By Sgt. 1st Class

Michael J. Carden

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - With tough budget decisions on the horizon and the changing military missions in the Middle East, an uncertain future awaits the Army Reserve, the organization's commander said.

Speaking to Army Reserve soldiers in a town hall meeting at the Pentagon, Army Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz talked about the state of the Army Reserve and what he's doing to help evolve the force to better meet the needs of tomorrow's military.

"Everyone is trying to figure out what the future will look like and plan accordingly," Stultz said. "There's a lot of uncertainty out there."

Stultz cited "uncertainty" in how the Army Reserve's mission will change with the drawdown of forces in Iraq and the troop surge in Afghanistan. He said he also recognizes the effects unemployment and the national deficit will have on future fiscal budget requests.

Initiatives are under way, he added, to "operationalize" the Army Reserve.

Operationalizing the Army Reserve means that the force would be used on a regular basis to augment the active Army, he explained.

In the future, he said, the active Army and the Army Reserve will not have separate missions.

The idea will help to ensure the Army is more fiscally efficient and streamlined, he explained. Most importantly, he added, it will ensure the Army Reserve is an effective tool for combatant commanders throughout the armed forces.

The mission in Iraq now requires fewer troops, and the same will eventually happen in Afghanistan, Stultz said. Because Army Reserve units are made up primarily of combat support and combat service support skills, a need exists for reservists outside of the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, he said. He also noted that on a recent trip to Southeast Asia, he met with Army reservists partnering with Navy sailors to provide medical support to people in need in Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.

Their efforts supported the U.S. Pacific Command mission and provided thousands of people with much-needed dental and medical care, the general said. The same types of missions are under way in South America and Africa, Stultz said, noting that Army Reserve troops, in this capacity, can boost combatant commanders' effectiveness and efficiency.

"I've seen Army Reserve forces doing a lot of great things in security operations, theater engagements [and] nation building outside of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom," he said. "There's a goal for forces in the future to do great things for our nation around the world, not necessarily associated with kinetic operations."

Army Reserve troops can have a positive impact in helping foreign armies train and improve their defenses, he added.

"The Army Reserve is not just a contingency force for America," he said, "but also a valuable asset to theater engagements."

Stultz also talked about the Army campaign to manage resources and eliminate redundancy within the force. That includes military and civilian personnel and programs, he said.

"We can't afford redundancy," he said. "We can't afford two guys doing the same job. We've got to work for efficiency."

Despite these challenges and future changes, the one thing that's remained constant is the quality of Army Reserve soldiers, Stultz said.

"The good news in all of this is that our soldiers are outstanding," he said. "As I travel around the states, the world, seeing what our soldiers are doing, their attitudes [and] the dedication have never been higher."

Retention rates are exceeding goals, despite actions to reduce retention and enlistments, Stultz said. The Army Reserve still have more people than authorized, he added, and that's because of the soldiers' attitude.

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