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Cohen Asks America to Support Military, Base Closures

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Jan. 29, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen carried the case for increased defense spending to the American people Jan. 28 in a speech to the Illinois legislature here.

"We can never pay our men and women enough, but we can pay them more than we're paying them," Cohen told the General Assembly. Americans, he said, have a "moral obligation" to provide a satisfactory quality of life to service members: "It is in your name they fight, and it is you they rely upon for support."

He emphasized the need for a strong defense, saying the world today "is one of more disorder than order." He cited international tensions in Korea, Iraq and Bosnia, instability in Central Africa and the increasing possibility of terrorist attacks. He blamed worldwide instability on those "who would prefer to dig fresh graves than heal old wounds."

"[We must give service members] the training, the weapons and the infrastructure they need to accomplish the missions this nation asks of them," he said. Improving service members' quality of life and modernizing the force are two priorities. To attract and retain the best, he said, "We've got to offer a satisfactory quality of life. It is a moral obligation, but it is no less a practical necessity."

"What's a fair salary for someone who is on call 24 hours a day, who's prepared to lead troops into deadly combat?" he asked. "[What do you pay someone] who is rigorously trained in highly lethal, cutting-edge technology, who is constantly relocated and restricted in lifestyle, who is called upon to manage complex political and ethnic divisions with the skills of both diplomat and warrior and with 10 years' unmatched leadership experience? What's that worth?"

Cohen and other defense leaders have noted recently that ongoing DoD economic and operational reforms and proposed defense budgets increases totaling $110 billion through 2005 won't be enough to fund all of DoD's needs -- pay raises, retirement reform and modernization. Cohen told the legislators DoD needs two more rounds of base realignment and closure as well.

"I know BRAC is a four-letter word in most places, but I must tell you the vast sums we waste on unneeded facilities is robbing our men and women in uniform of needed training, weapons modernization and quality of life," he said. "It should offend us that serious needs for our troops remain unmet while we squander money on unneeded facilities."

He said the money saved would go to weapons modernization, training and quality of life programs. The three rounds of closures since 1988 have already generated $3.7 billion in savings with $25 billion forecast through fiscal 2003. "Two additional rounds that we will fight for this year will ultimately save $20 billion and generate $3 billion annually," Cohen said.

"It's frightening," he said of closures, recounting his days in Maine on the city council in Bangor when DoD closed Dow Air Force Base and as a senator when Loring AFB closed. "As hard as it is," he continued, "it is absolutely necessary for the good or our service members, necessary for taxpayers and necessary for our national security."

Cohen said recent experiences show that a closed base is not the end of the world for communities. He cited the success of Rantoul, Ill., after the 1988 BRAC axed Chanute AFB. He said the industries on the former base now produce $1.2 million in annual revenues and created 1,400 new jobs. About 63 percent of communities with bases closed grew faster than the national average, he said.

America cannot sit back and watch the world on CNN "nursing the illusion that we are insulated and secure from the consequences," Cohen told the Assembly. "We have an absolute obligation to prepare for the future, and the best way to prepare ... is to give our full support -- moral and financial -- to those who will defend us."

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Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen Remarks to the Illinois General Assembly

Click photo for screen-resolution imageROTC Midshipman Julie Kovach greets Defense Secretary William S. Cohen at the Illinois state Capitol in Springfield. Kovach is a senior at the Champaign-Urbana campus of the University of Illinois. Cohen went to Illinois Jan. 28 to address the state's General Assembly. James Garamone  
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