It's Official: Guard a Bargain

(Dec. 31, 2012) The Reserve Forces Policy Board has crunched the numbers to make clear that the cost of a National Guard or Reserve troop is much less than that of an active-component member.

The RFPB released findings of a report this month that shows the annual cost to the federal government for one reserve-component member is less than one third of the cost for an active-component troop, $123,351 compared to$384,622 in fiscal year 2013.

The report looked at all costs, from health care to dependent education to housing to retirement. The full report will be released in January after it has been sent to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

Slides related to the report can be found at

The report, “Eliminating Major Gaps in DoD Data on the Fully Burdened and Life-Cycle Cost of Military Personnel,” is not an argument for increasing the size of the reserve component while shrinking the active force, it makes clear. Nor is it “an effort to reform the pay, compensation and benefits system.”

It is, rather, “an effort to provide an independent, objective method to develop and present repeatable data for ‘fully burdened’ and ‘life cycle’ costs of military personnel, to track these trends over time, and to permit objective comparative analysis.”

The report covers much that is obvious, such as the cost of educating a service member’s dependent child is only a few dollars for the family of a Reservist or Guardsman, but $2,034 for an active-component child. The same is true of annual commissary costs, which the report says is $996 for an active-component troop, but only $49 for a member of the reserve component.

The report notes that the reserve component makes up 39 percent of the 2.2 million members of the force, but receives 17 percent of retirement payout costs, 15 percent of military costs and 21 percent of defense health program costs, among other items.

The report should prove useful as Congress tangles with finding a more efficient way of providing the nation with a quality military force. When Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., spoke earlier this month at the annual NGAUS Industry Day, he said one problem lawmakers had with proving the cost effectiveness of the Guard is that it did not have the proper numbers to back up that claim.

"We know it's a lot cheaper," he said. "We just don't have the numbers."