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Prosimy o zaakceptowanie warunków przetwarzania danych osobowych przez Wojskowych Instytut Wydawniczy – Akceptuję

Reserves Win Wars

National defense capabilities cannot rely exclusively on soldiers in active service. The outcome of a task often depends on the engagement of reservists.

“If you want peace, prepare for war,” said the ancients, and this saying is still valid. If some mechanism fails to work in times of peace, it will most certainly not work during wartime. “That’s why it’s so important to have sufficient human resources ready to be quickly employed in the event of war and in crisis situations. The assumption that we’ll have 90 or 180 days to train and prepare people – as it was optimistically assumed in exercise scenarios several years ago – is fiction,” says Grzegorz Matyasik, Deputy Director of the Administration Defense Preparations Analysis Department of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland.

It is hard to imagine that, for example, threatened borders could be defended only by professional soldiers. “Widespread engagement of society has many times tipped the scale to the side of the Polish army in battles with enemy forces. In the opinion of historians, a model example is the organization and the very process of reserve mobilization in 1939,” says BrigGen Jan Rydz, Head of the Armed Forces Operational Planning and Training Directorate J3/J7 of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces (P3/P7 SGWP Directorate). From March to the end of August of that year, 950,000 of the planned 1,300,000 people were successfully mobilized (the reserve at the time was 4 million soldiers strong).

Active Personnel Resources in Collapse

Almost every army in the world is now aware of the necessity to have personnel reserves that are to assist the professionals in the event of natural disasters, evacuation of people, and other crisis situations, most importantly in the event of the outbreak of war. The British have their Army Reserve, Americans, i.a., Ready Reserve, and the French – La Réserve Opérationnelle. Some countries also have groups of volunteers to supplement their operational reserves. The situation is a bit different in the Polish Armed Forces. “The reserve is made up of former soldiers released from active military service, professional or candidate, and people who had not been in the army, but were put on the list after the military qualification process,” explains Maj Wiesław Kaliszuk, specialist at the P3/P7 SGWP Directorate. In total, it is millions of people who can be drafted when the time comes. The problem is that the majority have never had any contact with the army. That is why the main training emphasis should be put on those with experience. Is this what happens in practice?

The representatives of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces (SGWP) admit that training reserves in the last 30 years has been executed with varying intensity. In the times of compulsory military service there was no problem with the strength of the so-called active reserve. In 2005, 70,000 people underwent training, in 2006 – 69,000, in 2007 – 53,000, and in 2008 – 45,500. In 2009, a decision was taken to make the Polish Army professional, and the regulations introduced at the time suspended almost all types of active military service that provided a source of reserve forces. “Men stopped being drafted for compulsory service, which every year ensured a significant number of new reserve privates and NCOs. On top of that, students and university graduates no longer undergo military training, which is crucial when it comes to creating reserves for the armed forces,” says Col Cezary Janowski, Deputy Head of the P3/P7 SGWP Directorate.

The successive adult teenager age-groups did not have to put on a uniform, being only obliged to go through the military qualification process. Students were evaluated as to their suitability for military service, given a category of suitability for active service, and issued a military service book. Then they were automatically moved to the reserve.
The time of professionalization was also unfavorable for trained reservists. Military posts were professionalized, establishments of units were changed, which meant a lot of work for the whole army. It was considered a bad time to call reservists in for training. Between 2009–2012 training reserve forces was almost completely abandoned, and between 2013–2015 it was very scarce (up to 10,000 a year). All this resulted in the growing number of people that had never worn a uniform, and a quick fall in the number of trained ones.

There was talk in the public domain about the likely reintroduction of the military service obligation, as a way to quickly increase the strength of the army in times of peace. This is what Sweden did two years ago. As a result, in 2018 alone they managed to train 3,750 soldiers, and in 2019 they are planning to recruit 5,000 further conscripts. The aim of this strategy is to reach 55,000 trained personnel by 2025. The Polish army, however, decided to look for other ways of rebuilding the reserve. From 2010, the preparatory service and the national reserve forces (NSR) became one of the sources of recruiting trained reservists. “The core of the formation were to be reserve soldiers who voluntarily concluded military service contracts, and remained in full readiness to execute tasks in the event of military and non-military threats, both in the country and abroad,” explains Col Korneliusz Łaniewski of the Organization and Replenishment Directorate J1 of the General Staff (P1 SGWP Directorate). Although the NSR did in fact fulfill its tasks of, for example, training reserves, with time the preparatory service came to be a pass to professional service. Out of over 64,000 volunteers who joined the NSR, almost 28,000 became professionals. In practice, the NSR, which was to number 20,000 soldiers, never reached that level. At their peak, in 2016, the NSR forces numbered about 13,000 people.

On top of that, after the creation of the Territorial Defense Force (WOT), which was to take over some tasks from the NSR, this formation reached its limits. However, the leaders of the Ministry of National Defense decided not to liquidate it. “We are planning to keep the NSR at the level of 3,000 soldiers. We want to enable the reservists to voluntarily execute tasks within the NSR,” explains Col Łaniewski.

Also, the plan to create a corps of professional privates has not been entirely executed. After 12 years of service, as specialists, they were to reinforce the Polish army’s mobilization reserve forces. “As it turned out, privates were doing everything to stay in service for as long as possible. They went on missions, attended courses, obtained licenses – all this to be able to get promoted to the NCO corps and become professionals with entitlement to pension,” says Grzegorz Matyasik.

Several months ago, the MoND went one step further, and completely lifted the limit of 12 years of service for the soldiers of the youngest corps. “Maybe we should have done it a bit differently? In Sweden, there is also the limit of 12 years of service, but after this time the soldiers receive minimum pension for being in reserve. Due to this, the Swedish army has good quality reserve personnel made up of former military specialists,” adds a representative of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland (KPRM).

To Barracks – March!

In order not to allow the whole reserve training system to collapse, four years ago the army decided to gradually increase the number of trained reservists. In 2015, about 13,000 people were prepared, a year later – 15,000, in 2017 – 25,000, and in 2018 – already about 30,000. In 2019, the plan was to train 38,000 reservists. “In 2020, the number of reservists called in for training will be similar to this year’s level. We can increase it at any time if need be,” says Col Zbigniew Osada of the P1 SGWP Directorate. He adds that the aim of the exercises is to maintain and regularly improve the skills of reserve forces. Those who were in the army a long time ago must familiarize themselves with the equipment and procedures. “The key question that remains is: what is the effectiveness of such training?” wonders Grzegorz Matyasik.

He himself is a reserve lieutenant. He served at the school for reserve NCOs, took part in several exercises for reservists, and he volunteered to participate in last year’s exercise. His conclusions, however, are not very optimistic: “I had the feeling that those people, taken away from their everyday life, had no clue why they were there. It was obvious that no one had any idea on how to train them. Maybe there should be a system where reservists take part in exercises regularly, much more often than now, and their mobilization assignments are connected with their professional experience gained outside the army?” wonders Matyasik.

The representatives of the General Staff admit the number of trained reservists will grow with each year, which is to result in the increased frequency of exercises. Their program is also to be more practical than now. When a given reserve soldier reaches an appropriate level of training, they will participate in military units’ most important trainings, including proving ground exercises. “Reservists must exercise so as to be ready to support the army if necessary. It is very important that they are aware of their duties,” adds Col Cezary Janowski of the SGWP.

However, it is not the only way to improve the effectiveness of preparing reservists and to increase their number. Another idea could be the so-called active reserve. It exists, for instance, in the British Armed Forces, under the name of Regular Reserve. It is made up of former soldiers, including those with category A, for whom this service is compulsory after taking off the uniform. They take part in regularly organized exercises (19-27 days per year), for which they get remuneration and a tax allowance. The situation is similar in the USA. Professional soldiers declare already at signing their contracts that they will execute part of their duties as reservists in the ranks of Ready Reserve.

Grzegorz Matyasik adds that many world armies ensure retirement benefits for activity in the reserve. “In Poland, a soldier finishes professional service, leaves the army, and although he is still in the reserve, it brings him no benefits whatsoever. Those former soldiers should be brought back on board. Maybe the obligation to serve in the reserve should be included in the professional soldiers’ contracts from the very beginning?” he wonders. Although the representatives of the General Staff admit that they pay close attention to the solutions used by other countries as regards active reserve, currently they are not planning to introduce any changes in this area. “Reserve soldiers with mobilization assignments get paid for taking part in exercises, and NSR soldiers who have military pension entitlement can have the time of active NSR service added to the years of pensionable service,” explains Col Osada.

Maybe, as Matyasik suggests, it would be worth to consider popularizing military training on the basis of the already existing system. “Every volunteer to professional service in the army would have to complete the so-called “sixteen” in the Territorial Defense Force (WOT). After that, they would have several options – preparatory service, military studies, joining WOT or the reserve force,” says Grzegorz Matyasik. Sweden has adopted a similar solution – all potential soldiers must first complete basic training. If after that they decide not to pursue professional military career or join a volunteer territorial defense force (Hemvärnet), they are transferred to the reserve and called in once in three or four years for a three- or four-week-long exercise organized for reservists.

Volunteer Potential

The creation of the Territorial Defense Force in 2017 was a very important step in the area of training and rebuilding the human potential in the armed forces, and in the long run also in increasing the number of personnel reserves. WOT is an example of skillfully using the civil society potential. The territorial force’s motto – “Always Ready, Always Close” – is also their mission, i.e. defending and supporting local communities. In times of peace, their main task is to operate within the territory of their local homeland: prevent and fight against the effects of natural disasters, execute rescue operations in crisis situations. In times of war they will support operational forces.

Ultimately, WOT will be over 53,000 soldiers strong, with only about 10% professionals. The formation’s core are both people without any experience in the army, and former professional soldiers. They train at least once a month, and each year they take part in a two-week grouping. “This is an opportunity for Polish citizens to serve in the army in a different way, which helps you to reconcile service with private life and professional work. It made a lot of new people become interested in military service. This solution makes it possible to rationally rebuild the human potential not only in active service, but also in the reserve,” says MajGen Wiesław Kukuła, the commander of WOT.

There are similar formations in many world armies. The US have their National Guard, whose units are used by the State Governor in times of peace for tasks connected with internal security. Formations similar to the Polish WOT exist also in Estonia (Kaitseliit – Defense League), Latvia (Zemessardze – National Guard), or Lithuania (Krašto apsaugos savanorių pajėgos – National Defense Volunteer Forces).

“All citizens should take part in building military security,” says Col Janowski. Many specialists admit that such a formation has been needed for years. “Its soldiers don’t need many-hour classes on drills, regulations, construction of fighting vehicles, but tactical training, typical for the functioning of WOT,” points out Matyasik. Another strength of WOT is accessibility, universal character, and the ability to mobilize quickly. WOT soldiers presented their strengths in May 2019, when they were first appointed to help remove the consequences of natural disasters – a flood and a tornado in the Lublin region.

The formation has many other valuable features. “We can have the best aircraft, tanks and fighting vehicles, but it is all worthless if we don’t have people who know what to do. In WOT, the esprit de corps is very important. It refers to the Home Army ideals,” admits a representative of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. He emphasizes that such approach – based on the volunteers’ motivation, their morale, sense of duty towards the motherland, civil engagement, and pride to be a reservist – should be followed more extensively in building the reserve component of the Polish Armed Forces. The MoND is slowly starting to work on that. “We see the growing significance of reservists and we want to create a certain ethos, build defense potential based on patriotism and selflessness,” admits Col Janowski.

Army Is not Abstraction

The change in mentality is necessary not only in the army. Relations with employers who must accept the absence of workers called up for active military service are a real challenge. Not everyone understands the idea of reserve forces, and for many the army itself is simply an abstraction. WOT is trying to introduce positive changes in this area within their “Employer” project. Now bosses can get familiar with the schedule of their workers’ training days, and find out about cash benefits they are entitled to, even one year in advance. The project also involves meetings with employers, who are invited to all kinds of ceremonies, such as the soldiers’ oath.

“We care about partner relations with our soldiers’ employers, and building their awareness that by employing WOT soldiers they also have a share in increasing Poland’s defense potential,” says LtCol Marek Pietrzak, a spokesman for WOT. One element of the project was a competition for the best employer of a WOT soldier. The winners of the final phase of the competition were 13 companies and institutions, i.a. a scientific center, an airport, a primary school, and a shipping company. “I employ several WOT soldiers and I’m very proud of it. I always emphasize this in various professional and private meetings. They have a passion, they fulfill themselves in the army. Their skills can always prove useful for the company,” says Wacław Orzech, Head of the Fruit and Vegetable Processing Plant “Orzech.”

Way to Attract Young People

Not only the Polish army is facing the challenge to rebuild personnel reserves. “The leaders of the Slovakian Ministry of Defense decided that one of the directions of their activity aimed at improving the state’s defense potential is to raise the citizens’ awareness and readiness to protect their country. The Finnish Armed Forces, on the other hand, have been testing since 2018 a new program of training conscripts and reservists, called »Koulutus 2020«,” points out BrigGen Jan Rydz. Recruiting people for the reserve has become the main aim of special volunteer programs in many countries. In the US Army, for example, the program is called Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corp, and it is aimed at students aged 17–26. The army pays for their studies in the form of two-, three- or four-year scholarships, and in return, the volunteers serve in the army for eight years – four in active service, and four in the reserve component. In France, one of the ways to increase the number of trained reservists is a one-year contract offered to young people up to the age of 26.

The Polish army also has some good offers for young people. An example can be the program launched in 2017, which has led to the creation of certified military uniformed classes. Their aim is to prepare young people for active service as well as reinforcing the reserve. Since September 2019, over 6,800 students from 124 schools have participated in the project. “Those several years of studying in a uniformed class is a very intensive period of military training for the teenagers. This time often verifies their predispositions and capabilities, bringing them measurable benefits – apart from additional points in the military universities’ recruitment process, they also have a chance to complete shortened preparatory service,” says Waldemar Zubek, Director of the MoND’s Office for Pro-defense Matters.

The first graduates of the program have had the chance to take advantage of the offered benefits this year. Some of them have tried their luck in entrance exams for military academies, others have decided to join the WOT, and over 330 volunteers have taken advantage of the possibility to perform the shorter preparatory service. The last group, after taking the oath, reinforced the reserve force of the Polish Armed Forces.

“I know that a significant number of them are planning to stay in the army, and the rest are going to be perfectly prepared reservists. An ideal reservist is a person who has not only completed basic military training, but is also a patriot and a good citizen, ready to make sacrifices, aware of the value of freedom, and engaged in the work for their local community,” says Zbigniew Ciosek, Deputy Director of the MoND’s Department of Education, Culture and Heritage.

University students, on the other hand, can volunteer to join the Academic Legion. It is nothing new, since training of this group of young people had already been undertaken in the past. Between 2004–2008, a total of 14,543 students underwent military training. The program was suspended in January 2010, and in 2017 the Ministry decided to return to this already tested solution. “Student volunteers complete the theoretical part on their universities during the academic year, and after that, during the holidays, they take part in the practical part organized at selected military units and training centers,” explains Col Piotr Bogusz, Head of the P3/P7 SGWP Directorate. In the practical part, two training modules are executed: basic and NCO’s. Both end in exams, and, after a student fulfills all the requirements, they become a Private 1st Class or a Corporal of the reserve. This turned out to be a good idea. 61 universities and over 5,000 students took part in the first edition of the program. The theoretical part was successfully completed by 3,800, of which 3,400 enrolled for the practical training. It was finished by 2,700 students, and 2,052 of them were given the rank of reserve corporal. The numbers in the second edition were very similar: 63 universities joined the program, and 2,051 students ultimately completed the NCO module.

The trouble with the program is that it has still not become a part of the universal military education system or the currently valid military reserve training system. As the representatives of the MoND’s Department of Education and Military Training assure, the work on this matter is ongoing. “We expect that military training of student volunteers is likely to become a form of preparatory service. The difference between the future and the now effective model will lie in the training modules. The basic, NCO and officer modules will be executed throughout a longer period of time in the three successive years of studies,” says Col Dariusz Rewak, who is responsible for the program in the MoND’s Department of Education and Military Training.

Another plan is to execute two- or three-week-long specialist and command practical trainings at line units at the end of the NCO and the officer module. On top of that, military specialties are to be adjusted to the students’ university specializations.

Common Issue

There is no doubt that the personnel reserves of the Polish army must be reinforced. Poland’s geopolitical location, changes in the security environment, building the defense potential – all this requires putting a strong emphasis on training reservists and making sure they are properly prepared to operate if need be. However, there is one more thing that must be kept in mind – the constitutional obligation to defend our country applies to every one of us, and it is often the potential and determination of common citizens that determines victory or defeat in an armed conflict.


Rajmund T. Andrzejczak
Reserve soldiers are an important component of any army. Considering their experience, special abilities and qualifications, it is essential to skillfully manage these people’s potential. Efficient mechanisms of using civic activity, as well as combining strategic defense needs of the state with operational plans, are fundamental for building the country’s defense system. Special volunteer programs, increasing the number of trainings for reservists – all this shows how much significance we attach to this issue. 2020 will be announced the Year of Training Personnel Reserves, and October 10 will become a cyclical Reservist Day.

LtGen Rajmund T. Andrzejczak is the Head of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces.

Paulina Glińska Cooperation: Tadeusz Wróbel

autor zdjęć: DWOT

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