can have more subtle issues, like not really knowing how to conduct counterinsurgency because of a literal tribal separation from even American civilian culture. Reservists are somewhat of the solution to this problem. They bring outside perspective which can be very important in innovation. Tapping that potential is a bit of a puzzle that can be sorted out when we have money to afford ammunition and manpower.
Reservists are a critical component of the Corps and the Military in general. But the life is not for everyone. Nobody can babysit you to PT and study your knowledge. A lot of your training is on you, while you are balancing other things like work, school, and family. Sometimes you are balancing all of these components at one time and it is easy to get lost in your commitment to the Marine Corp.