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Nurturing Great People and Bold Leaders
By American Forces Information Service with Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, No location specified, Wednesday, July 24, 1996

Americans have a right to expect leadership, character, courage and confidence of their military commanders, but not flawless perfection - and other cogent observations of Defense Secretary William Perry.


Volume 11, Number 73


Nurturing Great People and Bold Leaders


American Forces Information Service interview with Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, July 24, 1996.

Q. At the moment, what are your quality of life priorities?

A. Well, the three major priorities, one of them is

compensation, not just the level of compensation but a stability

in the compensation, which I think is important. Secondly is

sustaining the quality health care that we have.

So the first is to maintain the stability and the

compensation, and the second is sustaining the quality of the

health care we have, and the third is improving the quality of

the housing -- both family and barracks. And I should, maybe more

precisely, say, accelerating the improvement in the housing.

Those are issues, of course, we worked on for several years,

and it made a variety of progress. But I would say those are the

three most important priorities.

Q. How do you sustain the level of compensation?

A. The single most important thing we've done on

compensation is get the increases incorporated in the five-year

plan -- the first time that's been done to my knowledge. A very

significant step, and that puts the stability into the

compensation plan that we've never had before. But we can't ever

relax on it because the money is not appropriated yet. But the

fact it is in the five-year plan, the fact that has it has been

endorsed and supported by the key leaders in the Congress, makes

me confident we're going to be able to maintain that stability.

When I speak to our troops on this issue, I convey to them a

high level of confidence that we have achieved stability in the

compensation. Now having said that, I don't mean to suggest that

nailing down that maximum legal pay allowed by law should be the

end of the compensation picture. That's what the quadrennial

review is about, is looking more broadly at whether we are

dealing adequately with compensation. So I will look with very

great interest on the findings of the quadrennial review. The

base from which we work will be the stability we get by having

that salary increase incorporated in the five-year plan.

Q. In what way are we accelerating housing improvements?

A. One of the things we have done there ... was shine a very

bright laser beam on that problem and get a lot of people

interested in it -- at the base level, at the command level and

in Congress. And as a consequence of that, there have been a lot

of individual actions.

Base commanders using their base funds for improved housing.

Committee chairmen in Congress putting in additional money for

housing. All of that on top of the extra funds that went in as a

result of the quality of life initiative that we launched over a

year ago.

But we haven't nailed down and institutionalized yet a very

important recommendation from the Marsh panel, which was

establishing ways of funding housing off-line. And it is clear we

are not going to get the legislation we need this year to make

that happen. So that has to be an initiative passed on to next

year. I still believe that is important to do.

I believe that you get the real acceleration -- we have made

improvements, but to truly accelerate those and to get more

energy and more momentum behind them, I think we still have to

make a move along the lines recommended by the Marsh panel, which

will bring in nongovernmental sources of funding. To do that, we

have to have changes in the law. We did not succeed in getting

those changes this year. I believe it's important to maintain

that objective and push hard to get that legislative change next


Q. Are there other ways that we've institutionalized the

focus on quality of life?

A. If I summarize the major ways to institutionalize it, the

first, getting the pay increase in the five-year plan, was an

institutionalized effort -- that was important. Secondly, getting

that quality of fife increase in the five-year plan also

effectively institutionalized it. There's no opposition to that

any more, and the services have now appropriated those in their


Third, the Marsh panel itself set out, made a series of

proposals to institutionalize the housing. Those have not yet

been acted on because they do require legislation. So that is to

be done. The reason for doing that is just as compelling now as

it was when Jack Marsh and his panel made that proposal. It does

require legislative changes. We do not have those changes yet,

But I consider that to be a high priority of business in the

coming legislative year.

Q. Is the Senior Enlisted Panel likely to continue and be

another way these concerns -- the focus on quality of life --

will be institutionalized over time?

A. Well, that will continue, and that is an

institutionalization. The quadrennial review, of course, is an

institutionalization as well. And I might say that the major --

very major -- institutional factor affecting quality of life was

first of all the creation of, years ago, the senior enlisted in

the services and having them report -- and the influence that

they have on the chiefs, service chiefs and the secretaries.

But beyond that was the creation of our quarterly senior

enlisted base visits. That has been institutionalized this term.

It is my expectation that that will become an institution, that

is, certainly as long as I am secretary I will maintain that. But

I think that has been so successful that successive secretaries

will also follow that. I will certainly recommend the successive

secretaries follow that same. So I do believe that will become

institutionalized, as well.

Q. What do you feel would have been missed if that program

hadn't been started during your term?

A. There have been a whole series of, first of all, I would

say immediately responsible for identifying the importance of

quality of life and to me, specifically motivating me, to put

forward the quality of life funding increase which I requested

over a year ago from the president. That came directly out of the

meetings with the senior enlisted. Secondly, the emphasis

pointing out that the short deficiency of housing and therefore

the emphasis on our initiatives on improving housing. That led to

a large number of specific action on improving housing as well as

the creation of the Marsh panel and the specific recommendations

they made. But a host of smaller, specific, not small, I mean

very specific and concrete, issues that affect a particular

problem in a particular base.

But in the broad sense, it was the money that went to the

quality of life initiative, it was the creation of the Marsh

panel, and it was the housing initiative, which are very large

and broad objective results that came out of those meetings. I

think in addition to that, ... there was a much more intangible

but no less important [thing that came] about, which is an

understanding developing between the civilian leadership of the

Pentagon and the enlisted men in the field -- in both directions.

Certainly I gained a better understanding of what their

needs, of what their motivations, were. I think they also were

able to gain a better understanding of what I was trying to do as

the secretary, what the leadership department was trying to do.

That may be one of the best reasons for maintaining those senior

enlisted meetings as an institution, for the bonding that can

develop between the leadership in the department and the enlisted

personnel and the mutual understanding of the results of that.

Q. Moving on to the aftermath of Khobar Towers. You have

said that you don't want our troops living 24 hours a day in a

bunker mentality. How are we going to avoid that if we take them

out and isolate them at remote bases?

A. That's really a pretty complicated question that has many

components to it. One of them is a frame of mind.

We do understand, and our military personnel understand,

that there are some risks inherent in military missions. And so

neither they nor their commanders should go into a mission with

the idea that they get somehow -- organize their lives in such a

way that there will be no risks involved with it.

Just the basic training we do, training missions we conduct,

have risks associated with them. And we take those risks in

training because we believe they diminish the risks if we

actually enter combat. So there's that kind of a tradeoff.

So the first important component of that question is the

mindset. We, our troops and our commanders, our leaders, have to

have the mindset -- you never have the mindset that the military

mission can be done without taking some risks. Our job is to

minimize those risks, but we understand there are going to be

risks associated with military missions.

The second point I would make about it is that every

commander, when he is organized into his mission, has in mind,

and he communicates to his troops what the mission is -- what the

components of the mission are. One of those components is always

force protection, but there are other components of the mission

as well, and those have to be balanced off.

In Operation Southern Watch, for example, in Saudi Arabia,

the force protection mission has to be balanced against the

mission of conducting air sorties over southern Iraq. In Bosnia,

the force protection component of the mission has to be balanced

against how many patrols you can conduct and how extensively you

conduct them. ...

In Bosnia, force protection is the No. 1 mission, and when

Gen. [William] Nash [1st Armored Division commander] briefed me

on his mission in Bosnia, that was the one he listed as No. 1.

That's not the only mission, and we could enhance the force

protection in Bosnia simply by not going out on patrols. But we

would not be able to do the other part of our mission and,

therefore, Gen. Nash never considers that. His job is to balance

the mission.

The commander has to make that judgment. He makes the

judgment between how he could protect his forces, what he has to

do to protect his forces vs. what he has to do to carry out the

other components of his mission. And he will never -- a good

commander will never simply abort the rest of his mission in

order to avoid risks.

Q. Gen. [J.H. Binford] Peay [commander in chief, U.S.

Central Command] testified before the Senate Armed Services

Committee July 9 and has been quoted as saying, "While the

American people have every right to demand competence, character

and leadership from our military commanders, they should not

expect zero defects. Demanding such a rigid standard produces

timid leaders afraid to make tough decisions in crisis, unwilling

to take the risks necessary for success in military operations.

This 'zero defect' mindset creates conditions that will lead

inevitably to failure in battle and even higher casualties."

A. Gen. Peay made a very important point in that testimony -

- that the American people should not expect zero defects from

the missions which the American forces conduct, not just deployed

overseas but training mission in the United States. And as they

conduct these missions, particularly if they are operating at the

edge of the envelope, on occasion, there will be errors. They

will make mistakes. Gen. Peay points out that American people

have the right to expect ... leadership, character, courage and

confidence. I like the way he phrases that. That is what they

expect. When I evaluate one of our commanders, that's what I am

evaluating. Not whether he's never made any errors. It is

important when we make errors to learn from them.

We have airplanes crash every month, in fact every week.

Every one of those crashes we study, and we learn from. And as a

consequence of what we've learned from these crashes, we have had

a truly amazing reduction in the accident rate over the last 10

to 20 years. The reason for that improvement is, partly, improved

technology. But I think it's mostly the care with which we study

the mistakes we made -- the actions we have. And our motive is to

incorporate improvements in our process, improvements in our

procedures, improvements in our training.

A good leader, I believe, is into more than just punishing

people who make mistakes. He learns from mistakes, and he

incorporates what is learned in his training, teaching his people

to do better. I think the record shows that the American military

has done well on that. And I used the example of airplane

accidents and the very substantial improvement in the accident

rate to make that point.

Q. Considering the kind of climate that came out as a result

of the Brown crash [April 3 Air Force jet accident that killed

U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and his entourage in Dubrovnik,

Croatia] and the 16 officers who were disciplined, what would you

advise a young officer or NCO who encounters the kind of climate

where no one wants to be the bearer of bad tidings?

A. Let me caveat ... that I cannot make any comments on the

Brown crash at this time because it is a command influence issue.

But let me generalize from that that if the young officer looks

out and sees another officer who has made a mistake and is

disciplined for it, will he be afraid to conduct missions that,

will he be afraid to take chances?

I think the essence of military leadership is making that

balance between taking the risks necessary to succeed in the

mission and ... prudent judgment for force protection. There is

no formula that we can give any leader, any commander, for that.

But a successful military leader, probably more than the leader

in almost any other profession, will have a certain amount of

daring in his character, and we should find ways of encouraging

that daring instead of stomping on a person every time his daring

has led him to a mistake.

I don't have any simple answer to that question.

Fortunately, the military continues to attract people who have

that boldness in their character, because it's that boldness

which leads to the most successful warfighters that we have. As

our leaders -- myself, chiefs of staff, CinCs [commanders in

chief] -- should seek ways to encourage that boldness rather than

stomping on it.

Q. Are there situations that you can envision where you

would actually advise an officer to seek support from his chain

of command?

A. Yes. The commander has a mission to perform. He knows

what his mission is, and he has resources to conduct that

mission, he has constraints. And a good commander will use his

initiative and all of the initiative available to him to try to

carry out that mission using those resources. We judge how good a

commander is by his ingenuity and his tenacity in overcoming the

obstacles of carrying out a mission. We place a very high premium

on initiative in our commanders.

When should a commander ask for help? When should he say

this is beyond my initiative to be able to do it? It seems to me

that if he reaches a place where he recognizes that he cannot

carry out his mission with the resources he has or with the

political constraints put on him, he has exhausted all his

initiative to do that, then I think he has a responsibility to

get word out to his command chain that he is not able to carry

out his mission, whether it's the force component of the mission

or some other aspect of the mission.

If he cannot carry out the mission in his judgment, if his

initiative is not going to be successful to overcome those

options, then ... he needs to carry it up the chain of command

either to ask for more resources or to ask for assistance in

overcoming a political barrier. Ultimately, that can come up to

me as the secretary of defense, and then I have the

responsibilities, as I see it, of either providing those

resources or providing him the assistance to overcome his

political barriers or to ... tell him he is not to try to do that

mission. I will change the mission to one that can be

accomplished within the resources allocated and the political

parameters that are agreed.

Q. The services have been plagued by bad news this year.

We've had the Brown crash, Khobar Towers, aftershocks of Tailhook

never go away. What can commands do to bolster morale in light of

all of these kind of negative image things about the military?

A. I guess any year in the history of the services there are

going to be accidents. We've had terrorist attacks on our troops

almost every year. There are going to be suicides. There are

going to be soldiers doing things they shouldn't do -- getting in

trouble with the law. Each of those affect the way we think about

the military, the way we think about ourselves, the way it

affects our morale. But I think most fundamentally what affects

our morale, and what affects what we think about ourselves, is

how well we are doing our basic missions.

How well did we do in Haiti when we were called to go in

there? We had a very difficult task. Sent in 20,000 soldiers to

do it. It was done remarkably well. How well did we do when we

sent our troops into Bosnia? What kind of pride can our

commanders and our soldiers have about the performance they've

had in Bosnia? At the same time, I read accounts about how some

of our Navy has low morale about the newspaper accounts on

Tailhook. The very week I was reading that I was getting a report

from the battle group commander of the [aircraft carrier USS]

George Washington telling about his six-month deployment, what a

truly impressive military feat that was and what he and all of

his battle group had great pride in.

So fundamentally we need to look at what we're doing; what

our military missions are; how well we're protecting the security

of the nation; how well we're doing our training. We're doing

pretty damn well at that. And more than anything that should

influence our view -- sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marine ... --

what kind of a job they're doing, how they feel about themselves,

how they feel about the service.

I know it influences the way other countries, other military

organizations think about us. Every time I talk with the Army

chief or the Air Force chief or the minister of defense from

other countries and they come to visit our troops, they come away

enormously impressed, not only in what they see in our training,

but the way they see them perform in Bosnia, the way they saw

them perform in Haiti.

Our military force is the envy of all the other military

forces in the world, by their competence, by their morale, their

spirit and, by God, by their initiative -- whatever disincentives

[they may perceive], our military leaders ... still show it, and

that's manifested by the performance of our units in the field.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces

Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the

Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C.

Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries

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