Cohen Thanks Service Members Carrying Out U.S. Strategy
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
USS GERMANTOWN IN SINGAPORE, Sept. 18, 2000 A group of sailors waited on the flight deck of this ship for Defense Secretary William S. Cohen to speak. They griped about missing liberty in this beautiful city.
One of the sailors said, "I don't mind it. If he's here, it must mean what we've been doing is important."
Cohen would have agreed with the sailor, because he proceeded to tell the sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen gathered on the ship that they "are carrying out U.S. military strategy. I want you to know I understand the sacrifices you make -- all the time you spend away from home, all the time away from your families."
He told the service members that they are the "shaping" part of the U.S. strategy of "shape, respond, prepare." "You are helping to shape the political and security environment that make this area more stable," he said.
Cohen said it was important for him to meet the service members. "When I'm back in Washington a lot of deployment orders come across my desk each day," he said. "I have the obligation to sign these orders, sending you on your way. I want you to be more than a number to me. I want to have a chance to find out what you need, and what exactly are the requirements for those serving in our military."
Cohen said he wears a constant reminder of the sacrifices the United States sometimes asks of service members. "We commemorated POW/MIA Day this last Friday," he said. "It shouldn't be a one-day-a-year event. We have to remember every day. My wife, Janet, wears a bracelet with the name of Maj. Bobby Jones on it. I have Cmdr. Jim Mills. We wear them because we want to make sure personally that we are always mindful of the sacrifice that you are prepared to make and do make."
Cohen talked about the honor it is to lead the finest military force in the world. "But we have to keep it that way," he said. He spoke of the pay and retirement improvements that went into effect this fiscal year and how important they have been to recruiting and retention.
Then he touched on other quality of life improvements, the most important being housing and health care. "One thing I have focused on is if you live off-base you pay more for housing than if you live on base," Cohen said. "In some cases, you can pay 15, 18 or 20 percent out of pocket. That's not right and that's not fair. When I found out that disparity kept growing we added some $3.5 billion to the budget so those who live off base won't have to come up with that money out of their pocket."
Health care is critical, he said. "I know if you are forward-deployed and worried about your family back home -- in terms of what kind of care they are going to get -- you may be distracted and worried about what's going on back home. So we're focusing intensely on that."
Cohen thanked the men and women on the ship for the work they were doing. "When you serve out here, you are not only protecting the security of the United States, you're helping to protect the freedom of all the people in the region," he said.
After his talk, the secretary went into the crowd to talk with and shake hands with as many of the sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen as he could. They, of course, had a chance to give him information directly. He said most talked about the pay raises and the changes to retirement. He said a few mentioned problems with the Montgomery GI Bill that he will look into. Many mentioned the problems of having to sail short-handed.
"All-in-all, though, they seemed pleased to be in Singapore and with doing what they do," he told reporters.