Family Issues, Budget Battles Top Deputy's Tour
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2001 Rudy de Leon has learned the ups and downs of military life.
He's mastered the military's acronyms and vernacular. He understands uniformed code and custom. He recognizes ranks and insignia.
Just as the military has left its mark on the soft-spoken security affairs specialist from Capitol Hill, de Leon has left his mark on the military.
De Leon's time in office as the nation's 27th deputy defense secretary is almost up, but his legacy will undoubtedly live on.
Over the past seven years, de Leon has helped the Air Force develop the F-22 fighter and the C-17 airlifter. He has served as Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's principal architect, adviser and spokesman for the $42 billion pay and compensation reform package that gave service members a 4.8 percent pay raise, reformed pay tables and restored retirement benefits.
"The issues were always interesting and the fights over budget were always titanic," de Leon said in a broad- ranging, final interview with the American Forces Press Service.
But at the end of the day, he said, it's the people he'll miss most. The conscientious Air Force technical sergeant he's used to seeing first thing each morning. The skilled professionalism of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The dedicated career civilians he's worked with each day.
"You may still see each from time to time," he remarked, "but the cohesion and the integration of all of these components every day from 7:30 in the morning until 8:30 or 9 at night will be gone."
Prior to joining the Pentagon's senior defense team, de Leon worked in various legislative assistant positions in the Senate and House of Representatives. He left his position as staff director for the House Armed Services Committee in 1993 to serve as the special assistant to the late Defense Secretary Les Aspin.
From then on, he was on a fast track within the military's highest headquarters.
In 1994, de Leon became undersecretary of the Air Force. Three years later, he became undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, serving as Cohen's senior policy adviser on recruitment, career development, readiness, pay and benefits for the military's 1.4 million active duty personnel, 1.3 million National Guard and Reserve component personnel and 680,000 DoD civilians.
De Leon was sworn in as deputy defense secretary on March 31, 2000. His scope expanded beyond personnel and readiness to include national missile defense, defense export controls, information security and a host of other national and international issues.
De Leon talked about his Pentagon years during a mid- January trip to Europe. He said each position has had great rewards and unique challenges.
"In the Air Force, it was taking the C-17 that was in real trouble, knowing that we needed a new transport plane and working with (then Deputy Defense Secretary John) Deutch in really bringing the Army and the Air Force together in one voice," he said. Another challenge was getting "the contractor to keep the quality in and get the price down."
De Leon said his support for the project was "reflected in the multiyear procurement of 120 aircraft and the fact that the mobility study just completed said we need to buy another round of C-17s."
When he served as undersecretary for personnel and readiness, de Leon said DoD was in "a crisis of recruiting and a crisis of retention."
"With the leadership of the secretary, the chairman, the Joint Chiefs, Congress and the strong support of the president we were able to fund the initial part of the quality of life (package), which was pay and the retirement fix," he said. "We built upon that with the schools for military dependents and additional dollars for DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity). Then, the last piece, was the BAH initiative on housing."
Recruiting and retention are still a challenge, he noted, but the department has "completely changed the direction we were moving in."
As deputy defense secretary, de Leon said, he has had "day- to-day responsibility for bringing all of the elements in the department together. That is unique in its challenge, because you have to be able to empower people to do that job effectively. You have to be able to work with people.
"I think we built the right relations between the civilian side and the Joint Chiefs."
Of all the issues he's been involved with, de Leon said, he's found working on those affecting military families to have been the most satisfying. "We have a very strong team in OSD and in the services so from that, we've been able to build programs that will have an impact on readiness, on people and on modernization."