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Cohen: U.S. Stretching Smaller Military Force Too Far

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 13, 1999 – U.S. leaders need to decide whether to give the military fewer missions or more people, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said May 11 during congressional testimony.

"We cannot continue the kind of pace that we have," Cohen told the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said DoD is wearing out systems and people. "I would say that the pay raise and the retirement [are] of significance to many members who are now serving, but the quality of life -- and I put quality of life in terms of being able to be home with one's family -- is also of critical importance."

The services have tried to manage operations and personnel tempos, he said. Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has examined the need of the services "to relook how the current end-strength is structured so that we can put more people into those high-demand jobs where we have low density, fewer people," Cohen said.

In his prepared statement to the subcommittee, Shelton noted a number of initiatives to help control excessive operations tempo. The military is monitoring and controlling the use of low-density/high-demand assets to preclude overuse. The chairman is looking at a further reduction in joint exercises. Military planners are also looking at greater use of the reserve components and more comprehensive use of contractors and allied support.

"Too many unprogrammed deployments will inevitably disrupt operating budgets, sap morale, cause lost training opportunities, and accelerate wear and tear on equipment," Shelton said in his statement. "Most importantly of all, uncontrolled operations tempo destroys quality of life and jeopardizes our ability to retain quality people.

"Wherever our people are currently engaged in rather serious operations, you will find that they are most satisfied when they're doing that which they were trained to do," Cohen said. "So you will find, not withstanding the heat and the humidity in the Persian Gulf, where the temperatures climb at a combined level to 150 degrees during August, and you've got 1,000 sorties taking off that day, those sailors are happy to be doing what they're doing.

"The same thing is true in Ramstein [Air Base, Germany] -- humanitarian missions, all the C-17s carrying humanitarian relief missions into Kosovo, or the pilots who are carrying out these extraordinary, extraordinary air campaigns against [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's forces. They are happiest when they're doing that which they're trained to do."

But morale will drop off if a sustained high operations tempo continues too long, Cohen warned.

"It will then reinforce what has been taking place, and that is, 'We can do better on the outside. Life will be easier; I'll be home weekends or evenings with my wife or husband, and I'll have a better quality of life with my family.' That's the real danger that we face, that we've got to find a way to either increase the size of our forces or decrease the number of our missions," the secretary said.

Hawaii Sen. Dan Inouye asked Cohen if the U.S. military was "at the edge."

"I think we're at that edge, yes," Cohen responded.

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