Cohen Salutes Taszar's Joint Support Team
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
TASZAR AIR BASE, Hungary, July 13, 1999 When Texas Army National Guard Lt. Col. Leroy Weyrick III got orders for his third tour in the Balkans, he figured it to be a quiet six months at this logistics support base.
Shortly after Weyrick arrived for duty with the U.S. National Support Element, the air base's American population more than tripled. Along with supporting U.S. troops in Bosnia, the element was called upon to provide combat support for 24 Marine Corps F-18 fighter jets from Air Group 31 in Beaufort, S.C., and other combat support aircraft.
"We had to pretty much rebuild the flight line and re- establish living facilities here to accommodate the plus-up in personnel," said deputy support element commander Weyrick, who hails from Austin, Texas. "We went from 450 personnel to 1,700 personnel almost overnight."
About 800 Marines joined the mix of active duty and reserve component soldiers, sailors and airmen at the base in southwest Hungary, he said. From here, the fighters flew missions over Yugoslavia in support of Operation Allied Force.
C-5s, C-130s, C-141s, C-17s and other aircraft also continued to arrive at the base carrying spare parts and other supplies for the 6,000 U.S. service members with NATO's stabilization force in Bosnia. Taszar is the main hub for Operation Joint Forge support, said Army Capt. Brian Georgi of the support element.
Georgi, a native of Orange, Calif., said things got exciting at the base when NATO launched its air campaign in late March. "Security got tighter here," he said. "We moved into what we call 'battle rattle' with our flak vests, weapons and ammunition with us 24 hours."
Things quieted down somewhat after the air campaign ended and the Marines and combat aircraft left. Yet, the base geared up again July 12 when Defense Secretary William S. Cohen visited to commend the U.S. element for its professionalism and patriotism in supporting operations Allied Force and Joint Forge.
"You sent a message to the world that this is a country that stands for freedom, democracy, opportunity and prosperity," he told an audience of about 200. "Those are the ideals which really light up the darkness in the world." The United States devotes resources and people to promote those ideals, he said, and "you are the vanguard of that promotion."
Cohen also took comments from the gathered service members. "The most important part of my job is to find out what's important to you," he said. The nation's most important defense investment is in its service members, the secretary said, because "if we don't attract you and we don't keep you, then we've got problems."
The military's advanced technology means little without quality people to use it, Cohen said. The administration is focusing special attention on retaining mid-career NCOs and officers.
"You're the ones with the leadership skills and experience most attractive to the outside private sector," Cohen said. "They want you and we want you."
Besides an across-the-board 4.8 percent pay raise next year, the administration proposes to amend pay tables to give mid-level careerists an additional increase of up to 5 percent. Defense officials also plan to return the military retirement system to a formula of 50 percent of basic pay after 20 years of service, up from the 1986 Redux retirement system's 40 percent.
"We also need to look at issues affecting your families as well -- the health care system and housing," Cohen said. "Anything we can do to improve your quality of life and that of your family, we're going to do it.
"You make us the very best fighting force in the world. As a result of what you do day in and day out, we have a safer, more stable world."