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DoD News Briefing: Remarks at Fort Riley, Kansas

Presenters: Remarks at Fort Riley, Kansas
September 23, 1997

Secretary Cohen: Pat, thank you very much. Governor Graves, who was with us earlier, and Congressman Ryan, let me first of all thank you for welcoming me. Pat did the great honor of inviting me. He said, "Bill, please come on out and see what we've got going at Ft. Riley." I was eager to do that.

Both of these gentlemen understand the need to have a ready, capable, well-trained, well led fighting force, and so it is a pleasure for me to be here to spend the day with them to go out into the field and see exactly how well our young men and women are prepared to fight the wars that might be necessary in the future.

There is a lot in the press today about the state of our military. Just let me give you my own impressions. Since January, having been sworn in as Secretary of Defense, I have made a very strong effort to travel throughout the country, to visit every one of our training centers, to visit all of our troops wherever I can. I've been in Europe, in Asia, and we go back to Europe next week and shortly thereafter visit Korea, Japan, China, Southeast Asia, all of the ASEAN countries.

Wherever I go, I am enormously impressed. When I get out into the field and I see the quality of the people that we have in fact recruited and trained and watch the way in which they perform their mission, the kind of dedication, the patriotism, the drive, and the intelligence that they exhibit, I am enormously impressed. Not only do I come to the judgment that we have the finest fighting force in the world, that is the world's judgment.

As Secretary of Defense, I must tell you it was new to me, Pat and Jim, to realize the amount of diplomacy that is involved in the Secretary's office. When I was sitting on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I used to look at budgets and equipment and weapons and quality of life and issues like that.

I was not aware of the level of diplomacy that's involved in this office that we have so many ministers of defense who come to the Pentagon to visit with me and to the top Pentagon officials. Basically, they want to know how they can be more like us. They want to know how they can train with us, how we are in fact so superior in our organization, in our doctrine, in our training, in our leadership. So, when I see reports that have been released -- and yesterday was an example of it -- I do not take that with any measure of despair.

I would commend, as a matter of fact, the Army for looking at its problem, looking at itself and saying, "We've got some deficiencies. We'll meet them head on and we'll correct them."

But as I look at the Army and across the spectrum of our services, what I come away with is a great sense of pride. I think that we are dealing with an issue that cuts across our entire spectrum in our society, be they in companies, in corporations, communities. We are dealing with the issue far better I might say than the rest of our society. We have higher standards. We demand more of the men and women who serve in our military and, in any organization in which you have 1.4 million people, you are bound to have some problems.

We have had problems over the years dealing with race, dealing with drugs, dealing with alcoholism and we have overcome those problems in superb fashion. To the extent that we have any problem today with sexual harassment, discrimination, abuse of power, we deal with it up front, conduct an investigation; didn't try to minimize the problems initially with Aberdeen. The Army said, "Let's look at it further. Let's look to see if we've got a wider problem." So they conducted a survey and they found there was a wider problem. Yesterday you heard the Chief of Staff come out and say, "Here are the solutions. Here's what we are going to do to resolve these problems."

I still maintain that we have an institution that the American people can be justifiably proud of. When you look at the quality of the people who are coming into the military today, male and female, the standards, the education, the dedication, the ability to conduct a very difficult task, we are doing an extraordinary job.

The American people should look at the headlines, yes, from time to time but, nonetheless, overlook that to see the greater missions that are being performed all over the world every day and every hour. I think that once we take that broader focus, we can see that, yes, whatever deficiencies we have, we will correct them.

I recall many years ago during a time of great crisis in this country when we dealt with something called Watergate, and many people across the world said, "How can the United States possibly examine itself in this fashion?" And we said that was precisely the strength of our democracy. We found out there were some abuses. We looked at ourselves and we corrected them. We were stronger for it.

I look at this as an example of an institution being able to examine itself, recognize where there are problems, go public, very public, and say, "Here's the issue. Here's how we're dealing with it. Here's the accountability we're going to demand of our leaders." And move forward.

I take the report with exactly the tone in which it has been presented, I thought very forthright, very candidly and I thought directly to the American people.

With that, I suspect you wish me to open up to questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you think (inaudible)?

A: I don't know what the answer to that would be. I have tried to make an effort, for example, to visit each of the training centers to see how we train. I have called upon someone who is well known to you, Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, to look at the whole issue of gender-integrated training. Does it work? Is there something wrong with it? All the military leaders I talk to today, as far as the Army is concerned, the Navy, the Air Force, for them it works.

The Marines have a somewhat different training program. I was in Parris Island last week. It is not exactly segregated training. They have female instructors for the female members of the Marines and male for the males, but they train together. The Army has taken the position, I think it is right, the Navy as well -- I visited the Great Lakes yesterday -- that we are going to train together because we have to fight together. And we want to be fully integrated in our operations and our approach to war fighting and to peace keeping.

So, it is hard to say. The Navy had its problems several years ago. It dealt with them. I suspect you can go through any service, you will find some problems. But what I want to say and what I want to emphasize to all of the citizens of Kansas, certainly, but the American people in general that we have a military that we should be very, very proud of. The caliber of the people who are coming in today are higher, better educated.

Whatever social problems exist in our society, our military has to deal with them, and they are. You have people coming from broken homes, single-family homes. You have people coming from backgrounds of desperate poverty in some cases, deprivation of opportunity in others. And all of the people who come into our military, when they come in and then when they go through that training process, they are soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines.

And then you go out in the field and see them in action. I was in the Ukraine a month or two ago, and I witnessed something I thought was quite extraordinary. Here is a former member of the Soviet empire as such hosting Partnership for Peace program. We had members of our National Guard who are over there participating, along with about nine other NATO members and others, and to see our soldiers standing side-by-side with former enemies as such, and the pride with which they had that they were now engaged in peace keeping and partnership for peace exercises, and the pride with which the other nations looked to the United States.

Again, we had to take a very close look at ourselves and say, "We're the best in the world." There is no other military in the world that matches up to the United States. That is why we have to take the criticism, be willing to examine ourselves, as we are, an open democratic society with the greatest military in the world saying, "What are the problems? How do we fix them?" If it is a question of leadership, let's fix the leadership. Do we need more chaplains, do we need more overseers? Do we have to impose more accountability? Then let's do it.

I look at this as a problem that can be dealt with and will be dealt with, but I want to carry the message that everyone in this country should really understand why it is everybody turns to the United States, whether it be talking about Bosnia or Korea, Southwest Asia, or going after Saddam Hussein or looking after what is taking place in Iran. Anywhere you go, the United States is the first one they look to. There's a reason for that: because we have the best.

Q: (Inaudible)?

A: Yes. That's one of the recommendation that General Reimer of the committee, the panel, had investigated. General Reimer is very strong on that and it is something I think is important. Yes?

Q: (Inaudible)?

A: Well, let's hope that that is precisely the case. What we hope to do is complete that mission by next June of '98. There is very strong feelings about this. The NATO countries have voted to continue the mission until June of '98. I have been very strong in my effort to try to concentrate our effort between now and next June to let's see what we can do to make sure Dayton works because the military mission has been successful.

This is something we continue to point to. The military has been successful in completing its mission. What has not taken place completely is the implementation of the other side of Dayton, and that is the civilian aspect of it; namely, the resettlement of refugees, the rebuilding of their economy. Only just recently, there was a conference which took place in which in excess of a billion dollars was, in fact, pledged to be infused into the economy of that country.

So we are taking much more aggressive action, as such, to try to concentrate our effort and working with our allies to implement the civilian side of the Dayton Accords because the military side has been very successful.

Q: (Inaudible)?

A: The BRAC process is created by Congress. There can be no BRAC proceedings without authorization from Congress. Congress can structure the BRAC proceedings in any fashion it sees fit. I have always taken the position when we go through BRAC that everything must be on the table for examination; but, obviously, you look at the BRAC process in terms of what is our national security strategy. What exactly do we have as a strategy?

We tried to formulate that in the so-called QDR process, the Quadrennial Defense Review. What is it that we need to carry out the strategy of shaping our environment in ways that are beneficial to the United States' interests and that of its allies? How do we respond to the various forms of crises we might have to contend with?

We have to have the flexibility of going all the way from very small types of operations, from humanitarian missions, NEO operations, non-combatant evacuation operations, to small-scale contingencies which I put Bosnia in that category, all the way up to major regional conflicts which you would put Korea potentially and Southwest Asia. We have to have that flexibility.

What are the components that make up that capability that gives us the flexibility to go from A-to-Z? That's all part of the BRAC process. When we lay out the strategy and members of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate and the National Security Committee in the House look at that and they say, "Let's shape our BRAC process to be consistent with the national strategy."

You then have recommendations coming from within the military itself. What is it that our principal military advisors, those certainly in the services, the Joint Chiefs, they look at our strategy. They look at what we need. What is excess? We are carrying excess capacity? We will have reduced our force structure by some 36 percent. We will have only reduced our infrastructure by 22 percent, so there is excess capacity. And we call upon our military leadership to identify, those facilities or bases or forts or whatever they might be that no longer are necessary to carry out the national security objectives.

Obviously, Congress plays the major role in that because Congress sets up the provisions and sets the criteria under which a BRAC commission can operate. I don't start out with any predisposition. What I try to do is articulate what our strategy is and then call upon our best military minds to make recommendations to a commission which has to be confirmed by the Congress in terms of carrying out the recommendations.

Q: (Inaudible)?

A: I have not had any discussions with any of the Joint Chiefs about Ft. Riley. I believe that Ft. Riley is a well established institution. I think that the training that the soldiers who come through Ft. Riley is outstanding. I think that it is one of the finest institutions that we have, historically, certainly. I think it has great contemporary relevance, that you have a fine facility here that allows those who are training in the operation of tank warfare to have one of the finest opportunities to do that.

You also have some very strong members on the United States congressional delegation that I think will weigh very heavily in support of Ft. Riley. I have heard nothing but very positive statements about Ft. Riley. I think that any apprehensions are unwarranted at this time for sure.

Q: (Inaudible)?

A: Iraq? I think we are all satisfied that Iraq has undertaken in the past to build a chemical and biological warfare capability and I believe that effort continues to this day.

Q: (Inaudible)?

A: What determines it? The Members of Congress. We can't close bases unless there is a BRAC process, and so criteria are then established in terms of what are the primary concerns that we must look at. Those criteria are ultimately established by the Congress, itself. The BRAC doesn't operate independently. Congress sets up a BRAC process and then says, "Okay, we recognize there's excess capacity. Here are the criteria that should be of primary concern or secondary concern." That is laid out in the law as such.

Then the Commission has to take those guidelines and then take the recommendations coming from the individual services in terms of what the service feels is its primary mission and where the individual facilities and components fit in that strategy and then they make recommendations to the BRAC, to the Commission. The Commission can accept the recommendation, it can modify them, it can reject them, but as an independent commission. But, presumably, you put people on the commission who have experience in such affairs and who would obviously give deference to the recommendation coming from the professional military and would have to, I think, find a compelling reason to reject it. But you do have the independence of that commission, so they are not simply rubber stamping what the recommendations, but they take it into account.

I have found in my own experience in the past, when I wasn't satisfied with the way in which a BRAC proceeding was conducted, I was upset about it. I said, "Well, the next time we have it, we'll change the rules."

I found, for example, in one of the BRAC proceedings that I, as a Member of the Senate was not allowed to communicate and get information from the base commander at one of my facilities in Maine at that time. Then I found that I had to file a Freedom of Information request to get information. I found that ironic that a senior member of the Armed Services Committee had to file a FOIA request to get information. The information, of course, came down after the final decision had been made by the Commission. I thought that was inappropriate.

As a result of that, I worked with Senator Sam Nunn at that time to say, "This isn't the way BRAC proceedings should be conducted. We need to have them. If we are going to have them in the future, we have to make sure that there's confidence that they're being carried out responsibly. This is not a responsible way to conduct it." So we changed the law for the next proceeding and it worked much better.

Ultimately, it is these two gentlemen who will have a great deal to say. I think that we do have to have more BRAC proceedings. It's one of the recommendations, a key recommendation from the QDR process to say that one of our problems is as follows: we are shifting money that we need to invest in future procurement into operations.

Now, there is disagreement, and I'm sure you have it right here at this conference, as to why we are shifting so much money from procurement into operations, because we're involved in a great many places. But in order to try to put more money back into the investment account, we are not roughly at $42 billion annually and, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has indicated, we have to be roughly 55 to 60 billion if we are going to start making the kind of investment in the technologies that we will need in the years 2010, 2015, well into the future. So we have got to start squeezing our operations down to come up with somewhere between 12 and 15 billion dollars on an annual basis in order to put that into procurement.

How do we do that? Well, we try to reduce excess overhead, like any business would do. If you have got excess capacity, you have got to reduce it, get efficiencies. We try to have a revolution in business affairs. We're changing the way in which we do business from the Pentagon. It is becoming much more of a paperless society.

We are finding ways in which we have excess inventory, for example, that we've had a mindset in the past that we try to accumulate as much inventory as possible with the mindset of "just in case we need it." We're changing that. It's going to be "just in time." We are going to make sure we have the kind of deliveries that Federal Express might have.

I prefer to use LOB as my example of how something gets out into the field in 48 hours; but, nonetheless, to utilize the best commercial practices so we don't have $103 billion worth of inventory. We want to reduced that down to about 48 billion. We are trying to find ways in which we can make savings so we can invest in those kinds of systems that will make us and continue to allow us to be the best fighting force in the world.

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