Are Reserve Soldiers a Better Value than Active Duty?

A two-year study conducted within the Office of the Secretary of Defense is the basis of a report headed to Congress that says the Reserve and National Guard may provide more bang-for-the-buck for national security than Active Duty soldiers.

This report is the first attempt by the military to itemize the cost of both Active and Reserve components, in order to determine the mix of forces that provides the best use of tax dollars. The report does specify that it is not comparing the "relative effectiveness or proficiency" of Active vs. Reserve soldiers, however.

A draft copy of the report obtained by shows the perhaps-surprising conclusion of the report. Reserve and Guard troops, while obviously less expensive during drills, are also slightly cheaper while fully mobilized. While pay and most benefits are equal between Active and Reserve soldiers, Reserve soldiers generally cost less in retirement and health care. With just personnel costs considered, and activated Reserve soldier cost approximately 95% as much as an Active duty soldier of the same rank.

Personnel costs aren't the only expenses of Active Duty and Reserve soldiers, however. Active Duty soldiers also get Department of Defense benefits such as family housing benefits, moving stipends, and DoD schools and other installation-based support benefits. This adds up to Reserve soldiers costing approximately 80% of Active Duty soldiers.

The graph give some examples of the difference in pay and total benefits between Active Duty, Reserve (activated), and Reserve (drill only):

The Pentagon and DoD have already distanced themselves from the report, saying that "The draft report was released prematurely and there are some inaccuracies; the department does not stand by it. We cannot comment on the report prior to the final version being completed and sent to Congress.”

Although units which deploy more often do appear to be more cost-effective, the report notes that a one-size-fits-all set of rules for determining the ratio of Active/Reserve soldiers is impossible, since cost comparisons vary so widely among different branches and units.