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Military Quality of Life Summit
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Mrs. Janet Langhart Cohen , U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, DC, Thursday, October 05, 2000

Secretary Cohen: Bernie [Rotsker, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness], thank you for all that you do for the department. This is one great public servant. He has dedicated much of his life to serving [our military men and women]. [Applause.]

Tom Donohue [President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce], I was going to say a few words about you. But when he said, "This is a crazy day in Washington," I thought he was being overly redundant. [Laughter.] Most days in Washington tend to be kind of crazy, especially the traffic, trying to get over here from the Pentagon to visit with you.

But Tom met with us in the Pentagon a few weeks ago, and he said something very important. He said, "I don't want this just to be a one-day event, I want this," as he said today, "to have legs. I want to make sure that the Chamber makes a long-term commitment and that we have somebody in the Pentagon who’s going to continue, long after you have retired—your successor there and his or her successors there. We want to have a program that really addresses the fundamental questions that we’re all here to talk about this morning."

Mary Jo Myers, thank you for being here, filling in [for your husband]. And I'm sure that I'll meet up with General [Richard] Myers [Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff] later today. I don’t know how many of you were at the Pentagon last evening, to see "Shooting War." If you could just raise your hand. [Show of hands.] Well, that’s great. I hope that that event will get much wider coverage. [Director] Richard Schickel has done an extraordinary thing by pointing out the heroics and the courage of the combat cameramen who capture on film exactly what these men and women in uniform either have gone through or are prepared to go through on our behalf.

There’s going to be a show on, I believe on ABC, on December 7th, an important day in our national history. I hope that the network will show that film unedited. It is powerful, it is graphic, it is gripping, but it’s real. And as Steven Spielberg told him, don't pretty it up. He didn't pretty it up. He showed exactly the way life is on the fields of combat. And for us it’s a fundamental reminder to the American people of exactly why we are the greatest nation on the face of the earth, who has made that possible, and why we have a commitment to the men and women who are serving us today and tomorrow.

Now, my wife, Janet [Langhart Cohen], has been a driving force behind focusing on family issues, quality of life issues. There used to be a time when you’d say that quality of life was secondary—we’ll get to that after we take care of the warfighter. We’ll deal with the procurement and the budgets, and maybe we’ll get to quality of life.

We can no longer treat quality of life as being secondary to our warfighting capability and being the best military in the world. If we don't have the best people, then we won’t have the best military. If we don’t have the best military, then we won’t have the kind of stability and security that we see in the world today. Given all of the troubles that one can focus on, nonetheless, we have been the most powerful force for freedom and stability in the history of the world and our men and women in uniform have been largely responsible for that.

So for the past nearly four years now, Janet and I have tried to reconnect America to its military. And it’s not just a phrase. We have a smaller force today, we have a lower profile for our military in our daily lives. Most Americans tend to see the military only in times of conflict, be it Kosovo or Desert Storm or some other conflict in which they see just how good we really are. But for the most part, they don’t see the military; they don’t understand the day-to-day sacrifices that our men and women provide every day and endure every day, and especially what their families have to endure.

So we wanted to restore, to revitalize, and to reconnect America to its military, and we have dedicated these past four years to doing precisely that. We have gone out to all different kinds of fora: traveling out to state legislatures in Springfield, Illinois; going and dropping into the campus of Microsoft by military helicopter; and going down to New Orleans. All over the country we have tried to raise the profile of our military and how important it is to our way of life.

And so when we talked with Tom about this, we said that there is a natural partnership here, And he is absolutely correct. This is not a matter of charity for the Chamber to be involved. This is not a matter of saying, "How can we help the military?" There is a vested interest. This is an investment on the part of the American business community. It’s an investment because all of you know that we need a forward-deployed presence. You know the old expression that "business follows the flag." When that flag is out there flying and there is stability in a region, you have an opportunity to invest in that economy. And when you invest in that economy, you generate profits and prosperity. And when you generate prosperity, that starts to get shared by all the people in the region, as well as back here. That promotes the very democratic ideals that we celebrate. And it’s what I call the virtuous circle. So there is an investment opportunity which is required on the part of the business community.

Second, Tom talked about the investment on the way out. When you invest in the military by helping its quality of life, in terms of supporting pay increases through our government, and retirement benefits, and also calling upon the private sector to help out as far as using private dollars to leverage those [government dollars] in building more housing, and recapitalizing our real estate, then you are enhancing that quality of life and making it attractive for number one, people to come in, and number two, to stay.

And by the way, for the first time in three years, all services have met their recruitment goals. It’s been a major achievement. We announced this last week, but it didn’t get any coverage. But given the kind of economy we have to cope with and that we draw upon the same pool of people, it’s been a major achievement on behalf of all of the services. But you didn’t hear about it. So we now have for the first time met all of our recruitment goals, and we will, with minor exception, meet the retention goals as well. It’s because we have been focusing upon quality of life—pay, retirement, housing and, of course, health care.

So what Tom is talking about, as far as the Chamber is concerned, is that you have an opportunity to invest in this country’s prosperity by supporting the men and women who serve us and by helping their families. And Janet has been most involved in this. When we go out and meet with the troops in the field, we find that spouses have the same talent, they have the same drive, they have the same energy, and they want to work. And many times they can’t find employment

because of restrictions in the local economy or because they simply don’t have the opportunity to work for companies who might be in a different country. You can help by calling upon some of your subsidiaries, your associates to employ the talented people who serve as the spouses of our men and women who are wearing that uniform.

Tom also mentioned post-employment. There again, we don’t want to encourage you to be too active in going to the Pentagon to attract all those people. [Laughter.] But what we do in the Pentagon, and what we do throughout the Department of Defense, is train our people, educate them, and help them in their leadership skills. These are action-oriented people. These are task-oriented people. And that’s precisely what business wants and needs. You want the kind of high-energy, high-leadership, high-quality people that we have in the military. And when they finish their careers, they can move out into the private sector and help take the reins of your companies. So it’s an investment in the future. The private sector has a major role to play.

We were down in New Orleans this past summer and witnessed the opening of the D-Day Museum. At that time, we saw Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Stephen Ambrose and others. And I pointed to a man in the private sector by the name of Andrew Higgins. Andrew Higgins was an entrepreneur. He designed the Higgins Boat [later used on D-Day] over the objection of the Navy, I might add. The Navy didn’t want any part of it, but he persisted. He produced the Higgins Boat, and that’s the boat that helped win World War II. Eisenhower pointed to Higgins and he said, "This is the man who won the war." So the private sector plays a major role in our lives. And what we want to do is to build upon this partnership that Tom has talked about.

And speaking of partnerships, I want to just say a word or so about my wife, Janet. I don't know of another individual who brings the depth of passion and conviction about the need to help the people who are serving us. She has traveled with me much of the time. I have traveled roughly 700,000 miles in the past three and a half years. She’s been with me, as much as her schedule permits, out there with the men and women who are serving us. And she has been my eyes and ears and heart, because she listens, and she hears things that I may not hear or see. But I want you to know that she has dedicated her life to enhancing and improving the lives of all of you who are serving us, and your families. And it’s my great pleasure to turn the podium over to Janet. [Applause.]

Janet Langhart Cohen: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Everything has been said, but not everybody has said it. [Laughter.] I just want to thank Tom Donohue, Dr. Bernie Rostker and everybody at the Department of Defense and in the business community for this day and for your coming. My goal and my mission is very simple—that of a patriot. I love this country, and I want to see our way of life prevail. And the way to ensure that it does is with security, stability, and prosperity, not only here, at home, but everywhere we are. And we need each other to do that. We need the finest and best military in the world to do that, and we need the best companies and economy to do that. I know we can do that.

Again, I thank you so much for coming. I look forward to the dialogue and the exchange of ideas and the developing of best practices, so that we strengthen our partnership and we strengthen the world. Thank you very much for coming. Thank you. [Applause.]