Multicomponent after one year: how's it working?

by SSG David Carney

When the Alabama Army National Guard’s 142d Signal Brigade was designated to become the first brigade-sized multicomponent unit, former brigade commander BG Troy Oliver responded by "pulling together all involved active and reserve senior staff at our headquarters. I told them to identify all possible factors and create a plan to implement the change. I knew total communications and coordination among all staff sections would be crucial to success."

Oliver, who has since been promoted to major general to command the AANG’s 167th Logistical Support Command, led the brigade’s conversion to a multicomponent unit. Multicomponent is an officially recognized integration of Active Component and Reserve Component soldiers by modified tables of organization and equipment modification or change. When 142d’s MTOE changed Oct. 1, 1999, it included both active and reserve soldiers as part of the same unit under National Guard command.

Multicompo became necessary as a method of maintaining a viable force structure by reconciling current military strength and missions with available resources. It’s actually a marriage of the best of two different worlds. Both AC and RC have strengths, which when blended together create a synergistic effect. AC soldiers are able to train year-round, whereas the average reservist only trains for about two months out of the year. This means AC soldiers can be trained up and on-line quickly. However, these same soldiers may move or leave the Army within a relatively short period of time. While RC soldiers require much more calendar time in training, they tend to remain in one unit for their entire career and may be available for as much as 20 to 25 years. The long-term availability of the RC soldier strengthens and maintains a skillset necessary for the capital and skill-intensive Signal equipment.

AC and RC soldiers have performed side-by-side during recent mobilizations. With a multicompo unit, the theory of "train as you fight and fight as you train" takes on real-world significance.

The first step towards integrating RC and AC into an existing MTOE required very methodical analysis of the multicompo concept: execution, resources and mission. The 142d staff looked at the most critical positions required to plan and execute year-round I Corps missions. Extensive analysis of the day-to-day work environment was required. For example: to whom should the full-time AC soldiers report on a daily basis?

After the initial planning, a memorandum of agreement was established between AC and RC elements for what was to become the multicompo 142d Signal Brigade. This MOA identified and dealt with differences in the way AC and RC elements were affected by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, performance evaluations and career development for both noncommissioned officers and officers. (RC soldiers aren’t subject to the UCMJ unless ordered to active federal duty.) Resource management and accountability was a major factor.

An interesting issue is that resource utilization is controlled by federal law and other legal entities. Federal assets – which includes both personnel and equipment – are funded and designated by law to be used only for federal missions, while state assets – including reserve personnel – can be used for both state and federal missions. If a natural disaster such as a hurricane occurs in Alabama, 142d Signal Brigade isn’t authorized to use AC assets – which includes both the tactical-satellite equipment and AC soldiers – which are located at the brigade’s headquarters in Alabama. Only after a federal emergency is declared are AC assets legally available.

So the brigade had to establish and develop checks and balances – firewalls, if you will – to prevent illegal cross-resourcing of assets. But the biggest obstacle was training and blending of two unique cultures. However, both AC and RC leaders chose to view this as a unique challenge with unique opportunities.

A natural offshoot of this process was integrating the AC’s 29th Signal Battalion, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., in June 1999 under 142d Signal Brigade’s command and control. This action fully complemented the MOA’s spirit and intent. The brigade actually became a multicompo unit in October 1999 when its MTOE changed and AC members of 29th Signal Battalion transferred to 142d’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company.

Being a multicomponent unit and also having AC assets has provided unique opportunities. In September 1999, 142d Signal Brigade was the first National Guard major command to deploy a worldwide "pure green" tactical network by using its AC TACSAT terminals.

In January, 142d became the first major reserve unit to conduct a full-blown exercise evaluation of an AC unit. Conversely, 29th Signal Battalion’s AC expertise is being used to conduct evaluations of the 142d’s reserve elements.

The unique organizational challenges of creating a multicomponent unit forced the different cultures to work together in creative problem-solving. Very open discussion and conflict resolution was encouraged among the leaders. This began an incremental blending of the two cultures to create a common culture.

The brigade has some ongoing issues, which are:

Fine-tuning the organizational structure consistent with the mission;
Maintaining an honest and open information flow;
Maintaining an atmosphere of openness, trust and mutual respect;
Reconciling operations planning time. Details for a RC operation must be planned well in advance (six to nine months out), while the AC may only require about 30 days; and
Reconciling training briefing and planning time. AC soldiers deliver quarterly training briefs one quarter in advance, while RC soldiers give a yearly training brief a year in advance. This means that in February 2000, RC elements delivered a YTB for events that may not occur until September 2001. During the same month, the brigade’s AC elements were delivering a QTB for events that would occur only five months later. Training of RC assets requires much longer lead time.

"The multicomponent organization isn’t a product," emphasized COL Brooks Hodges III, 142d’s G-6 reservist officer. "Because of continually changing missions, organizational realignments and changes in state and federal requirements and resourcing, the multicomponent organization is a living process. Given the operational tempo and resourcing of the Army today, multicompo is a win-win situation."

SSG Carney is 142d Signal Brigade’s public-affairs officer.

Acronym QuickScan
AANG – Alabama Army National Guard
AC – Active Component
MOA – memorandum of agreement
MTOE – modified tables of organization and equipment
QTB – quarterly training brief
RC – Reserve Component
TACSAT – tactical satellite
UCMJ – Uniform Code of Military Justice
YTB – yearly training brief

dividing rule

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