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Cohen, Shelton Warn Readiness is "Fraying"

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 1998 – Readiness is "fraying" in second- and third- echelon units, and "what we need to do is to make sure [the fray] doesn't turn into a tear," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said in a recent interview.

Cohen and Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an Armed Forces Radio and Television Service interview, said they are determined to work with President Clinton, the other chiefs, the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget to address issues of concern to service members and readiness.

Cohen and Shelton addressed today's readiness, and modernization, which Shelton called the "readiness of tomorrow." Both said they were encouraged by the president's response to a Sept. 15 meeting with military leaders at the National Defense University here.

"We assured the commander in chief that we have a trained and ready military force -- one that is ready to carry out the national military strategy of fighting two major theater wars," Shelton said. "We cautioned [President Clinton] that the risk of fighting the second one has been going up."

Shelton said the message defense leadership sent the president was that balancing readiness, quality of life programs and modernization "has become a challenge that is almost insurmountable within the current [DoD budget]."

He said maintaining a trained and ready force is a shared responsibility. "It is incumbent upon the uniformed and civilian leadership to raise these issues to our commander in chief and then work with the Congress to provide for an adequate defense," Shelton said. "[This means] enough money to ensure we have a trained and ready force, and also one that can carry out our responsibilities to ensure we have a modernized force for the future."

The president said in a letter to Cohen that readiness is a perishable commodity. "I believe we need to examine options with Congress to secure additional funds in fiscal 1999 to address shortfalls in critical spare parts, Navy manpower, Army unit training activities and related readiness programs," Clinton wrote.

Cohen told the president that service members are concerned about retirement, pay comparability, the number of operations, and the frequency and length of those deployments. He said members are also concerned about parts shortages, flying hours and training hours.

DoD is working to close the pay gap, Cohen said. "There will be a 3.6 percent pay raise for fiscal 1999 and a 4.4 percent pay raise for fiscal 2000," he said. "We're moving to address those issues as quickly as we can to make sure we maintain the best fighting force." During trips to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and Fort Drum, N.Y., in August and September, Cohen told service members the pay gap will narrow, but never completely close.

Cohen and Shelton said they will address retirement system problems and recommend to Congress that it make changes.

But the department's major "show-stopper" is modernization. Congress has not approved Cohen's request for two further rounds of money-saving base closures that would help pay for modernization. He and Shelton have said modernization now means long-term readiness, and Clinton agreed.

"The fiscal 1999 defense budget proposed the first increase in procurement funding in over a decade," Clinton wrote in his letter to Cohen. "As the chiefs and [regional commanders in chief] noted, we need to continue this upward trend to replace aging equipment in a timely manner. In this regard we will need Congress to approve infrastructure reductions to help ensure sufficient resources are available for our future modernization programs."

Clinton said this would require a multiyear plan. "I have asked [the Office of Management and Budget] and [the National Security Council] to establish with you and General Shelton a separate process within the context of the fiscal 2000 joint budget review that will examine the longer term military readiness issues raised [at the National Defense University]," Clinton wrote to Cohen. "I anticipate this examination will result in a set of budget and policy proposals for the fiscal 2000 defense budget request and your Future Years Defense Program."

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