Troops Share Views During Cohen Asia Visit
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan, Jan. 13, 1999 For Air Force Staff Sgt. Phillip Machrael, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's promise to improve the military retirement system couldn't come at a better time.
You serve 20 years in the military and that retired pay check is the most visible proof of it, Mackrael said during lunch at a dining facility here. He and other airmen and sailors assigned to Misawa were there to hear Defense Secretary William S. Cohen tell them what he's doing to improve their quality of life during and after military service.
Mackrael plans to take his 20-year, 50-percent retirement annuity in 18 months and open a business in his native Huntsville, Ala. He joined the service well before a 1986 reform took effect that cuts retired pay to 40 percent after 20 years' service. He said Cohen's plan to scrap that 1986 reform should encourage younger airmen.
Of his three years at Misawa, a small base in rural northern Honshu, Japan's main island, the security forces specialist said he particularly likes the quality of the base schools and teachers. He said medical care is adequate. He thinks the base exchange and commissary are understocked because of the remote location, but rated Misawa a good assignment overall.
Senior Airman Wesley McMackin shares Machrael's like for Misawa. "I've lived in mostly small towns all my life, so I really enjoy the environment here," he said. "The people are friendly, and plenty of housing is available at a reasonable price." The recently married McMackin said he chooses to live off base even though Misawa has ample family housing.
Housing was a problem six years ago, though. "When I first came here, housing was very limited," said Senior Master Sgt. David Tavernese, the security forces first sergeant. "A married person assigned here wasn't authorized to bring his family over until he found housing, and it took six to eight months to find a place even off base. That's no longer a problem."
The issue Tavernese hears most often from his 160 airmen is manning. "There are so many different operations we support, sending folks off to different locations," he said. "It impacts the folks left behind, because you have that many fewer people to do the job."
About 300 miles to the south, Air Force Lt. Col. Dave Adams commands the 374th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Yokota Air Base. After several years in Washington staff positions, he said, he finds this opportunity truly invigorating and challenging.
"Morale here is super, because people are aware of what their wartime role is. There's a strong sense of commitment to the mission," Adams said. He gives equally high marks to quality of life programs at Yokota. "Off-duty education opportunities are great, the recreation programs are excellent, and housing is getting better." He said everyone who wants to live on base can.
Quality of life still isn't consistent from base to base or service to service, admitted Air Force Lt. Gen. John Hall, commander of U.S. forces in Japan. He said Cohen's visit here and his scheduled high-level talks are important to helping Washington understand and resolve some of the stress people serving here encounter.
During visits at both bases, Cohen told service members he came for "a reality check," to learn what issues are bugging them most, and let them know Washington cares and is working to improve their lives. He was scheduled Jan. 14-15 to carry a similar message to service members in Korea before returning to Washington Jan. 16.