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FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. -- The Army Reserve will play a larger role in the country's military readiness over the coming years as the federal government tries to cut costs while maintaining strong armed forces.
Col. Bradley Upton, chief of staff for the 91st Training Division at Fort Hunter, said Congress is reducing the number of active duty troops while the number of reserve soldiers is staying the same or declining slightly. He called the 365-day-a-year salary for active troops "high overhead" for the government to pay.
Another change the U.S. military is making involves the places where reserve deployment could occur, according to Upton. With the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, the goal is to be able to respond anywhere in the world, even for non-combat missions.
That's reflected in the type of training reserves receive. Missions of the future might involve establishing water systems in a foreign country, Upton said, but troops will still need the ability to protect themselves.
Meanwhile, National Guard units will be used more often in their own states, especially during natural disasters, he noted.
"They refer to themselves as the governor's 911 force," Upton said.
Staff Sgt. Robert Van Tuinen believes reservists made a name for themselves over the past 10 to 15 years, showing they can handle bigger assignments.
"The reserves are going to become a big part of the fighting force because we have proved our worth," he said.
The shift toward greater reliance on reserve military units can't happen without support of private industry. Brig. Gen. James Cook said employers have been "accommodating and understanding" of those troops' need to be away from civilian jobs for training or deployment.
There are two big reasons reservists are attractive to military leaders, as well as to Congress. Because they are not employed 365 days a year, the cost to maintain a battle-ready reserve force is much lower than to keep active troops prepared for deployment, Cook said.
Also, reservists bring skills from their civilian jobs that full-time troops usually don't have, he added. That's especially true in the medical field.
Reservists train one weekend per month with their local unit and spend two to three weeks during the summer at Fort Hunter Liggett, where war situations are simulated as closely as possible in a series of field exercises.
"This is a premier training site," Cook said. "We put as much realism into it as we can. There are several different types of contact with the enemy."
Besides having a live opposing force to interact with soldiers, others act as civilian residents of a foreign country, giving another aspect to the training troops receive before going overseas.
The exercises are tailored to the needs of troops under unit commanders around the United States and are planned two years in advance. Fort Liggett's 2014 training program for reservists and National Guard members is already being devised.
While this fort's focus is on training troops for the future, Cook is also concerned about those coming back from war. He began a nonprofit called "The Warrior Water Center" a few years ago with the goal of providing reserves with counseling and other post-deployment treatment.
"The system was slow to respond to these soldiers' needs and the needs of their families," Cook said.
Active duty personnel have had care centers for some time, but the same outlet has been lacking for reserves, he said.
Cook's program uses non-traditional ways of physical and spiritual healing. Water therapy is among the approaches, hence the center's name.
It is intended to tackle problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, general trauma and even brain injuries.
"It affects how you integrate back into society," he said.
Cook's interest in the well-being of soldiers returning from deployment is authentic, not something done for public relations purposes, many at the fort emphasize.
"He genuinely cares about soldiers," said Capt. Rebecca Murga.