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DoD, Corporate America Turn Matchmakers

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 6, 2000 – Since military spouses need jobs and corporate America needs qualified workers, DoD and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce aim to do a little matchmaking.

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Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon addresses the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. De Leon; Alphonso Maldon Jr., assistant defense secretary for force management policy; and Craig Johnstone, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Center for Corporate Citizenship, spoke Dec. 1 about a partnership between DoD and the U.S. Chamber to strengthen connections between the business and military communities. Photo by Eric Hamburg, courtesy The Aerospace Corp.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"This is a marriage made in heaven -- all we need is the pastor," said Craig Johnstone, head of the chamber's Center for Corporate Citizenship. "We can marry self-interest with doing the right thing for the community and the nation as a whole."

There are about 650,000 spouses in the military community, according to Alphonso Maldon Jr., assistant defense secretary for force management policy. These men and women need technical training and job opportunities. "That's where we need help," he said.

Military spouses have the same determination, dedication and commitment as service members, he said. "They'll make whatever sacrifices that they have to because that's their way of life."

DoD and the chamber launched a partnership initiative in October to highlight military quality of life issues and to strengthen connections between the business and military communities. Founded in 1912, the chamber is a nonprofit business federation representing 3 million businesses, 3,000 state and local chambers, 830 business associations and 87 overseas American Chambers of Commerce.

Johnstone, Maldon and Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon outlined the partnership initiative Dec. 1 for Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce members here. Expediting the flow of talent and ideas in both directions will benefit both the military and the private sector, they said.

Johnstone expressed strong support for the partnership effort. Asked to limit his remarks to five minutes, the Vietnam veteran and former U.S. ambassador to Algeria said it would be hard to make people understand what the military is all about in that amount of time.

"If I could take you to the special forces unit that I was assigned to in my first tour of duty in Vietnam and give you five minutes of the five years I spent in Vietnam, then I think I could show you what this is all about," he said.

"I could take you into a situation where people are pinned down, where they're taking incoming mortar fire, where they're outnumbered, outgunned and outmanned and they're scared to death," he said. "Let me tell you, America's fighting men are brave, but they do get scared to death. If I could take you to Vietnam for those five minutes, I think you'd understand what this was all about."

Spending five minutes with a service member's wife and children who've just been notified of their husband and father's death, would explain it, he added. Or, a five- minute visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

"Go down on the Mall and walk by the black wall of the Vietnam veterans and look at the 50,000 names that are up there," Johnstone advised. "And look at the family members who are reaching up touching those names and remembering. If you go down to that wall and watch, or if you have friends on that wall, then you'll understand what this is all about."

The nation's freedom and well-being depend on the young men and women of the armed forces, he stressed. "It's ironic that we treat them so shabbily," he noted, "(The fact) that we have enlisted personnel and their families living at or below the poverty line in this country is a disgrace. It is a national disgrace."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to doing something about this issue, Johnstone told Los Angeles chamber members.

"We do member surveys and we ask members what is their principal issue today," he said. "The answer is: lack of qualified workers. It isn't taxes. It isn't Social Security, overregulation, etc. All of those things are concerns to businesses all the time. It's a lack of available workers.

"If you look at the single thing that you could do most to improve the quality of life of our enlisted personnel and their families, is to hire the spouses of enlisted personnel. Give them good jobs. Give them good training. Bring them into your company's orbit. This is a win-win situation."

The U.S. chamber and multibillionaire Ross Perot are currently looking at setting up a nonprofit, Internet-based exchange system, he said. It would allow military spouses and retiring veterans to list their job qualifications and private companies to list their vacancies.

"We can provide a matching service to meet the requirements of the U.S. military and also to get the employees we need for the business community as a whole," he said.

Johnstone also urged chamber members to consider other ways of helping the military in terms of financial services, transportation, housing and other quality of life aspects. "There's an awful lot that we can do together," he said.

The private sector and the armed forces can work together to solve a national problem that could critically impact national security and, at the same time, help the business community find qualified employees.

"I think, quite frankly, at the end of the day, we're going to prove the old maxim that it's possible to do very well by doing good," he said.

De Leon echoed Johnstone's support for the partnership initiative. He noted that the Defense Department has used the private sector as a model for improving the military's business practices.

"For the department, it has become a truism that we thrive whenever we adopt proven and innovative solutions from the private sector," the deputy secretary said. "For the private sector, it is a truism that hiring someone with the training, background and discipline that the armed forces provide is a wise investment."

De Leon pointed out to chamber members that fewer people come into contact with the military these days. Base closures have resulted in fewer communities with military bases and the public simply isn't aware of unique issues facing service members and their families, he said.

"There was a time not long ago when every neighborhood in America knew someone who had served in the military -- a son, father, a neighbor or a friend, or today, even a daughter or a mother," he said. "But with today's smaller, all-volunteer force, fewer people have direct personal experience with the military."

The armed forces have changed dramatically over the past few years, he said. In light of post-Cold War personnel and funding cuts, defense leaders made tradeoffs between immediate and near-term issues like readiness and quality of life, and long-term issues such as procurement and infrastructure.

"I dare say no other institution in the world has been through the combination of increased demands and sweeping reforms that we have managed at the Department of Defense," de Leon said. "Make no mistake, though, America's armed forces are by far the best in the world -- the best trained, the best equipped and the best led anywhere.

Morale is high, the defense leader reported. Troops are working hard, doing difficult and dangerous jobs to keep America secure. "They believe in their missions and, most importantly, they believe that they are making a difference," he said.

"But," he warned, "the nation would make a grave mistake by taking any of this for granted or becoming complacent. ... We recognize that our men and women in uniform are well- trained, but we cannot expect to keep them if they don't have quality health care, if they do not have a decent standard of living."

Defense leaders recognized that while they may never be able to pay service members enough for their service and sacrifice, they could pay them more. As a result, DoD recently improved pay and benefits and new dollars are going into modernization and quality of life improvements.

DoD plans to allocate $3 billion over the next five years to reduce service members' out-of-pocket housing costs, deLeon said. This policy change is absolutely essential for young service members stationed in Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas, he stressed.

"We've offered a historic proposal on housing this year to reduce to 15 percent -- down from 19 percent today -- what our people pay out of pockets for off-base housing, and in five years, to eliminate those out-of-pocket expenses completely."

Today's military community includes far more family members than in the past, and reserve component personnel now play a more prominent role in the total force, de Leon said. Therefore, DoD is working to give them all a more predictable lifestyle.

"The majority of our all-volunteer force is made up of married people and families, who believe that military service is a noble calling," de Leon said. "We recognize that our Guardsmen and reservists are indispensable to our readiness and missions. But we cannot re-enlist and retain them if our approach effectively says, 'Your life is going to be completely chaotic and unpredictable, even in peacetime.'"

Defense leaders have encouraged the services to design deployment rotations to relieve stress and reduce high personnel tempo. "We have also pressed ways to make careers in the military service more viable and attractive for all members of these families. We are beginning to see progress," he said.

For more information on the Center for Corporate Citizenship's quality of life initiative, go to www.uschamber.com/CCC/default.htm.

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Remarks as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce at the Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, Ca., Dec. 1, 2000

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