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Top Enlisted Prepares for New Battles

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 1999 – The National Defense Authorization Act signed into law by President Clinton Oct. 5 was a huge step forward for service members, but just a step, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Robert E. Hall said.

Hall shared the podium with President Clinton, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Henry H. Shelton at the Pentagon signing ceremony. Afterward, he shared his views on the changes contained in the act.

He said he hopes service members see the fiscal 2000 authorization act as "a step in the right direction" rather than as the final step in fixing their pay and benefits.

In his dealing with troops, Hall said, four issues come up the most: pay and entitlements, housing, medical care and retirement benefits. "This bill addresses two of those top four concerns," he said.

Hall called the pay table reform set to take effect July 1, 2000, "a great first step" that recognizes and rewards achievement through promotions and not just longevity. Reform, he said, will prevent such situations as E-6s with time in service making more than certain junior E-7s.

The 4.8 percent pay raise and 15th-anniversary option to reject the Redux retirement system are important because of the message they send to service members. "I think it shows them we value their services," he said.

He said they're also important because these changes will now allow the leadership to work on other issues. And, Hall said, there's no shortage of issues to address.

TRICARE and housing are two subjects Hall said he'd like to see receive more attention.

"We've made great strides in TRICARE, but we have a way to go," he said. "It's not just the medical care we give to (service members) and their families. It's also how you're treated from the time you try to enroll to the time you have to make an appointment to the time you get treated and get well. It's the entire process."

Hall said the Defense Department plans to "put the same energy into the medical system next year as we put into pay and entitlements and retirement this year."

He said quality housing is also important to service members. "No matter how much money you give them, if they come out of the field and they live in a barracks where the roof leaks every time it rains or their family quarters are substandard, they're not going to stay. It's a package deal."

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