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Chairman Addresses Service Members Concerns

By Staff Sgt. Timothy Hoffman
National Guard Bureau

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, COLO., Feb. 25, 1997 – Health care, privatization and downsizing were top concerns of 40 enlisted members who quizzed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff here Feb. 18.

On a visit, Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili ate breakfast with the junior enlisted group from North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Space Command, Air Force Space Command and Fort Carson and then fielded questions.

Military medical care will never again be what it was, he told a sailor concerned about the conversion from CHAMPUS to the TRICARE health program. "I want to be up front. Our problem is the same as the civilian community," he said. "Health care became too expensive. Congress directed we look at a system that was cheaper than CHAMPUS, and we came up with TRICARE.

"The main problem is fewer medical facilities," he said. "For example, in the Colorado Springs area there are approximately 130,000 people eligible for military medical care. However, the military medical facilities can only handle around 80,000. That leaves at least 50,000 people under TRICARE, many of them retirees."

The general said he can't predict what military medical care will look like 10 or 20 years down the road. "When I was your age I was confident the system we had would still be here," he said "Of course, that hasn't happened."

One hope the chairman said he sees for future military members is a movement in Congress to put the military in a system similar to one that is working well for civil service employees.

Shalikashvili said saving money is also behind the push for privatization and outsourcing. "We have to be very careful about what we outsource to ensure readiness isn't adversely affected," he said in response to an airman's concern about private corporations doing traditional military jobs. "But we live in a very different world today. Overnight delivery companies can get parts to almost any country, in most cases cheaper than the military. When we went into Bosnia, we asked a contractor to set up mess halls, and they were there the next day. So this can work, and it will happen where it is appropriate."

Another concern was downsizing. "Are we finished yet?" one soldier asked.

"A lot will depend on the Quadrennial Defense Review that will go to Congress May 15," said Shalikashvili. "It's a soup-to-nuts review, and everything is on the table from new fighters for the Air Force, new subs for the Navy, new helicopters for the Army to personnel end strength. Will we cut more people? I cannot tell. But right now we will be stable for a year or two."

The general saidthe military went through dramatic downsizing that caused a lot of turbulence. "We cut 700,000 people from our military," he said. "That's more than the combined militaries of Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark. This was difficult. However, if we have to make more cuts, it's not going to be a cookie-cutter approach. Each service will attack the problem with their own programs and within their different organizational structures."

The general ended his visit by complimenting the enlisted members on the work they are doing and cautioning them. "Don't forget the tremendous challenge you all have -- to protect the sovereignty of the United States," he said. "You are paid to fight and win. Don't be lulled into thinking you have some other mission. Peacekeeping and humanitarian missions are necessary and important, however, remember what we are all about. You are the nation's treasure."

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