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Research Questions

  1. What causes leader turbulence in Army Reserve Component units?
  2. What effects might leader turbulence have on training and preparation for future missions that may require Army Reserve Component units?
  3. What steps, if any, could be taken to mitigate leader turbulence in Army Reserve Component units?

Stability of personnel is highly valued in all military forces, especially in units that are preparing for deployment. A particular concern is personnel turbulence (personnel leaving the unit and being replaced by others) among the unit leadership. Even if the Army must live with turbulence among the bulk of unit members, it would prefer to have unit officers and noncommissioned officers in place to plan and oversee training of the troops with whom they will deploy. This monograph reports results of a study to determine the level of turbulence among unit leadership and to address several related questions: What causes leader turbulence? What effects might it have on training and preparation for future missions that may require RC units? What steps, if any, could be taken to mitigate it? The authors used data from 2003 through 2011 on Army National Guard infantry battalions and Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve military police and truck companies. They find high rates of personnel instability, caused generally by vacancies, personnel losses, and those who don't deploy. This turbulence generates a large influx of new leaders entering units who have not been through all the training with the soldiers they will lead. The monograph makes recommendations for estimating preparation time for different types of units and for department policy to mitigate effects on mission preparation.

Key Findings

Reserve Component Units Approaching Mobilization Experienced High Levels of Personnel Instability Among Both the Unit Leadership and the More Junior Members

  • The same patterns are evident in active units, but they have their members available full time to train and can therefore recover more quickly than part-time Reserve Component soldiers. Nevertheless, Reserve Component forces proved resilient; their units achieved a stable cohort of personnel by the mobilization point, and no units missed their planned arrival dates in theater.

Personnel Instability Arises from Several Different Factors

  • The immediate effect of vacancies, personnel losses, and those who don't deploy was to create a large influx of new leaders entering the unit who missed training events executed before they joined the units.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense has limited options to adapt and may need to live with instability.
  • A typical unit alerted for a future operation, assuming that it were called during its one-year period in the Army Force Generation availability window, would need 94 days to prepare a brigade combat team or 70 to 80 days to prepare a company.
  • Units allocated for definite missions, regionally aligned forces, and homeland defense and civil support should already have enough time to prepare. Reserve Component units needed for a short-notice operational surge could face the greatest challenge for timely mobilization and deployment, depending on when they are needed in the force flow.


  • Analysis should determine which types of units would be seriously affected by short notice, those whose timelines could be at risk. There may be few such units, and they may be small, which would minimize the needed investment.
  • If the risks appear significant, the U.S. Department of Defense could supplement the number of annual training days in selected units during the availability year and the preavailability year of the Army Force Generation cycle. Those annual training days would provide enhanced training experience to some unit members.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense could consider offering leaders and key members bonuses to attend annual training and remain in the unit during the preavailability and availability years. As part of any bonus program, the department should undertake a controlled experiment, offering varying bonus programs to matched, like-type units that are assigned to varying bonus levels. Such experimentation would provide valuable data to reveal the true cost and benefits of a bonus program and thereby help assess the utility of premobilization training.

The research described in this report was prepared for the U.S. Department of Defense. 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.

This report is part of the RAND monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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