By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
June 2, 2009 - The top Army Reserve officer arrived in Afghanistan today to hear firsthand how his deployed soldiers are faring, particularly in light of continued demand for their capabilities in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Army Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz told American Forces Press Service he's not interested in shaking hands with general officers or other top officials as he travels around Afghanistan. "I am interested in shaking hands with soldiers out on the battlefield and finding out what is going on in their minds," he said.
Stultz recalled past visits to the combat theater, where he admits he threw a curve ball to his handlers on the ground, who had scheduled a lineup of Power Point presentations and high-level meetings. "Don't put on some dog and pony show," he told them. "I want to get out and talk with soldiers."
Stultz sought out soldiers wherever he could find them, opting for impromptu encounters he hoped might elicit more candid viewpoints. Once, for example, as he was riding along in a Humvee, Stultz got his driver to make a sudden stop so he could chat with a group of soldiers whose convoy had pulled to the roadside.
"When you sit down and start talking and ask them where they're from and what's going on back home, you can start to get a sense from the soldier of how they are feeling," he said.
Time and time again, Stultz said, he hears a similar response. "The soldiers are proud of what they are doing," he said. "Soldiers feel good about what they are doing. They feel good that we are not wasting their time. We are taking care of their families. That is why our retention rates are through the roof."
Noting that deployed reservists typically express concern about their families' well being rather than their own, Stultz said the Army Reserve's increased emphasis on family support is paying big dividends. "I think they feel better now than two years ago that ... we are doing everything we can to take care of families," he said.
As he visits with deployed reservists, Stultz said he'll make it clear that the drawdown in Iraq doesn't mean there will be less demand for Army Reserve capabilities – at least not in the near term.
"Don't expect our operational tempo to slow down," he said he'll tell the troops. "We are the enabler force. And so, as you draw down brigade combat teams in Iraq, the enablers associated with that don't necessarily decrease simultaneously.
"You still have to have an infrastructure there that supports whatever is going on," the general said. Logistical, transportation, medical, military police and other related support are still needed by the Army Reserve. "The enablers still have to remain there for some time," he said.
Meanwhile, Stultz said, the buildup in Afghanistan means the combat troops arriving there will need more combat support and combat service support that the Army Reserve provides.
In light of those requirements, Stultz said he'll tell troops he's working to get them more predictable deployment schedules as quickly as possible. The Army Force Generation model, once fully implemented, will provide a five-year cycle for reservists to deploy, return home, then get more dwell time before preparing for the next deployment.
This model will bring more predictability not only to reservists and their families, but also to their civilian employers, Stultz said.
An increase in the Army Reserve end strength, now at 207,000, also promises to reduce stress on the force, he said. But because most of the newest reservists are junior enlisted soldiers, Stultz said the payoff won't be immediate.
"It's an investment for the future, but what we need now it to focus on growing our [non-commissioned officer] corps and growing our captains and majors," he said.
One way Stultz intends to do that is by recruiting more prior-service soldiers. "The Marines say, Once a Marine, always a Marine," he said. "I like to say, Soldier for Life. We find a lot of soldiers out there who have left the uniform but the uniform hasn't left them. And when we talk to them, they say they miss it. We're recouping some of them now."
As he talks with soldiers about their needs and shares with them what's ahead for the Army Reserve, Stultz said he'll also pass along the support of the American people as a whole, as well as Congress. "I want to reassure them that ...the men and women in uniform have the ultimate respect of this nation for what they are doing," he said.
"And in my dealings with Congress – whether office calls or in congressional testimony, and whether or not they agree or disagree with the war – one thing always rings true," he said. "They want to support soldiers. So they always say, 'Tell me what the soldiers need.'"