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DoD Compensation Package Coming, Cohen Tells Sailors

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

NORFOLK NAVAL BASE, Va., Nov. 16, 1998 – Although the main topic of conversation was Iraq, sailors at this installation and nearby Oceana Naval Air Station also expressed concern about quality of life and readiness initiatives when Defense Secretary William S. Cohen visited Nov. 12.

"We have a smaller force and we are deploying more," Cohen said to the naval aviators of VF-211, an F-14 squadron called the Checkmates. "I'm here to tell you we are hearing your concerns and we will do all we can to address them.

"I'm here also to see if we are taking good care of the people taking care of us."

Cohen said DoD is working to put together a compensation package for the fiscal 2000 budget. The package will include a 4.4 percent pay raise, targeted pay hikes for mid-level and senior officers and enlisted personnel, and changing Redux, the retirement program that gives 40 percent of base pay to service members who retire after 20 years.

"It wasn't until about a year ago that retirement started showing up as a concern [to service members]," he said. "When we originally came up with the system in 1986, we thought it would provide incentives to keep people in the service past 20 [years]. We're finding it has the opposite effect." He said he is confident Redux will be fixed.

Cohen assured sailors that their concerns about pay, retirement, and operations and personnel tempos were shared at the very top of the government.

"President Clinton met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the [regional commanders in chief] in August and later sent a letter telling me to work with the Office of Management and Budget and the Congress to address these problems," he said. "Even in a balanced budget environment, the president has made this a priority."

Aviators also expressed concerns about modernization and spare parts shortages. Cohen said the spare parts shortage should be remedied by Congress' $1 billion addition to DoD's fiscal 1999 budget.

Modernization, however, was another story. Cohen said that without two additional rounds of base realignment and closure (BRAC), DoD would not be able to achieve its modernization goals. He said he sympathizes with congressmen who don't want bases shut in their districts or states, but said the process is worth it from a national level and a local one. He said DoD helps communities find new uses for bases, and said many have found that their new tenants have increased local job markets.

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