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Rumsfeld Gets in Touch

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2001 – The new man at the Pentagon's helm wasted no time getting in touch with the services' senior enlisted members.

Jan. 24, his fourth day in office, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with the military's Joint Chiefs of Staffs in the morning, then called for the top enlisted members that afternoon.

For nearly an hour and a half, the secretary talked with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack L. Tilley, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Frederick "Jim" Finch, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James L. Herdt, and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Alford L. McMichael.

Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. John J. Leonard Jr., newly appointed as Reserve Affairs senior enlisted adviser, also attended. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Vincent Patton III, unavailable for the joint session, was slated to meet with Rumsfeld Jan. 25.

Tilley and Finch talked the next day with American Forces Press Service about the introductory meeting. Tilley described it as "a very good open, candid and productive discussion."

"He already had bios about us so he knew quite a bit about us," the Army's top sergeant said.

Finch was impressed with how much time Rumsfeld devoted to the joint meeting. "I thought it was a great meeting overall. It was a very positive session," he said.

Both men noted that the military of today is not the military Rumsfeld knew as defense secretary in the mid- 1970s. It was evident from their talks, they said, that the secretary is not coming in with any preconceived ideas.

"He certainly realizes the military has evolved considerably since he was here last in the Pentagon," Finch said.

"He realizes things have changed and there's things that we're doing differently now," Tilley added.

Finch said he was impressed that the secretary wants to hear from a variety of sources on what they think are the main issues affecting the force. Rumsfeld's approach, he said, seemed to be, "Lets see if we can get our heads together and work on things."

The secretary asked the senior enlisted about their roles in the department. "This group really didn't exist in the form that it is today during his time here in the mid- 1970s," Finch noted.

The E-9s also talked about how the armed forces have evolved into volunteer forces and how the National Guard and Reserve are now part of the total force. "All the services were very quick to cite examples that highlighted the role the Guard and Reserve play in all of our services," Finch said.

It was clear Rumsfeld wants to do "what's right for the military," Tilley said. "He was just sort of feeling us out to try to understand exactly what our concerns are and what issues he should work on. He was very interested in getting an update on the TRICARE system, pay issues, and other issues soldiers are concerned about."

Each E-9 talked about concerns in his particular service. "Quality of life, pay, commissaries, deployments -- those are just a few of the things we talked about," Tilley said.

"We talked about optempo, TRICARE, infrastructure and equipment," Finch added. "I got the sense that more than anything else, he wanted to keep an open dialogue with us."

The secretary indicated that he would meet regularly with the senior enlisted members, possibly every four to six weeks.

"We told him we would all make ourselves available to meet with him and that we would travel with him on troop visits should he desire to do that," Finch said. "We hope he takes us up on it."

The E-9s encouraged Rumsfeld to spend some time with the troops. By getting out to the field, Finch noted, the troops will understand that when the secretary makes decisions affecting their lives, they will be "informed decisions."

"He left us with the perception that there will be opportunities for us to travel together," Tilley noted.

"When we're there and the troops see how we interact with the secretary, then they get a very clear idea of the relationship we have and his level of concern for their well-being," Finch explained. "It sets a positive tone and shows he's in tune with their issues."

He said he was impressed with Rumsfeld's "straightforward and logical approach" to the topics the senior enlisted threw on the table.

"I'm looking forward to working with him. I think he's going to be a great leader for our military," Finch said.

"I left there with a very good feeling," Tilley concluded.

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