The new path forward

Reserve leadership gets biggest reorganization in 25 years.

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This article was published in The RESERVIST, a magazine which primarily provides stories of interest to Coast Guard reservists.

By Capt. Alex Foos


On June 11, the Coast Guard Reserve underwent its most significant organizational change since integration in the mid- 1990’s. Responsibility for the administration of the Reserve Component shifted from the Assistant Commandant for Human Resources (under the Deputy Commandant for Mission Support) to a newly established Assistant Commandant for Reserve, known as CG-R (under the Deputy Commandant for Operations). 

The move to operations comes with significant benefits. However, before discussing the benefits and details of these impending changes, a little background on how and why these changes came about would be helpful. 


Prior to 1995, the Coast Guard Reserve operated as an independent entity with stand-alone, collocated commands, at the field level. With Integration, reservists were incorporated into regular units under a single command structure, and while this change was successful in creating a more efficient and operationally- oriented organization, some gaps in the Headquarters structure remained. 

In the nearly 25 years since Integration there have been numerous, comprehensive evaluations of the Reserve, but many of the identified challenges remained unresolved. The symptoms of a larger gap in the governance structure of the Reserve Component (e.g. reasonable commuting distance concerns, long-term vacant billets in areas without recruiting or training capacity, lack of validated contingency response requirements, etc.) had six common themes: 

  • Reserve Component generally left out of Coast Guard wide policy/initiative making 
  • Decisions made without considering impacts to Reserve and reservist readiness 
  • Gaps in program oversight and resourcing of field commanders necessary to perform assigned functions 
  • Lack of strategic management of Reserve Component to meet mission needs of the service. 

In order to address these gaps, the Deputy Commandant for Mission Support and Deputy Commandant for Operations chartered the Reserve Governance Integrated Project Team (RG- IPT) in the spring of 2018 to evaluate the current state of Reserve Component governance and make recommendations on improvements, including the right location within Headquarters to place the Director of Reserve. The team, headed by a reservist, Rear Adm. James Kelly, provided the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Charles Ray, with a recommended way forward, which included the establishment of an Assistant Commandant for Reserve who will work directly for the Deputy Commandant for Operations. This is not just about reshuffling the Headquarters organization. 

Ultimately, the value for the average reservist at the deck plate level comes from having confidence that the competencies assigned to their billet make sense and are part of a deliberate plan. Have you ever asked yourself why you are training to a particular competency? In the vast majority of cases, the competencies attached to Reserve positions are the same competencies assigned to active duty members at the same unit. In fact, in the event of a contingency, the Coast Guard is going to need a whole lot more capacity to do the things we already do (e.g. boat operations, law enforcement, etc), not something unrelated.

Having a system in place to coordinate between the capability managers in the Assistant Commandant for Capabilities (e.g. Shore Forces, Boat Forces, etc.) and the Areas will ensure assigned competencies are considered within a larger system. This should better address the Service’s planned needs while capitalizing on the skills that already exist at the units. This will drive greater return on investment at the unit and allow reservists to more fully embody the “training through augmentation” mantra, adding value on a daily basis, not just in emergencies.  


What is “governance”? 

In order to get beyond chasing the symptoms of an inefficient system, the Coast Guard needed to address the underlying gaps in the Headquarters governance structure. But what is “governance”? In business, governance relates to the prosperity of a company based on the success of the management structure. For us, governance references the way the Reserve is managed at the Headquarters level. 

For years, the Office of Reserve Affairs (CG-131) was said to manage the “Reserve Program”, but the Reserve is not a program itself, it is the sum of all the reserve capabilities of many programs (e.g. Shore Forces, Boat Forces, and Deployable Specialized Forces). Trying to administer the Reserve as a “program”, instead of a distinct Component of the United States military (as laid out in the law) has resulted in years of ineffective and inefficient efforts to address the real problems impacting readiness. 

Take, for example, the most common question asked of CG- 131 over the years: “How many reservists does the Coast Guard need?” As a force provider located in CG-1, the human resources organization, CG-131 was not in the right location to drive Area contingency planners and headquarters capability managers to build and validate operational requirements. Moreover, changes in the Reserve budget were often made without input from the operational side of the house, since the appropriation resided in the mission support side. As a result, operational risk decisions were being made with little to no input from the operational Coast Guard. 

This was a key gap with potentially significant ramifications for the Coast Guard. Ensuring the responsibility and accountability for requirements generation and resource management are collocated inside a single organization is a much better way to identify and mitigate risk. 

One caveat here: Making changes in the Reserve governance structure at Headquarters is not a magic elixir that will restore the health of the Reserve, remove obstacles, or guarantee future success. It doesn’t mean an increase in resources, and it’s not a quick fix for all the issues impacting readiness in the Reserve Component. 

It IS an opportunity to put the leadership of the Reserve Component at the right LEVEL of the organization to have the right CONVERSATIONS, with the right PEOPLE, to manage the Reserve Component more effectively. This runs the gamut from determining the right number, size and location of our port security units to evaluating the scope and focus of the Reserve in response to changes in the global operating environment. 

Form Follows Function 

The team looked at functional statements of organizations across Headquarters to identify what Reserve management tasks were or were not being conducted. They wanted to determine if the responsibility for those functions was better located somewhere else. Approaching the question from this perspective was extremely helpful in overcoming barriers by breaking down the issue of governance to clearly understandable roles and responsibilities. 

Ultimately, the RG-IPT evaluated nine potential courses of action and evaluated their potential impacts and effectiveness, leading to the final structure approved by the Vice Commandant. The key components of the new organization include the Director of Reserve who will be supported by two offices, each with two divisions. 

Director of the Reserve/ Assistant Commandant for Reserve (CG-R) 

At the top is the Director of Reserve, a flag officer at Coast Guard Headquarters, who, as defined in Title 14 of United States Code, serves “as the principal advisor to the Commandant on Coast Guard Reserve matters.” However, this same law doesn’t limit the number (or scope) of other responsibilities the Commandant may assign the same position. 

In the past, other responsibilities have dominated the director’s time and attention, leaving little time for focusing on the Reserve. Since 1995, the director has also held the titles of Office of Readiness and Reserve, Director of Reserve and Training, Director of Reserve and Leadership and, most recently, Director of Reserve and Military Personnel. 


The level of attention necessary to address enormous Coast Guard-wide issues such as the management of the training system or military personnel issues in general often overshadowed the original purpose of the position. The competition for much-needed executive attention on Reserve concerns is not a reflection of the desires of previous flag officers; all prior Directors of Reserve had the best of intentions. They simply ran into the reality that there are only 24 hours in the day. 

Establishment of the Assistant Commandant for Reserve will allow future Directors to fully immerse themselves in the issues impacting the Reserve without distraction. Not only does this better match the intent of the law that created the position in the first place, it also aligns them better with their peers in the Department of Defense who are responsible for all aspects of readiness within their respective Reserve Components. 


Legacy Personnel Policy Issues 

Not included in the new CG-R construct is the management of reserve personnel policy issues, which will remain in the Assistant Commandant for Human Resources (CG-1) organization. A small staff will be located in the Office of Military Personnel (CG-133) in order to integrate reserve and military personnel policies into the M1000 suite of policies (e.g. Military Separations Manual, Military Assignments and Authorized Absences Manual, etc). 

Initial Focus 

There is no shortage of work to be undertaken by CG-R! As the new organization comes up to speed and takes shape there are four major focus areas: contingency response requirement management; Port Security Unit (PSU) modernization; Reserve Doctrine; and activation, mobilization and deployment policy. 

Contingency Response Requirement Management 

The Director of Reserve in 2018, Rear Adm. Scott McKinley, outlined three strategic priorities for the Reserve: Get the Organization Right, Get the Force Right, and Build Leadership for the Reserve. 

Strengthening the Headquarters governance structure makes good on the first of these priorities and lays the groundwork for delivering on the other two. When it comes to getting the force right, there are already a number of successes to guide us. 

One example is the Boat Forces Management Plan released by the Office of Boat Forces in 2013. The BFRMP was designed to meet specific mobilization needs for an assumed set of circumstances given the training limitations of the active duty workforce currently in place. As CG-R matures, there will be additional work to better articulate the full scope of requirements across operational and support programs. 

Port Security Unit modernization 

In partnership with the CG-721 and other stakeholders, we will work toward modernizing the PSUs, including an evaluation of the FTS resources allocated to maintain unit readiness, unit location and organization, and expected mission requirements and duration. The PSUs are the central deployable capability of the Reserve necessary to meet the Commandant’s top priority for the Reserve Component, Defense Operations. This effort is already underway with a team of experts actively evaluating the needs of the PSUs. 

Reserve Doctrine 

We will build a doctrinal publication similar to Pub. 1 outlining the DNA of the Coast Guard Reserve Component. From history to mission areas, we will provide a comprehensive explanation for how and (more importantly) why the Reserve Component is organized in the way that it is. This will support the future development of a Reserve Strategic Outlook that will provide details on how we will make the theoretical organization outlined in Pub. R “real” over a given time horizon. 

Activation, mobilization, and deployment policy 

The development and issuance of Service policy governing activations, mobilizations, and deployments similar to what used to be included in the old Manpower Mobilization Support Plan (MMSP) will provide structure to this complex yet critical system. It is expected that this document will address issues like guidance on Title 14 mobilizations during a period of Title 10 dwell; guidance for tasking mobilized reservists; guidance on where to deploy when recalled, etc. 


The mission of the Coast Guard Reserve is to provide operationally capable and ready personnel to support Coast Guard surge and mobilization requirements in the Homeland and abroad. These lofty ideals do not do anything in and of themselves; it takes strong leadership, dedicated personnel, and a supportive structure to ensure we have the right force in place today to meet tomorrow’s emerging challenges. The modernization of the Coast Guard’s Reserve Component management system serves that purpose by completing the process of integration begun over 25 years ago. With unity of effort and clear purpose, the Reserve will continue to build upon its legacy of operational excellence.  

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