Troops Value 'Real' Missions, DoD Values Troop Sacrifice
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2000 "How's it going?" Bernard Rostker recently asked a soldier during a room inspection at Fort Carson, Colo.
"I'm really ticked off," the soldier candidly told the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "They dragged me back from Bosnia to go to school. I could've gone to school later."
This is one of the stories Rostker tells to illustrate how service members feel about today's military missions. After visiting troops around the world, he's concluded service members value real-world operations. And in return for their dedicated service, DoD is working hard to improve service members' quality of life.
In a Sept. 7 interview, Rostker said people join the armed forces for a variety of reasons, but there's only one reason they decide to stay in -- the love of 'soldiering.'
"What keeps a sailor in a purple shirt pulling fuel lines on an aircraft carrier deck in the middle of the North Atlantic? What keeps a soldier driving a 70-ton stabilized tank over hill and dale, firing on the run at Fort Hood, Texas?
"It's the excitement," Rostker said. "It's the thrill of it.
"Ultimately, you've got to love it or you wouldn't endure the family separations or working outdoors in the winter cold or in the Sinai's 133-degree heat. It is the profession of arms. You come in for a lot of reasons. But you don't stay unless you're a warrior."
Even after nearly 32 years of service within the Defense Department, Rostker said, he continues to be impressed by America's men and women in uniform.
"I sat in on a morning brief in Incirlik, Turkey, for Operation Northern Watch. It was like they were talking in code," he recalled. "They went through how they were going to stage a combat air patrol with all its supporting aircraft. It was the height of professionalism."
Rostker said the most remarkable change in the armed forces in the last 10 years is how what DoD call's 'operations other than war' have been legitimized. "They've been legitimized by the troops who patrol the streets in Bosnia or in Kosovo who know they are doing important things," he said. "Their infectious enthusiasm has convinced the military leadership that this is, in fact, the way a great power acts in the 21st century."
Today's service members are helping bring peace to the world, just as did those who served during World War II, Rostker said. "It's just as true today in the Balkans, the Middle East and elsewhere," he said. "These troops know it's important. They re- enlist for it. They want to get back to doing it."
In the past three years, he noted, U.S. forces displayed their military skills evacuating U.S. Embassy personnel in the Congo and providing quick, vital assistance following the August 1998 bombings outside the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
They successfully conducted Operation Desert Fox in the Persian Gulf, Operation Allied Force in the Balkans, as well as strikes against Osama Bin Laden in the Middle East. U.S. forces continue to serve in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Persian Gulf. Most recently, American forces stood ready to rush to the aid of Russian submariners.
The Army's current retention rate of 57 percent to 60 percent is evidence of soldiers' morale, noted Rostker, who formerly served as undersecretary of the Army and as an assistant secretary of the Navy. In some cases, he said, the services have had to adjust to the changing role they play in today's missions. The Air Force, for example, adopted the air expeditionary force, which allows it to cycle deployments, and it's "working very well," he said.
Sailors, he pointed out, have always joined the Navy to go to sea. "Six-month deployments for sailors are what they are made of," Rostker said.
He recalled meeting with Army National Guard members training for a rotation in Bosnia. An active duty colonel working with the group told the Pentagon official about the enthusiasm and quality of the National Guard troops.
Playing devil's advocate, Rostker razzed the colonel: "Yeah, but these guys didn't sign up to become the policemen of the world. They didn't sign up to be U.N. soldiers." The colonel stood by his opinion, becoming angrier and angrier, until he realized the Pentagon official was just kidding.
Rostker also recalled meeting an Army sergeant major who was returning to Fort Polk, La., after building and repairing roads damaged by floods in Central America. "He said to me, 'This is the most important thing I've done. This was a lot better than garrison life or going out to the field. This was real.'"
Just as the troops value "real missions," Rostker stressed, DoD values its troops. The department has put substantial resources into improving service members' pay and compensation and other aspects of quality of life.
o A 4.8 percent across-the-board pay increase went into effect in January 2000.
o Targeted pay raises of up to 5.5 percent went into effect for mid-career members in July 2000.
o DoD initiated pay raises greater than the average private sector raises by one-half percent for the next five years.
o A reform of the military retirement system offers members a choice: a return to a system based on 50 percent of basic pay at 20 years of service or a $30,000 bonus at 15 years and a smaller retirement at 20 years.
o A new housing allowance initiative announced in January 2000 is designed to reduce service members' out-of-pocket housing costs to 15 percent by 2001 and to zero by 2005.
DoD officials are also improving military housing, Rostker noted. The Army has "whole base" ventures at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Lewis, Wash.; and Fort Meade, Md. The Navy recently put $720 million into quality of life programs over the next six years. Other initiatives include:
o Setting a goal to eliminate inadequate family housing by 2010. The Navy and Marine Corps are on track.
o Setting a goal to eliminate gang latrine barracks by 2008. The Air Force has met this goal. The Marine Corps is on track to meet the goal in 2005. The Army and Navy are on track for 2008.
O Setting construction standards to provide more privacy in the barracks and working to improve common areas.
Family programs have been a particular focal point for Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and his predecessor, William J. Perry, Rostker said. Cohen and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, recently sparked new momentum in family programs by hosting two forums for service and family members at the Pentagon.
"We've made great strides in taking care of our families," he said. Recent quality of life improvements in family programs include:
o Overall per capita investment in community quality of life programs, including commissaries, schools, recreation facilities, family centers, child care, family advocacy, transition assistance, relocation services and others has increased from about $1,500 per service member in fiscal 1990 to about $2,100 in fiscal 2000, based on 1990 constant dollars.
o DoD has started full-day kindergarten and reduced pupil- teacher ratios in the early grades within DoD dependent schools. DoD has also upped the number of school psychologists and guidance counselors.
o The department has also invested in technology for DoD schools. Their average of one Pentium-class computer for every 4.8 students is well above the national average.
o Over 95 percent of the DoD child development centers are now nationally accredited, compared to 8 percent of the civilian child care centers in the United States. In May, the National Women's Law Center held up the military child care system as a model for nationwide reform.
o DoD has added more than $200 million for morale, welfare and recreation program and physical fitness center improvements. Since 1995, funding for these programs has increased by 19 percent.
"These investments in quality of life are a tangible sign of support for the arduous duty and everyday sacrifices incurred in a military career," Rostker said. "They recognize the important role military families play in achieving overall readiness."