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Army Reserves

Answering the Nation's Call for 97 Years

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Updated May 01, 2005
By Col. Randy Pullen

ARLINGTON, Virginia – On April 23, 1908, a new component of the U.S. Army came into being with the creation of the Medical Reserve Corps, the Army’s first federal reserve force.

Today, that reserve force -- which numbered about 360 medical professionals one year after its creation -- is known as the U.S. Army Reserve, a specialized, complementary and skill-rich force of some 205,000 citizen-warriors.

Throughout its near-century of existence, Army Reserve Soldiers have answered the nation’s call to serve during times of emergency, both in peace and in war.

Peacetime emergencies have included a variety of disaster relief and humanitarian operations at home and abroad. In 1997, for example, Army Reserve water purification units were sent to North Dakota to supply purified, potable water to flood victims; Army Reserve engineers in New Hampshire helped a town recover from a dam break; Army Reserve dentists provided much needed dental care on a Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona; and finally Army Reserve Soldiers in the Pacific assisted the victims of Typhoon Paka on Guam.

Two years later, thousands of Army Reserve Soldiers, along with thousands of Army National Guard Soldiers, took part in Exercise New Horizons 1999, the relief effort for Central America following the devastating Hurricane Mitch.

A different sort of peacetime emergency was the use of the Army Reserve in running one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s key New Deal programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Between 1933 and 1939, more than 30,000 Organized Reserve Corps (as the Army Reserve was called at this time) Soldiers served in 2,700 CCC camps, using their training and organization skills in carrying out this program that provided jobs to unemployed young men across the country.

The skills used in the just-mentioned peacetime operations, as well as countless others; however, are the same sort that could be and have been used for battlefield applications, too. It is the emergency of war, both preparing to be ready for war and taking part in actual conflict, that lies at the heart of the Army Reserve and why it was created.

The first mobilization for the Army Reserve came in 1916 when it was called out due to the deteriorating situation between the United States and Mexico caused by the actions of the Mexican revolutionary, Francisco “Pancho” Villa, and the subsequent punitive expedition after Villa led by Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing. Army Reserve Soldiers joined their comrades of the Regular Army and National Guard along the southern border of the United States, preparing for the outbreak of a second war with Mexico. War was avoided but this first mobilization served as a great shakedown for America’s Army in the greater war that would come in 1917.

More than 160,000 Army Reserve Soldiers served on active duty during the First World War. The Reserve doughboys of the Great War served in every division of the American Expeditionary Force in France, whether those divisions were Regular Army, National Guard or National Army. Among their ranks was Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. of the 1st Infantry Division, Maj. Charles Whittlesey of “the Lost Battalion,” and Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s Ace of Aces. Their example set the standard that Army Reserve men and women have followed ever since.

The era between the world wars was a difficult one for the Army. There were few incentives for service, active or reserve, other than dedication to duty and patriotism. In the Organized Reserve, which was primarily an organization of Reserve officers because few enlisted men served, there was no pay for unit drill and no retirement plan. With the national economy in tatters because of the Great Depression of the 1930s, training became even rarer. No year in that decade saw more than 30 percent of Reserve officers undergo annual training; in 1934, only 14 percent did so.

Despite these and other hardships, new officers continued to be commissioned into the Organized Reserve through ROTC and the Citizens’ Military Training Camps (CMTC). This provided summer training to volunteers at Army installations; young men who successfully completed four summers of CMTC training and a battery of correspondence courses could apply for Reserve commissions.

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