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Up-or-Out Personnel Policy 'Lousy Idea,' Rumsfeld Tells Sailors

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, Nov. 15, 2003 – The U.S. military's "up-or-out" personnel policy is "a lousy idea," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told sailors in Yokosuka, Japan, today.

Speaking aboard the USS Blue Ridge, flagship of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet, the secretary told the troops, including a smattering of soldiers, airmen and Marines, that he believes the practice of forcing people to separate or retire if they're not promoted is wrong for the military.

"There's something wrong with a process that does that (forces people to retire in their 40s)," he said in response to a sailor's question. Other reasons to consider longer military careers are that people are living longer and that knowledge and experience are becoming more and more valuable, he added.

The secretary made brief remarks and took questions after having lunch -- roast beef and salmon -- aboard the ship.

Rumsfeld's comments included remarks on the situation in Iraq and the importance of the U.S. military presence in Asia. He also spoke in depth about a number of personnel issues. Aside from the up-or-out policy, the secretary shared his thoughts on troop rotations, the balance of the active and reserve components, and civilian vs. military personnel in various jobs.

Regarding assignments, Rumsfeld said he believes military service members change assignments too quickly to "clean up their own mistakes." He said he's concerned people "just trip along the tops of the waves and never really get engaged."

He said he hopes to be able to lengthen the average length of military tours and expand the number of years people are able to serve in the military, "if in fact they'd like to do that."

He expounded on the virtues of the total-force concept as "the right concept."

"We need to have active duty forces, and we need to have Ready Reserve and Guard forces that are capable of supplementing the active force during a period of spike in activity, as we have now in Iraq and Afghanistan," Rumsfeld said.

"The problem we've got is that we have an imbalance. We have people in the Guard and Reserve where we really need to have those skills on active duty," he added. "And we probably have some skills on active duty that would be better off in the Guard and Reserves."

A decrease in the total number of U.S. military forces is not likely, the secretary said. However, an increase may eventually be in order. "One of the things we can do is increase the size of the force," he noted, "but we've got a lot of things we can do before we increase the size of the force."

Current commitments, such as in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Sinai, need to be looked at very closely. Officials are also looking closely at moving some jobs into the civilian workforce.

"At the moment, we have something like 300,000 men and women in uniform doing jobs that everyone agrees could be done by civilians," Rumsfeld said, acknowledging it makes more sense to keep some jobs in the military that technically could be done by civilians.

"There a lot of things we can do to reduce the stress on the force," he said. "The people part of it is so critically important that we've got to make sure we do it right."

The secretary is in Asia to discuss security arrangements in the region, U.S. force structure and support to the war on terrorism. He is scheduled to visit U.S. military bases and local officials in Okinawa, in southern Japan, on Nov. 16 before traveling to Seoul, South Korea, for annual defense consultative meetings with Korean government officials.

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