Army Reserve Units Have High Turnover Prior to Deployment

For Release

August 9, 2010

Army Reserve Component units experience widespread personnel turnover as they approach mobilization and deployment, prompting many units to schedule intensive training just before mobilization in order to get all soldiers prepared for deployment, according to a new study from the RAND Corporation.

The study found that 40 percent to 50 percent of soldiers in deploying units, both active and reserve units, have been in that unit for less than one year, with new personnel transferred in to reach the unit's targeted deploying strength. This is particularly a challenge for reserve units because they have limited time to train before they mobilize, and raises questions about reserve readiness.

The turnover prompts reserve units to try to schedule much of their training during the last few months before mobilization, when unit staffing is more stable. When that is not possible, the units must repeat some elements of training for the newcomers.

“Nevertheless, the system has proved resilient,” said Thomas Lippiatt, co-author of the study and a senior defense research analyst with RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Ninety-five percent of soldiers who were scheduled to deploy were in place by the mobilization point, the Army did complete required training of the newcomers before deployment, and no unit missed its required theater arrival date.”

The study draws on information from the Department of Defense for all Army personnel from 1996 through 2008, including infantry battalions, military police companies and truck companies. In total, 153 reserve unit deployments from 2003 through 2008 were examined, representing more than 40,000 authorized positions.

“Much of the turnover we observed stems from soldiers moving into other units, often being transferred by the Army,” said J. Michael Polich, co-author of the study and a RAND senior behavioral scientist. “These turnover rates have not risen since the period before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There's no evidence of people ‘bailing out’ of units as deployment approaches.”

About 30 percent of all soldiers in reserve units at deployment date did not deploy; some moved to another unit, some deployed later and others remained at the home station as part of a rear detachment. In some cases, this may reflect the Army's efforts to accommodate service members' personal circumstances or hardship; in others, it may be the result of the Army's need to fill a particular specialty or to make sure service members in the unit have completed training.

Regardless of the reason, frequent personnel turnover affects how the unit is trained. While units undergo a rapid buildup of personnel four to six months before mobilization, some units conduct important training events as much as a year prior to deployment, on such tasks as weapons qualification, combat lifesaver training, urban warfare techniques and dealing with improvised unexploded devices. In some cases, this training was conducted early enough that 30 to 50 percent of the soldiers scheduled for deployment would have missed the training, which requires additional training to be scheduled before or after mobilization.

Many different groups with different conditions contribute to turnover, the report said, but most represent just a small fraction of the problem, and many would be difficult to affect by policy. Analysis of the probable effects of possible policy interventions showed that even with multiple policy changes and reasonable degrees of success, the reserve corps will have to live with a substantial amount of instability in the run-up to mobilization and deployment.

Lippiatt and Polich note that there are several policy interventions the Department of Defense could try, but each comes with its own set of trade-offs. If the department clusters training just before mobilization, that could mitigate some of the inefficiencies of doing the training earlier, but might lead to lower participation rates if the training is too intense over too short a period of time. Postponing some training until after mobilization could also be advantageous, but would need to be tested.

The study, “Reserve Component Unit Stability: Effects on Deployability and Training,” can be found at

The study is the final report of a research project, “Unit Stability and its Effect on Deployability and Training Readiness,” sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. The research was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies and the defense Intelligence Community.

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