The Merits of Overdriving End Strength and the Pitfalls of Falling Short

On Saturday August 12th 2017 in Arlington, Texas I had the privilege to formally interact with a select group of key leaders from the Texas Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Command. The focal point of our discussion was End Strength.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2017 has raised the End Strength for the National Guard from 335k to 343k. This presents unique challenges and opportunities for the shaping of our force.

The ultimate aim of our brilliant team of recruiters (talent scouts) is to be the front in attracting and enlisting the top quality applicants to fill the ranks of our force structure. Readiness continues to be our ‘watch word’ as we perpetually measure our worth in public value by our ability to muster the right forces and apply them directly as needed for the President of the United States and the Governor of Texas.

The President delegates his authority to select and deploy units to Forces Command (FORSCOM) while the Governor of Texas delegates his power of mobilizing for state responses to the Texas Director of Emergency Management (TDEM). Therefore, if we are to enjoy continued resources provided by our Congress’s (both state and federal), then we best ensure these two key stakeholders view us as a credible asset. Unlike a corporate enterprise dependent largely on profit and loss statement, our value is held in the public trust and measured by performance during the toughest of times.

End Strength is but one metric of measurement. We need a ready population of talent, not just names on a Unit Manning Roster. The recruiter’s job is complicated by the fact that our Force Structure composition is never fully set. Who knows exactly what type of Soldier we will need in future years. It is largely a matter of guesswork.

Since states, like Texas, are different than the Active Component (AC). They do not enjoy an ability to PCS Soldiers to fill unforecasted needs of units who suddenly morph into something new. For example, if an IBCT located on Ft. Hood is told to transform into an ABCT then the MOS shortfalls can largely be attained through the PCS method. States, in contrast, must rely heavily on MOS conversions. This is challenging due to constrained budgets and the throughput at our army schools. Therefore it costs both money and time differently than AC counterparts. It is a fact unit readiness suffers acutely as a result of reorganizations.

The interaction and dialogue with the forum went on to discuss other unique differences between the NG and AC. We discussed ‘professionalism’ of our components and the varying views different groups may feel toward one component over another. I encouraged the group to avoid direct discussions with the AC about ‘who is more professional than who’. Instead, I encouraged them to change a professionalism comparison into a Cultural comparison.

The NG is unique culturally as most of their members are part-time. About 85% of their force is paid by the military not more than a couple of days a month and a few weeks a year. The other 15% is the full time force and they must exercise ‘persuasive’, ‘inspirational’ leadership in order to be successful. The majority of the members of the NG are not under UCMJ the majority of the time. I reflected on my own time in the AC and recounted how I could take my unit to the field for 5 days in order to accomplish a specific set of METL tasks. If the unit failed to meet the objectives I set forth, I could keep them in the field longer. This served as motivation for the unit to accomplish their tasks. In contrast, regardless of NG leader’s dismay with the performance of his/ her unit, they will go home at a prescribed time. The ‘want to’ get it done factor must be addressed more surgically by the NG leader. This ‘ask’ before ‘task’ mentality of NG leaders can often be misconstrued by AC leaders as a weakness or just plain odd. The point here is that differences of leadership style by component do not make one more professional over another. It simply is a product of their cultural and constructive design. Each leader is simply doing his/ her best to achieve better Readiness.

Finally we brought the conversation home by speaking to the symbiotic relationship of End Strength (ES), Force Structure Authorization (FSA) and Full Time Support (FTS).

The last difference we pointed out between the NG and AC is the Trainees, Transients, Holdees and Students (TTHS) account. The AC places about 13% of their members in this account in order to better differentiate their total number of members from their deployable population. The NG does not enjoy this bookkeeping principle. Therefore leaders are forced to explain again and again why straight-line comparisons of individual readiness between an AC unit and a NG unit do not match up.

So, the first and most important reason Texas must recruit End Strength above Force Structure Authorization (FSA) is to ensure their MTOE units are as prepared for combat operations as their AC counterpart. It is a true Readiness issue. There is no doubt.

An optimal End Strength percentages above FSA is 4% overall. I challenged them all to dispute me. There is no perfect equation. In fact I would argue that it would be unethical to recruit and retain above FSA if the NG had a true TTHS account.

Closing our discussion on Readiness as our measure of public value, we discussed the ratio between FSA, ES and FTS. One cannot and should not be addressed independently. They are mutually supporting personnel metrics each reliant on another in order for unit leaders to be capable of meeting Readiness targets.

ES above FSA is only useable if the FTS is also made available to care for the force. Units are not designed to care for more members than they are authorized. Careers are stifled and school quotas are backlogged. Morale suffers as a consequence and retention suffers. When retention performance is poor, the taxpayer bears the brunt. Incentives have to be energized for more accessions and the whole shenanigan repeats itself.

When Texas, and any state is able to recruit and retain quality members above its FSA then this becomes a valuable instrument in leveraging more FSA and FTS for itself. Whenever FSA and FTS run in concert with ES, Readiness becomes sustainable and the nation’s military more powerful. It’s just sound bookkeeping.

— COL Darrell W Dement