Cohen Tells Trainees Teamwork is Key
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
LACKLAND AFB, Texas/FORT JACKSON, S.C., March 4, 1997 Military recruits and the nation's 20th defense secretary have something in common: They are all "trainees."
Pentagon defense chiefs are teaching Bill Cohen about the armed forces, just as drill instructors are training new service members, Cohen told Air Force recruits at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and freshly shorn basic trainees at Fort Jackson, S.C., Feb. 27 and 28.
"My job is to find the right strategies, to recruit the right people and to buy and maintain the right weapons," Cohen said. "Your job is to become skilled in your specialty, to safeguard the millions of dollars worth of equipment entrusted to your care and to defend our nation against all enemies."
Military service is a big responsibility for both the defense secretary and recruits, Cohen said. Fortunately, the responsibility is not borne alone, he said. They are all now "part of a great team -- the armed forces of the United States."
"I've been on my job just a few weeks longer than you've been here," Cohen told Jackson soldiers. "I can tell you it's one of the most exciting enterprises I've ever undertaken."
Cohen's visit to the military training bases was his first troop visit since taking office Jan. 24. About 34,000 Air Force recruits attend basic training at Lackland each year, Air Force officials there said. About 32,000 soldiers attended basic combat training at Jackson in fiscal 1996, and about 41,000 are expected in fiscal 1997, Army officials there said.
Cohen toured barracks, dining facilities and a reception center where recruits get the shots, haircuts and in-processing that kick off their military careers. He watched troops learning to rappel, tackling the challenge of Jackson's Victory Tower and wielding pugil sticks. Wearing gray Army sweats, the 56-year-old former senator jogged a 20-minute, two-mile run in prereveille darkness with members of Fort Jackson's B Co., 1st Battalion 61st Infantry.
"Are you happy?" Cohen asked about 200 Fort Jackson trainees who'd just traversed the webbed ropes and wooden walls of the Victory Tower featured in Danny DeVito's movie "Renaissance Man." "Yes, sir!" the psyched-up soldiers yelled back. "Do you love your drill instructors?" Cohen asked. "Yes, sir!" the troops yelled back even louder. "I was told that was the case, but you just confirmed it for me," Cohen joked.
"I'm proud as I can be to say I'm your secretary of defense," Cohen said. "As I said during my confirmation hearings, because of the work you do on behalf of America, I want to work as hard for you as you're working for our country."
Cohen stressed to airmen and soldiers at both bases the importance of teamwork -- making sure there are no "Lone Rangers," people who feel they can do it all by themselves. He said he learned during 24 years in Congress no man or woman is an island; teamwork builds success.
"Our military is the muscle behind America's will, and it is teamwork that makes that muscle strong," Cohen said. Teamwork stopped the fighting in Bosnia, he said. It keeps Saddam Hussein from attacking his Persian Gulf neighbors and keeps communist North Korea from threatening Asia's democratic nations. "Teamwork helps prevent terrorists and rogue nations like Libya from acquiring and threatening to use a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon," he said.
"We are demonstrating day in and day out that we are the power to reckon with," Cohen said. "We don't use that power to achieve any ignoble aims. Our reason for having the power is to achieve peace, stability and hopefully, spread our democracy and prosperity throughout the world."
Americans take great pride knowing that the U.S. military is a force for good throughout the world, Cohen said. "Everybody would like to be like America," he said. "They want our freedom, our democracy, our liberties and they want our security."
Trainees learn teamwork is critical to graduate together, Cohen said, and it will be the same at their first assignment. "Trust and teamwork are the only real guarantees that you can complete the mission," he said.
Harassment and hazing are teamwork's enemy, Cohen said. "Harassment of any sort -- whether physical abuse, sexual harassment or racism -- breaks down trust and destroys the team."
Cohen said he has three goals for his military team. First is to recruit and retain quality people and provide them with a good quality of life. "That means maximum pay raises allowed by law, decent barracks and good housing for when you start a family," he said. "It means first-class services for you and your families from recreation to commissaries to child care."
Second is to modernize military weapons. "You are the best troops in the world," he said. "You deserve and need the best weapons, the latest technology for the maximum leverage over any opponent. And I am going to see that you have it."
Third is to maintain the peak readiness. "Today, every unit in our military is trained and ready to deploy and, if necessary, to fight, whenever and wherever necessary," Cohen said. "I intend to keep it that way by seeing that our military units get the resources they need, and by ensuring we continue with our world-class training which starts right here in boot camp."