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Military News Briefs for the Week of June 9, 2000

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2000 –

(This is a summary of the top American Forces Press Service news stories for the week ending June 9, 2000)

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LESS SMOKING IMPROVES TROOPS' HEALTH, CUTS HEALTHCARE COSTS

Tobacco use in DoD has dropped significantly in the last two decades, generally mirroring civilian rates. But 30 percent of the active duty force still smokes.

"Since 1995 there hasn't been much change in that percentage," said Lt. Col. Wayne Talcott, an Air Force psychologist who is co-chairman of the DoD Alcohol Abuse and Tobacco Use Reduction Committee. "We'd like to see a continued downward trend." He said DoD hopes to meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2010 goal of a 12 percent smoker rate.

DoD spends $930 million per year on healthcare for smoking- related illnesses and lost productivity in DoD beneficiaries, Talcott said. A recent study of just active duty Air Force members below age 36 shows that service spends $107 million a year to treat smokers and for lost time due to smoke breaks. The study assumed "a conservative estimate" of three 10-minute smoke breaks a day.

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FUNDING HOLDUP THREATENS ARMY TRAINING, CIVILIAN HIRES

If Congress fails to pass the emergency supplemental bill for Kosovo, Army officials say they will have to start curtailing military training, canceling construction projects and deferring maintenance.

Army officials will also be forced to freeze civilian hiring and civilian moves. All services have been affected by the failure to pass the emergency supplemental; DoD transferred $200 million from the Navy and Air Force to Army accounts already.

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the United States will continue to field and fund forces in Kosovo, Bosnia, Southwest Asia and Korea, but "the Army has to suck $1.9 billion out of somewhere if the supplemental does not pass on time." He warned the Army might start canceling training exercises, which would impact Army readiness.

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NATO CHIEF SAYS ALLIES MUST SPEND MORE FOR DEFENSE

The same commitment that saw NATO triumph in Kosovo will see the alliance through painful changes that will allow the 19 countries to adapt to a new world, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said here.

Robertson spoke June 8 at a press conference during the NATO Defense Ministerial. He said NATO nations are transforming their militaries, but that some nations need to dedicate more resources to finish the transformation.

At heart is funding for the Defense Capabilities Initiative. The DCI is a road map NATO members agreed to follow to arrive at the goal of new capabilities. While the DCI was in planning before Kosovo, Operation Allied Force last year proved its urgency.

Robertson reviewed the allied record lest, he said, anyone forgets Kosovo was a NATO victory. “We reversed the worst ethnic cleansing seen in the European continent since World War II,” he said. “Over a million refugees are now back home, and after a decade of discrimination the majority Kosovar Albanians are now able to start rebuilding their lives and homes.”

But more needs to be done and NATO has the will and resources to see it through, Robertson said. “Much of Kosovo is peaceful, but we know that tension lies just beneath the surface and the levels of violence are unacceptable,” he said.

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KOSOVO: ONE YEAR LATER

NATO troops have made huge strides toward ending ethnic strife since the Kosovo Force entered Yugoslavia's southern province one year ago June 11, but the international community still has a long way to go.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley delivered that bottom-line assessment to reporters in a June 6 briefing.

About 6,100 Americans are among the 42,000 troops from 28 nations participating in peacekeeping operations, which began after NATO airstrikes against the Serb military succeeded in ending escalating violence against the province's ethnic Albanian majority.

Quigley offered some statistics to prove the mission's success to this point:

o 1.3 million refugees have returned to their homes -- 840,000 from neighboring Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and 555,000 displaced inside Kosovo.

o The murder rate is down from 50 per week to seven.

o 3,800 small arms have been confiscated and destroyed, and 8,500 weapons have been handed in voluntarily by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

o 16,000 homes and 1,165 schools have been cleared of unexploded ordnance.

o 18,000 stoves, 4,000 truckloads of firewood and more than a million roofing tiles have been distributed to the people of the region.

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COMMISSARY'S BEST VALUE PROMISES QUALITY AT LOWEST PRICES

The Defense Commissary Agency is kicking off its "Best Value" program in July to make the job of bargain hunting easier for military shoppers. "Best Value Item" signs at store entrances and on grocery shelves will assure shoppers they're getting a great price on a quality product.

"The Best Value program identifies items that are the lowest price at the name-brand quality our customers expect," said Gary Duell, manager of the agency's Marketing Business Unit. The program responds to the many customers who've indicated that saving money is their No. 1 priority, he said.

Best Value prices will also be lower than premium quality store brands sold at retail groceries, he added. Retail grocers often have "store" or "private label" brands that vary in quality and price.

The Best Value program won't apply to every size and type of grocery item carried by commissaries, according to Duell. "To kick off the program, we're focusing on approximately 50 popular products in the most frequently purchased sizes," Duell said.

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ALCOHOL ABUSE COSTS DOD DEARLY

Twenty-one percent of service members admit to drinking heavily -- a statistic the military hasn’t managed to lower in 20 years -- but service officials are determined to change that.

“If you look at heavy use of alcohol, drinking a lot in a short span of time, we tend to have a higher prevalence than the civilian community,” said Lt. Col. Wayne Talcott, an Air Force psychologist. Young military people between 18 and 25 also tend to do more heavy drinking than their civilian peers, he noted.

Speaking only in terms of medical care and lost time at work, alcohol abuse costs DoD more than $600 million each year, said Navy Capt. Robert Murphy, a medical corps officer. DoD spends another $132 million a year to care for babies with fetal alcohol syndrome -- sometimes- serious health problems related to their mothers’ heavy drinking.

Talcott and Murphy co-chair the relatively new DoD Alcohol Abuse and Tobacco Use Reduction Committee. Their goal is to reduce the prevalence of heavy drinking within the military by 5 percent a year by changing DoD officials’ focus on alcohol abuse from treatment to prevention.

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KOREAN WAR DEATH STATS HIGHLIGHT MODERN DOD SAFETY RECORD

A recent clarification by Pentagon officials about Korean War deaths spotlighted just how far DoD has come in providing a safe atmosphere for U.S. service members.

Historians have said for a generation that 54,246 service members died during the Korean War. Most Americans assumed that's how many died in combat in Korea. Not true, DoD officials said this week. The death toll from 1950 to 1953, the time period encompassing the Korean War, is correct. But that figure includes all service members who died on active duty for any reason, not just those killed in battle.

DoD changed its reporting procedures in 1993 and divided the total into 33,686 battle deaths, 2,830 nonbattle deaths in Korea, and 17,730 other deaths DoD-wide, said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley in a press briefing June 6. The breakdown isn't new, but with the 50th anniversary of the Korean War raising the issue in the national consciousness, Pentagon officials thought it prudent to clarify the numbers.

That figure of 17,730 other deaths caught reporters' attention. "Isn't that a fairly large number?" one asked. Quigley's quick reply: "You're used to the figures we have been enjoying in recent years, with the services' emphasis on safety, training safety, attention to detail around the world."

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