The One in Which I Rant About USR

Note: I decided to drop the “In Between” phrase from these post titles to try and clean them up as they’re shared around the interwebs, but the idea is the same. Sometimes I don’t have anything particularly funny or snarky to write, and sometimes I’m in between more serious pieces. In those periods, I still have things I want to write about, they just fit somewhere in between.  This is the sixth post in a category I call “In Between.”

With readiness being such a trendy topic these days, I’ve started thinking about the difficulties associated with that word in the context of my branch, the AG Corps. As an S-1 type (and again as a commander), I dealt ceaselessly with the monthly Unit Status Report (USR). Perhaps the most frustrating portion of the report for me was in the “shades of gray” interpretations for non-available personnel.

It seems like it should be fairly cut and dry. Can the soldier deploy? If not, he or she is “non-available,” right? Well what about if the soldier is flagged as administratively non-available but his or her commander would 100% deploy with that soldier? What if a soldier is non-available on the 1st of the month but is projected to be available on the 15th? What about commander’s discretion?

What even is the difference between non-available and non-deployable?! Why are there nuances and differences? Shouldn’t they mean the same thing if for no other reason than to cut down on confusion?

s-l300
A WWI US Reserve insignia that should be revived and repurposed if only for the laughs. (via ebay.com)

As a lieutenant, I would frequently be told to reference the appropriate regulation, AR 220-1, but that was probably one of those developmental moves to get the junior officer to learn. (No complaints there. I definitely learned.) But the longer I spent in the Army dealing with USR, the more I realized that any differences in terms were idiosyncratic, subtly different from post-to-post, and changed in small or large increments from month-to-month.

Working on brigade, battalion, and company-level USR, I and my organizations would usually receive reporting guidance from the division or corps USR proponents on how to input and turn in our reports, what previous months’ trends informed, and what common reporting mistakes exacerbated unit turn-ins.

Those higher headquarters also communicated changes to reporting standards, changes that often felt fickle and whimsical to us lowly reporting units. Most junior officers have enough sense to know that USR instructions probably lose the “so what” as they travel from on-high to the low-level unit USR toilers, and that’s easy enough to accept. Where it becomes problematic and frustrating, however, is when a USR report done one way for the past several months reported in exactly the same way suddenly has something wrong with it this month.

tmhnks
When you have to make a correction to your USR but you don’t know what to do because it was “right” the last dozen turn-ins.

My point is that there is far too much ambiguity and gray space in the Army’s Unit Status Reporting system as it exists. If the Army and its leaders are serious about getting a grip on readiness in the form of reducing the number of soldiers who cannot deploy, the first step is to generate a clear and accurate picture of soldier deployability as it currently exists with no ambiguity in terminology and no room for discretionary nitpicking.

That’s why I was excited to read on Monday that changes are a-coming. According to the Army Times, starting in July, the Army will codify its strength reporting standards: you’re either deployable or non-deployable (availability is out), and there are clear definitions associated with each.

This service-level driven effort to remove confusion is both refreshing and welcome. A year removed from anything USR related and marking time out in grad school-land, I don’t know exactly how these changes are being pushed to the unit-level, but I’m hopeful that big-A Army is doing great things to correct some of the most frustrating and confusing elements associated with the dreaded monthly USR.


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