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DoD Defends Readiness Record

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 12, 2000 – People wanting to know if U.S. forces are ready "should ask Saddam Hussein," said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen Sept. 7.

Cohen, visiting Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, said the United States has the best forces in the world.

"I think we should ask [Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein whether or not [U.S.] forces were ready to carry out Operation Desert Fox," Cohen said. "I think we should ask [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic as to whether or not we were ready to carry out the Allied Force operation in Kosovo."

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said during a Pentagon press conference Sept. 7 that the United States is spending close to $300 billion per year on national defense. "It's more than all our NATO allies combined are spending," he said.

Bacon said the military could always spend more, but that "the military and civilian leadership has worked very hard in the last several years to meet the needs of the military."

Bacon cited recent pay hikes, pay table reform and revamping the military retirement system as examples of DoD's efforts to make military careers more attractive.

Recruiting has been a problem for the services, but Bacon said these personnel changes seem to be working and noted all four services will make their fiscal 2000 recruiting goals.

Bacon also said DoD has devoted $60 billion to modernization in the fiscal 2001 budget, up from $43 billion in fiscal 1998. Modernization is not only accomplished through new equipment, but also through new ideas. Bacon described the Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle programs as ways to gather intelligence and place it in the hands of those who need it quickly.

He spoke about the Army's efforts to make the service lighter, more mobile and more lethal. The Navy is looking at ways to make ships more modern and more lethal with fewer sailors aboard. "We're working on a variety of projects," Bacon said. "This takes time. It requires a lot of investment, but we won't see the results immediately."

Responding to reporters' questions about troops on food stamps, Bacon said that unfortunately some people in the military qualify for them, but the number is dropping. A total of 19,400 service members received food stamps in 1991. "Today we estimate that there are 5,100 people on food stamps," Bacon said. He noted that DoD has asked Congress for authority to take over the program for active duty service members. By not considering housing allowances as income, which the Agriculture Department does, DoD could actually increase the number of service members eligible for assistance by 2,500 to 2,800.

Bacon also pointed to another indicator of readiness -- operations and maintenance funding. "The amount of spending per active-duty soldier, sailor, airman and Marine has increased by 20 percent in real terms in the last decade," he said. The number went from just over $50,000 in 1992 to more than $60,000 in fiscal 2001.

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