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Perry Says Each Service Member Makes a Difference

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 17, 1996 – Defense Secretary William J. Perry was supposed to board the first helicopter departing from the USS Merrimack in the Mediterranean. Somehow, the chopper lifted off carrying DoD's senior enlisted chiefs, but not the secretary.

Not to worry, another chopper was due any minute, and besides, the secretary didn't even notice. He was busy getting an unexpected earful from a yeoman second class. The earnest young woman wasn't griping about pay, benefits or long days at sea. She was proudly telling the nation's senior defense chief all about her job and her ship's mission.

"I was deeply impressed with her knowledge, not just of her job on the ship, but what the whole battle group was all about," Perry said later. "She gave me a very professional briefing on what the George Washington was doing on this mission, why it was important, and why it made a difference to our national security."

The stop aboard the Merrimack was one of four ship visits Perry made recently in Europe. He also toured the USS George Washington and USS Barry in the Mediterranean and the USS Simon Lake at Sardinia, Italy. He talked about the visits during a July 10 speech at the U.S. Naval Senior Enlisted Academy at Newport, R.I.

Each year 300 senior and master chief petty officers attend the academy's nine-week course in communication skills, leadership and management, national security affairs, Navy programs, and health and physical readiness. The school helps senior enlisted transition from technicians to mid-level managers.

The young yeoman's knowledge was "a sign of real leadership aboard that ship and in that battle group," Perry told academy students. It represents "a strong chain of command from the captain to the seaman," he said.

The battle group sailors "know the mission; they know the purpose," Perry said. "All of that builds unit cohesion, a sense of ownership, and a belief that each sailor makes a difference." Sailors fight better when they know what they're fighting for, Perry said paraphrasing Oliver Cromwell.

During its six-month Mediterranean deployment, the George Washington battle group exercised with NATO allies and served temporarily as part of Operation Southern Watch in the Middle East. It filled in while the Nimitz battle group was redeployed from the Arabian Sea to the Strait of Taiwan as tensions escalated over Chinese military exercises near Taiwan.

"All of that was crucial in dealing with the security issues we were facing at that time," Perry said. The ships' activities "show the flexibility and the readiness of our battle groups," he said.

The secretary's four-ship visit was hosted by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy John Hagan. Every three months DoD's senior enlisted take turns organizing a trip for the secretary. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Gene McKinney, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force David Campanale, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Lewis Lee, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Eric Trent also accompanied Perry to the Mediterranean.

Perry said the trips give him a chance to meet and talk specifically with NCOs and enlisted personnel. For the services' senior enlisted who come along, he said, it's a chance to exchange views on issues and problems facing military personnel throughout the services.

The visits are "not just show and tell," Perry said. They're focused on action. The senior enlisted learn about problems, and they have a "hot-wash" with the secretary on the plane ride home to decide what to do about them.

The enlisted visits and discussions have produced action -- new legislation, changes in the budget -- designed to make the services a better place to work and to live. "In order to have a high quality, ready, highly effective military force, we simply have to pay attention to these [quality of life] issues," Perry said.

Perry also told academy NCOs about a recent trip to Bosnia and Hungary, where U.S. forces are at the halfway point in NATO's peace mission. The next six months will be the most difficult, he said, due to refugees resettling, elections being held and activities of the International War Crimes Tribunal. "All of those factors are going to challenge IFOR to maintain peace in the face of very substantial turbulence," he said.

Force protection is key to continued success in Bosnia and elsewhere, Perry said. He stressed that after six months of security, stability and no resistance, there is danger IFOR troops will become complacent during the last part of the mission. Strict enforcement of safety measures, including wearing flak jackets and helmets, the no-alcohol policy and not allowing troops to fraternize in town, are still necessary, he said.

"They've been there for six months and haven't had a beer," Perry said. "They are pretty damn unhappy about that, but it is a force protection issue." Command statistics show U.S. forces have been healthier and safer in six months in Bosnia due to the no-alcohol rule than they had been the previous six months in Germany, Perry said.

The Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia clearly emphasizes the need for ever-vigilant force protection and the need to care for each other, Perry said. Nineteen airmen were killed and 450 injured in the June 25 terrorist attack. Perry went to the bombing site June 29 and visited the clinic where the wounded were treated. He said he talked to the doctor who treated many of the casualties.

"He himself had been wounded," Perry said. "He got some glass in his chest. The head of the clinic told me he had seen this doctor bandaging a patient while somebody was bandaging him. They also told me that of the hundreds of people that went into the clinic, not one of them came in alone. Each of them was brought in by a buddy."

In such a crisis, training, such as the Air Force buddy system, pays off, Perry said. "As NCOs you must ensure the sailors in your commands internalize all facets of force protection. Let's make sure that everyone takes it seriously, and you must set your own example of caring."

Perry said the ship visits gave him a chance to see the care, dedication and pride of the battle group sailors. Such quality and spirit do not come automatically, he said.

"It is the result of leadership. That is why you are here. We have great ships, great airplanes, great submarines, great mess halls. All of those are important, but what gives our Navy its competitive edge, this distinctive advantage, is its leadership -- especially its NCOs. There is nothing like our NCO corps in any other Navy in the world."

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