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SEN. NELSON: Good afternoon. The subcommittee meets today to discuss the reserve component programs of the Department of Defense.
I welcome back my partner and good friend on the subcommittee, Senator Graham. We've worked together here as ranking member and chairman for a number of years and it's always good to work with you, Lindsey.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Thank you, sir.
SEN. NELSON: And thank you for all your support and your encouragement.
To our witnesses, welcome. On the first panel we welcome back Mr. Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of Defense for reserve affairs, who is also currently serving as the acting undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness. Mr. Hall's been the assistant secretary of Defense for reserve affairs since October of 2002 and has been Secretary Gates' point man on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.
And I understand that Secretary Hall will leave government service next month, after completing more than 40 years of combined military and federal civilian service.
Secretary Hall and your wife, we're delighted to have you here today and we're looking forward to your testimony even one last time before you depart. And we want to especially thank you for the past seven years of tireless and dedicated service as assistant secretary of Defense for reserve affairs. We're eager to hear your views of the recommendations of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, and we look forward to hearing your insights and recommendations based on your vast experience with our reserve components.
On our second panel we'll have the directors of the Army and Air Force National Guard and chiefs of each of the reserve components. And I'll introduce each of them when we convene the second panel.
The reserve components have undergone a significant transformation in the past eight years, from the Cold War-era strategic force to an operational force, manned and equipped to face both the traditional and asymmetric threats of the 21st century. Despite the evolving operational nature of the reserve components, there remains a strategic quality. The reserve components respond when unforeseen events require even greater mobilization than the active duty can provide.
Our reserve components are engaged in all fronts of our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know that our efforts in Afghanistan will not be successful by military force alone but must also include a strong strategy for diplomacy and economic development and sustainability.
The 28th Forward Agribusiness Development Team, deployed from Nebraska to Afghanistan, is illustrative of an engagement strategy that provides diplomacy and economic development. Our 52-unit team from Nebraska is in Afghanistan to assist, teach, train and educate farmers on better farming methods and introduce the farmers to better and more sustainable crops to promote the eradication of the poppy trade.
Best said by the agricultural team chief of the unit, Army 1st Lieutenant Eric Sattelberg to the National Guard Bureau, quote: "Our goal in every mission is to improve relations with the locals. This type of mission will strengthen the bond between Afghanistan and the U.S. because they know that we're here to help grow this nation, rather than destroy it," end of quote.
This Nebraska unit is but one example of how the Guard and Reserve have transformed from a strategic reserve to an operational force. Our reserve forces have risen to meet the new conflict challenges, but we must continue to monitor and assess this evolution to ensure that it is funded, manned, equipped and trained so that it is ready and able to meet its missions while retaining the character and essence of the citizen soldier.
And as we enter the ninth year of sustained combat, the stress on our all-volunteer force, active and reserve, is greater than ever. Last week, we heard from vice chiefs of the services about the rising incidence of suicides, particularly in the Army and Marine Corps. Both General Chiarelli and General Amos pointed to the stress on the force, lengthy and repeated deployments as a primary factor in the rise of suicides. The force as a whole is stressed and is now manifesting itself more than ever in the health and well-being of individual service members and their families.
Key to lessening the stress in the force is ensuring that we adhere to deployment and dwell time standards. The stated goal of the department for reserve component members is one year of mobilized service with five years dwell time at home. This is absolutely vital to the long-term health of the Reserves and reserve component personnel. It ensures that our reservists and guardsmen remain trained and proficient while providing predictability for their families and civilian employers.
This predictability and transparency goes far in sustaining morale and mental health of our service members and allows them to plan both their military and civilian careers. It's good for the service members, their families, the military, the civilian sector and the nation.
We also learned last week that Secretary Gates has approved a plan to transition the Army of its use of stop-loss to keep military personnel on active duty after they complete their active-duty service commitment. The reserve components are scheduled to cease the use of stop-loss this summer. We applaud this move. It enhances the predictability and transparency that reservists and guardsmen and their families to plan their careers and care for their families.
This policy decision, of course, raises a number of issues. Stop-loss has been a tool the Army used to ensure unit cohesion for units deployed or preparing to deploy. Will ending stop-loss require additional end strength to compensate for service members who do not have enough time left on their commitment to complete a deployment? Will National Guard and Reserve units have to rely on more cross leveling to replace personnel who will not have enough time to complete the deployment?
This Congress needs to authorize additional compensation authorities to incentivize short-term extensions. This subcommittee stands ready to act, if necessary. Ever mindful of the quality of life and quality of service of the reserve components, this committee has sponsored and supported many initiatives in recent years to address the well-being of reservists, guardsmen and their families.
Senator Graham and I will soon introduce legislation that will make health benefits under TRICARE a standard available to gray-area retirees and their families. Currently, these National Guard and Reserve retirees are not eligible for TRICARE until they reach age 60.
I'll also reintroduce legislation that will encourage and demand thoughtful planning of training missions away from home for members of the reserve component known as Operation Air Lift. This legislation will provide that if a reserve component member is sent to training and then that training is suspended for more than five days, the military will pay for the travel expenses to return that member home.
The Yellow Ribbon Program has been a resounding success. As General Chiarelli testified in last week's hearing, the Yellow Ribbon Program has helped reserve component members and their families to transition from active duty back to civilian life. In 2007, Congress authorized TRICARE Reserve Select, which extended the military health care program TRICARE to members of the Selected Reserve and their families. Senator Graham and I will soon introduce legislation that will enhance this program by extending TRICARE Reserve Select to gray- area retirees.
In 2006 Congress authorized income replacement for reserve component members subject to extended and frequent active-duty service. In the recently passed Omnibus Appropriations Act, we enhanced this benefit, fully covering federal employees who experienced an income loss due to active-duty service.
In 2008, we authorized transportation allowances for certain reservists on inactive duty for training -- for training that's forced to travel long distances. Also in 2008, Congress enacted the new GI Bill, complete with transferability to spouses or children. Given the vastly increased mobilizations of reservists and guardsmen, many will be eligible for these generous benefits under the new GI Bill, even a fully funded college education.
Lastly, as I indicated earlier, we've supported an end to the Army's practice of stop-loss and supported compensation to service members who served under stop-loss. We'll continue to look for opportunities to enhance benefits that are prudent and needed to maintain a healthy force.
One positive effect of a lagging economy seems to be that military recruiting and retention is up. With a friendlier recruiting environment, we expect that the quality of new recruits will be even better. We look forward to hearing today about the recruiting and retention successes of the reserve components. I also look forward to hearing about the effect of the new GI Bill and transferability on both recruiting and retention in the reserve components.
Senator Graham, would you like to make an opening statement?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, very briefly, Mr. Chairman.
One, I'd like to echo what you started off with, the idea that we do work well together. Our staffs have done a terrific job. There's a lot of conflict in the Congress and between the parties and that's, you know, just the way democracy works. But when it comes to this subcommittee and, generally speaking, the Armed Services Committee in general, we do a very good job, I think, of working together, because our men and women in uniform are not partisans, they're patriots. And what we try to do is make sure that our patriotic nature overcomes our partisanship.
And you have been a very, very good chairman and I've enjoyed working with you. And I think, as you've just indicated, we've done some pretty good things, and there's more to come. We're going to work on maybe trying to allow early retirement for people who volunteer for deployments. We have a program in place, but I think we could even be more aggressive.
But Secretary Hall, I just want to echo what Senator Nelson said, our chairman. You have done a great job for the country for a very long period of time. I'm glad your wife is here today. She has, I'm sure, been a great partner here. And we can't thank you enough. You've had a very tough assignment. It's been six and a half years of constant combat.
And to our Reserve members and the commanders, like Senator Nelson, I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan many, many times, and you can't tell the difference between the reservist and active-duty member. And the missions that the Reserves have performed have been absolutely essential to the outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The civil affairs component, military policing, go down the list, the Guard and Reserve have not only stepped up to fill in, but they've been the leading agencies, components on a lot of things that are necessary to win this war that we're in. So the best testament I could give to a member of the Guard and Reserves is that when you go to war, no one can tell the difference between you and your active- duty counterpart.
And to those that will be -- maybe this will be your last time. I don't know. (Laughs.) We may call you back. To our Army National Guard Lieutenant General Vaughn, thank you for your service.
The commander of the Marine Forces, Lieutenant General Bergman: Thank you very much for what y'all have done. And if this is your last time, well done. If you come back again, welcome. (Laughs.) So who knows what the future holds? But I look forward to listening to the state of play of the Guard and Reserves and thank you all for your service.
And Mr. Chairman, we'll continue to work together for the good of the country.
SEN. NELSON: Thank you very much, Senator Graham.
Well, we'll now hear from our first witness, Mr. Hall. Thank you.
MR. HALL: Thank you. I would like my written statement entered into the record and I have a brief statement, first to thank you, Mr. Chairman and Senator Graham, for what you have done. You've always been very gracious to us and no two people have supported our Guard and Reserve more.
And in that, I'd like to start out by congratulating Congress. You often get all the blame, but it's perhaps not known that in the past six and a half years, over 200 -- 200 provisions in the law, Guard and Reserve, have been made. And many of those had your support and your insistence. And so we thank you for that.
And as was mentioned, over 50 years ago I put on the uniform of this country. And I've had the opportunity, in different capacities, to serve our nation. It's all I've ever known. I've lived the dream for that amount of time. And one of the reasons I asked my wife to come is because for 46 years she's devoted her life to supporting the families and the troops and deserves more recognition that I do. She came to my confirmation hearing and she's coming to what I hope is the last hearing -- (laughter) -- but perhaps -- and we want to thank you.
And the gentlemen behind me, I know when it's their turn will give you their honest opinion and there's just never been a better group of Guard and Reserve chiefs, and I say that having been one, because they're a superb group and dedicated Americans.
We've had the largest mobilization since World War II. You know that. Today we passed over the statistics. I saw 700,000 guardsmen and reservists have been mobilized since 9/11. There are 127,000 on duty today serving throughout the world. And I also think that our boss, Secretary Gates, has made some fundamental changes which have been very critical.
The 19 January memo that you mentioned, I think, was a real watershed, where he said that the mobilization time will be one year for our Guard and Reserve and that we will have goals of one and two for our active duty, one and five for our Guard and Reserve. And I can report, in the two years since then -- and I track these every week -- we've gone from about 1, 2.8 to 1, 3.0 to now, the last group that we are planning -- the last group that we've entertained for mobilization are at 1 and 4. So we are within about a year. We've increased a full year.
Part of that has been our ability to increase the size of the Army, the Marine Corps. Part of it has been rebalancing. We have rebalanced about 125,000 billets. We have plans for 225,000, from our less stressed career groups over to our more stressed. That has helped us get there.
We have published the Operational Reserve Directive. One of the recommendations of the Commission on the Guard and Reserve is we need to institutionalize this, we need to make it a way of practice.
And in October, we published that directive and we're proceeding along that line. And in there, we talk about how we are going to mobilize, how we're going to recruit, utilize our Guard and Reserve.
On recruiting, this is the best recruiting statistic that I've seen in six and a half years. As of today, these gentlemen combined are recruiting at 111 percent -- 111 percent. I have never seen that. Our quality, we are at 94 percent high school graduates. We have a goal of 90 percent. And as you know, in this country I think it's a tragedy that high school graduates are down around 70 (percent). We're at 94 (percent).
For our categories one through three, our goal is 60 (percent). We're at 67 percent. And most important, the Category 4 we have a goal of no more than 3 percent. We're at only 1 percent. Now, the economy helps, but I say these are great patriots today. And these young men and women are serving because they're patriots. It's not just the economy.
We have made great progress in equipping our Guard and Reserve. When I appeared before this committee and others, we've talked about it. Over $50 billion in the program of record is going towards our Guard and Reserve; ($)30 billion of that is towards the National Guard. I think one of our challenges will be to sustain that, because that's in the program of record, but we need to sustain it.
There are $10 billion that are in this year's program of equipment toward our Guard and Reserve. And if we execute that, that will bring the Guard up to about 78 percent of their equipment on hand. We've never been above 70 and it's been cascaded, old equipment. This will be brand new, compatible equipment. So we and also, I think, the committee, need to watch and make sure we execute that.
One of the recommendations of the Commission on the Guard and Reserve is to provide a mechanism by which we track, finally, how we program, execute the appropriations for the Guard and Reserve. We have just signed out to number 42 and 43 on the commission's report the mechanism by how we're going to do that. Every quarter it will be required that the services report to my office how they're using equipment, where it is and where it's going. Twice a year, although it's not required, we're going to report to you on the appropriations that you made, how we're tracking that equipment, so we will all know that it's ending up with the Guard and Reserve. So we will be doing that.
Again, a large effort we've had is supporting our families and our employers. And you mentioned the Yellow Ribbon Program. That comes under my office. We have established the Yellow Ribbon Program, the Center of Excellence. We have manned that with representatives from each one of our components. From the VA, we've moved that office into the Pentagon in my spaces. On Monday, we will hold the first advisory board meeting of the Yellow Ribbon Program. We have about $200 million in this year in execution that we're putting towards that program.
We have institutionalized the 30- and the 60- and the 90-day reintegration effort, because we know we need to get those people and their families back, because families notice something wrong sometimes before the troop will admit it. So getting them back at that periodicity will help us talk to them. We're going to be doing that.
With the stop-loss, I'm proud to say that the Army Reserve in September 1st will end that, the Army Guard after that. I do not think, and I would be interested in what my colleagues have to say, that that will cause a lot of difference in cost leveling and with the IRR. We've mobilized about 20,000 of the IRR since 9/11. In Gulf War I we used 30,000. We have 225,000. So we've not at all approached that, but we need to watch that very carefully.
And I think with proper manning of stop-loss -- and you hit upon something which I think we would welcome. We need to incentivize people to extend their time and that's going to require some dollars. So after the budget comes over, I know my colleagues won't be bashful at that that time that if they need money for incentivization for people to extend, I think we will be able to do that without tapping the IRR too much. But you mentioned that.
TRICARE, Reserve Select, that's been something which you all have driven. I'm happy to report 100,000 of our people are taking advantage of that. The premiums are very attractive. I'm not a health insurance person, but they tell me those premiums of $78 for a single person is pretty competitive. So 100,000 have already taken advantage. That's growing along the way. And so, we appreciate that. And I imagine there wouldn't be a gray area retiree resist the fact that -- if you all passed that law.
I think I'll end there and be happy to answer any of your questions. Thank you.
SEN. NELSON: Senator Thune, Senator Chambliss, any opening --
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA): I do just want to thank Tom for his great service. He's had six and a half great years at the Pentagon.
Tom, you've done a great job. You've provided a great service to our country and we thank you for that.
MR. HALL: Thank you for heading that caucus and I appreciate being with you the other day. I appreciate all of your support.
SEN. NELSON: (Off mike.) Secretary Hall, I know that you led that working group of the senior executives that were directed to conduct this comprehensive review of the report of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves. What's the status of the department's implementation of the recommendations of the commission? And perhaps you can outline maybe the three most difficult issues that your working group had to address. And finally, what did your working group make with respect to making the concept of a continuum of service a true reality?
Starting first with what's the status and what three challenges did you notice?
MR. HALL: We set a very aggressive timeline. The commission met for about two and a half years and I was determined in two and a half months to complete our staffing. We did that. Took a very large whip, but we accomplished that. With the recommendation number 42 and 43, the last two, on equipment and programming, that completes the implementation of what the secretary directed -- directed the implementation of 82 of the 95 recommendations. Two of them were sent to the VA. The other 11 we required no action or did not agree with.
So all of those 82 are in the process of being implemented. My office is charged with reporting monthly and the first report will be next month on the status of each one of those. We have a timeline for each of them. We're going to follow them. And one of the things that I wanted is it not to die and become another report that goes on a shelf. So we're required to report directly to the secretary every month, almost.
The hardest ones, I think the equipment and the programming was very difficult because the services did not want to reduce their flexibility in how they handled equipment, but at the same time we needed visibility. So to obtain something which would give us flexibility and visibility together we hammered for quite some time. That's been decided.
I think the joint qualifications for our people were very important. And I know Senator Graham is very familiar with this. And we have now worked out, in October of '07, the joint military qualifications are now extended to all of the Guard and Reserve. And most importantly, it's not just quantity of time you serve, it's quality of time. If you serve six months in a combat zone, that might be more quality joint time than two years on a staff. So we have provisions for that. It's fully integrated.
And I also mentioned that for our TAGs, we went out with a call to the TAGs to see what ones thought that they would qualify for joint credit within their state. And 29 of them came in and set those qualifications. The joint staff approved all 29. Twenty-nine of 29 for those tags would be joint-duty credit for their service with a TAG within the state where they have both the Army and the Air Force.
So I think those were some of the most challenging ones, also support to civil authorities. And of course, the others have already been accomplished with General McKinley pinning on the four star and General Blum being the first deputy commander. So those we implemented already. But those were a bit more challenging ones, but I think we're on track with that, Senator.
SEN. NELSON: The commission determined that reserve component personnel are called to serve in 29 different statuses. And it concluded that these statuses are confusing and frustrating to both the members and the commanders. And so, the commission recommended that DOD reduce the number of duty statuses from 29 to two, and that's a substantial reduction. What's the department's assessment of this recommendation?
MR. HALL: They once tried to teach me all 29 as an aviator, but they found that that was impossible for me to remember it. The answer is not two and the answer is not 29. And I commanded the Naval Reserve along the way and experienced all of those. And so we're trying to do something unique this time. We're actually trying to turn it over to the operators, these gentlemen back here who use it, and say, what amount of those do you think gives you the most flexibility in what you need?
I think it's going to be between four to seven, because that -- flexibility. But rather than us decided it and OSD and then the Pentagon, I've asked them to tell us what you need and then we ought to listen to them and we ought to put those four to six in that's working right now. They're doing that and I anticipate that the answer, whatever they give, we will implement those for both flexibility and what they need.
SEN. NELSON: Thank you. And finally, the commission made a number of recommendations to improve the health care benefit available to the reserve component members and their families. Has the department taken the action or will it take any action to improve that health care? We're introducing legislation, but is there anything that's under way right now?
MR. HALL: Well, I think the TRICARE Reserve Select has just been a watershed, because when I first came into the job it was predicted that we will never have a military health care system available to all drilling reservists and their families when you come on active duty, but you've fixed that. And so, I think that, and as I mentioned, 100,000 -- that can't but help us with the overall health of our families and our troops.
I have been very encouraged in dental readiness, as a for instance. And you all each time have asked me about that. And I think you should ask my colleagues about it. When I first went to the "mobe" stations at Fort Bliss, Fort Hood, the various places, the -- (inaudible) -- readiness of our units, the BCTs was running about 30 percent.
When I visited with General Wyatt's 45th, when he was a TAG in Oklahoma, it was at about 90 percent. And the use of commercial vans that he used and they pioneered, where they pull a van up to a drill center and, as I said, they drill them while they're on drill and they have three seats and you run them through one end and you take care of all of them and you do that before the mobilize and you do that at the armory, so when they report to the mobe station, you don't take time away from training. They are already ready.
Now, we're not 90 percent in every unit, but what I'm saying is the percentage is going up to the 75 to 80 to 90. So we're well on the way to that. And so I think the medical readiness of the troops and their families, because of what you have done -- can we improve some more? Are there some more improvements on the margin with TRICARE? You mentioned for gray area.
But I think for our troops and their use of the system, 90 days prior to going and mobilization, six months afterwards, you can, for every 90 days you serve up to a year -- so you could have it for eight years after mobilization, combined with being able to have it any time, I think is the right way forward, because if we're going to use 700,000 guardsmen and reservists, we've got to have the same medical standards for them as the active duty. And we're along that way. We're not perfect, but great progress has been made in that area.
SEN. NELSON: Thank you, Secretary.
SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, one thing that's intrigued me is that due to the extensive deployments and redeployments and the utilization of the Guard and Reserve, the one thing I've been worried about is people punching out at 20 that normally -- you know, in my old Guard unit in South Carolina you had to blow people out. They'd stay there until they're 90 if you'd let them, because they loved the unit and loved what they do. Have you seen any increase in people retiring at 20 and not staying past?
MR. HALL: I think my colleagues would be better prepared to answer that, but I think you've hit on a very important point. The way we work our recruiting, our retention -- and I was a retention officer once -- is we sort of get people retained to 10 years. At that point they're sort of in in the active force and we keep them. We do very little for people past 20 years.
Now, the GI Bill is one of the things that is going to help with transferability and others. I personally think we need to look at what we do for people past 20 years. And I think the moving of the retirement benefits from 30 to 40 years, where you can continue to accrue it, is a good step forward.
But we want to re-enlist those people. And I often ask, after 20, well we don't have the bonuses. So I think if we can do things to incentivize people to stay longer, rather than leave earlier, that has to be our next step, because those are the sergeants, those are the chief petty officers, those are the kinds of mid-grade officers you need to keep. And your company doesn't need to lose them at the 20- year point. So I think we all need to explore what we can propose or what you might want for that past 20.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, one of the things that I've been thinking about for a while is if you'll serve 22 years you can maybe retire at 50. You know, step down the retirement, because really, that's when you're in your military prime. You know, that 20-year person has been there and done a lot and great teachers and have a lot of skills that we will need. So I'll look forward to working with everybody to try to find a way to make sure that we keep people past 20, particularly in selected key areas.
You talked about the dental situation. And one of the things we learned after 9/11 is that when we started calling people up to active duty that we had a hard time getting Guard and reservists in deployable status because of medical problems. And, you know, they were trained to fill in for the Fulda Gap and all of a sudden here we are in a global war on terror -- and I'm going to continue to call it -- you can call it what you want to, but that's what I want to call it, because I think that's what it is -- and we had a hard time getting people.
About 25 percent of the force, I think, called up to active duty was medically disqualified for dental problems, initially. And when you think about it, the enemy is depleting our forces without firing a shot. I know you've done some good things in that area, but here's a number they've given me in the book. I don't know if it's right or not. In the first quarter of fiscal year 2009, more than half of the Army Guard and Reserve, 52 percent, reported as non-deployable due to Class 3 or 4 dental readiness status.
MR. HALL: I think, again my colleagues can -- a lot of that, in that readiness area, might be because they haven't had exams and all. So we would have to break that down to whether you haven't had the exam and you had treatment.
When I first came into this job, the first place I visited was Fort Bragg. And a dentist came up and said, "What do you think the record is for me pulling teeth?"
SEN. GRAHAM: Bad teeth are doing more damage to us than the enemy in a way.
MR. HALL: Well, the dentists say if you can't bite, you can't fight.
SEN. GRAHAM: Okay.
MR. HALL: So that's their fight song along the way. But this dentist pulled 28 of the 32 teeth -- a person who came in was in such poor shape because of a problem in our country.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, we don't have private sector dental health care usually.
And it's not any problem -- you know, the Army is just inheriting a problem that society has.
MR. HALL: I think we're getting better, but I think they can comment on how much better we are than --
SEN. GRAHAM: Anything you can think of to deal with this problem, and you need money and legal changes, we stand ready to help, so --
MR. HALL: Yes, sir.
SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you for the job you've done for the country. And I think you can leave your post looking back and saying that you were there when it mattered the most, maybe since World War II for sure. And you are a great leader. Thank you very much.
MR. HALL: Thank you, sir.
SEN. NELSON: Thank you, Senator Graham.
SEN. MARK BEGICH (D-AK): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do have to depart, but I have just one question and it's a follow-up kind of to your question in regards to TRICARE and how it works.
And I'm just going to read a note here I have. The Commission on the National Guard and Reserve recommended that the reserve component be allowed to enroll into the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program in lieu of TRICARE and that the department offer a stipend to members who want to retain their family in a private or employer-sponsored health plan in lieu of using TRICARE for active duty for greater than 30 days.
Do you have a comment on that?
MR. HALL: One of our work groups -- and the chairman asked about that earlier, the status and one of our particular work groups is looking at that proposal right now. And I think the key for the federal health care benefit program is what best advantages the individual? And the way I would look at it, if it's better for them to do that, they ought to have the option. We're looking at both of those. We have to report out to the secretary on what we think about those two particular portions of that. And that work group -- and our first report on our progress will be next month.
SEN. BEGICH: And I'm assuming the chairman asked would you share that with this committee?
MR. HALL: Yes, certainly the progress -- we shared the large report with the staff and we share progress reports with them.
SEN. BEGICH: Progress would be great. Great.
That's all, Mr. Chairman, I have. I just had one quick question for Mr. Hall.
MR. HALL: Thank you, sir.
SEN. NELSON: Well, Senator Chambliss.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Again, Mr. Secretary, let me just commend you for your great service to our country. Talk for a minute, if you will, about the readiness and about the predictability on both sides -- the predictability from the standpoint of individual members of -- as reservists and guardsmen and women being able to tell their families when they're going to go. And on the other side, are we doing what we need to do from an employer standpoint to try to give the employer the predictability that they need?
MR. HALL: I think the single most important thing to a trooper, their family and their employer is not any different than it was when I first joined a long time ago. And Barbara wanted to know, when are you going to go, how long are you going to stay there, when are you going to be back, and can you tell me as far ahead? It hasn't changed a lot. And I think this was a primary -- certainly a motivation of Secretary Gates in establishing the predictability goals. And as I say, we're up to about a 1 and 4.
But more importantly is the alert of the Guard and Reserve. When I first came into the job, we were giving people 30 days' notice. I mean, we were more in a crisis mode then. We were -- the last groups that we were going to alert, we gave them two years' notice, 20 to 24 months' notice.
Now, one of the things I heard is if you alert them that far ahead, people will leave the units. And so -- but I don't think that's true. I think they have stayed. So the employers to a person that I've spent time with have said, "Predictability, tell us that far ahead; if you can tell us two years ahead, we will plan." And there has not been a huge exodus in my tracking of our Guard and Reserve units. And I track the BCTs carefully. They have lost some, but it hasn't occurred, so I think the predictability.
When I came into the job, our ESGR, employer support of the Guard and Reserve, was funded at about $9 million. We were reaching a small segment of our employers. Today we're funding it at $20 million. It doesn't sound like a lot, but we've doubled, almost two and a half. We want to reach more of the employers out there, because the reservist has that three-legged stool, the employer, the family and their job. And if any of those legs fall off, the stool collapses.
So I think predictability is probably the most important thing I hear from families and employers. We're working hard with ESGR. We're giving longer notifications, more alert time. And I think it's been received -- yes, some people might leave if they learn two years ahead. But there hasn't been that exodus. These are very, very patriotic people that are proud to be in the units. And in the Guard in the state in particular, if that's their unit, that's the people they work with, that's whom they live with, you all know that, and they stay with them. So that's about where we are on our predictability.
And I think we ought to continue -- as you know, one of the rules that was passed by Congress, you will not have less than 30 days. The goal is 90 days before you tell anyone to mobilize. SecDef said, "No, it's 180 days." So he has told us that we have to personally report to him if we are mobilizing anybody -- and he took it a step from 90 to 180 days. And every week I have to report that, if anybody is not given at least that much time prior to mobilization. So I think there's great sensitivity on his part and on down to the predictability.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Okay. The 48th Brigade of the Army Guard from Georgia is heading to Afghanistan beginning in May. They did a tour in Iraq a couple years ago. They did not get to take advantage, under current law, with respect to our early retirement provision, but now when they go back this time, that early retirement provision is going to kick in for them. Senator Kerry and I have a bill up again to make it retroactive to September 11. We're going to keep working until we get that done.
What kind of anecdotal feedback have you gotten from the Guard and Reserve folks from around the country with respect to their feeling about the opportunity to retire earlier than age 60?
MR. HALL: It was the number one thing I got when I went to town halls, maybe tied with health care, no TRICARE. But as Barbara and I traveled around the country, and she would go with me at my expense to talk with the families, every one of them mentioned those and early retirement. They applauded it.
I think, again, it's my last hearing, I'll be quite honest: I don't think you would find one of them that would be against it being retroactive. From the department's aspect, we'll carry out the law as it is passed. But most of them have voiced that opinion to me as I have gone around. And it was very important to them. They welcomed that. They realized that as they go and serve now with the 48th, they will be able to take advantage of that.
You've set a minimum on it of, I think, 50. That's what you wanted the minimum age but could reduce it all the way down. And universally at my town halls, that's been applauded by the Guard and Reserve and your constituents. I've found no one against it.
SEN. CHAMBLISS: Great. Well, again, thanks for your service. And we know this is a family commitment.
Ms. Barbara, we thank you for serving your country too, with respect to serving Tom.
So thanks very much, Mr. Secretary.
MR. HALL: Thank you, sir.
SEN. NELSON: Thank you, Senator Chambliss.
Senator Burris, I might -- before you start, a vote started at 3:05 and if you'd like to go with your questions now and we can break so that nobody misses a vote and we'll come back.
SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D-IL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mine will be rather quick, because it's not that involved.
Welcome, Secretary Hall. I understand this is your last (tour ?) --
MR. HALL: Yes, sir.
SEN. BURRIS: -- so God bless you and Godspeed.
MR. HALL: Thank you, sir.
SEN. BURRIS: Secretary Hall, I'm especially interested in the concept of transforming from strategic reserve forces to operational reserve forces. In your statement for the record, you said that there were recommendations made by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserve that called for a complete reorganization of the categories under which the reserve components were managed. And the commission recommended an operational category and a strategic category.
So Secretary Hall, can you tell us, you know, why no action was taken on those recommendations?
MR. HALL: We looked at that carefully and I came and we came to the conclusion that it was just a different way of racking and stacking, as they say in the Army, I guess, of the categories we have. So we looked at each one of the categories. We looked at what they would name them. And then we said at the end of the day, is it change for change sake or does it add value and make sense? And we believed that taking the Selective Service category as one, and all of those did not give us a material advantage to what we have now with the IRR, the Selected Reserve, the retired reserve categories, Selected Service, et cetera, and the drilling reserve.
So we just came to the conclusion that it did not add any more value. And I felt we had to have a compelling reason for changing. I would be interested in the chiefs' view on this, but it looked like we understood the categories now, we use them and it was functioning so we elected to take no action on that.
SEN. BURRIS: So can we tell which is strategic and which is operational now, or how do you distinguish?
MR. HALL: I think you're both. And I think when you're not operational, you're in the strategic. And I think it would be a mistake to try to tell someone, because you've set in a -- everybody's strategic, ready to fight for their country. When you go forward and you're operating and so you flow between both categories. And I think most reservists understand that. The chiefs can see, but it was pretty simple to me, when I'm forward mobilized and fighting, I'm pretty operational. When I'm at home waiting for the fight, I'm sitting in a strategic way to answer the call to my country.
SEN. BURRIS: It makes a lot of sense to me, Mr. Secretary.
MR. HALL: Yes, sir. Thank you.
SEN. BURRIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. NELSON: Thank you, Senator.
Thank you, Secretary Hall.
I think we will break right now and we'll come right back for the second panel. Senator Graham's coming back as soon as he votes. I'll be back as soon as I do. Thank you. Thank you for your service.
MR. HALL: Thank you, sir.