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DoD News Briefing: Secretary Cohen

Presenter: Secretary Cohen
November 26, 1997

Secretary Cohen: How does this differ from the outfits we have in our units now?

Soldier: This current suit, sir, is a reduced weight, approximately 20 percent, which will reduces our heat stress about 15 percent. There's a lot of human factors engineering. We've reduced the numbers of zippers and drawstrings with the velcro fasteners -- gives us a better protection against chem/bio agents, and it also allows us to wear the suits 15 days longer. Our old suit was currently good for 30 days. This suit is good for 45 days, sir.

Secretary Cohen: What's different about your ability to talk to me or to talk to your fellow soldiers on the field?

Soldier: The M-40 field protective mask; this is one of the best masks in the world, sir. This mask gives us a see-through canister which is standard NATO. I can change this canister in a few seconds vice taking the whole mask apart. We have a voice comm [communication] adapter on here that allows me to be more audible in the combat environment so my marines can hear me. It also gives me a better seal. It's got a different rubber on it, sir. The seal fits the mask much better, fits the face much better, better wear, better durability, sir.

Secretary Cohen: Also you can wear this, obviously, in a hot, warm environment. What about in a cold environment?

Soldier: Yes, sir. This suit is fantastic. If it's a hot environment I won't wear my camouflage utilities under it. If it's a cold environment, I'll be able to wear it up to 25 below, sir. The suit will work fantastic.

Secretary Cohen: That's great. It's a tremendous improvement in your judgment.

Press: If you have to go to these suits, Mr. Secretary, haven't we already lost?

Secretary Cohen: The fact is that if we have to go into an environment where our soldiers are going to be placed in jeopardy as they might have been during the Persian Gulf War, we want to make sure that our soldiers and military men and women are fully protected against any kind of chemical or biological attack. This is an improvement over what we've got. What we have is very good. This is even better.

Press: Mr. Secretary, how might this help in a domestic environment?

Secretary Cohen: This is designed primarily for a battlefield environment. Obviously, if there were a domestic incident you're going to see, as we proceed through this demonstration, the kinds of activities that will take place to help reduce the threat to innocent civilians who obviously can't be walking around in this type of gear throughout their normal duties. So this is a battlefield environment. We will look at some of the civilian population [equipment] momentarily.

Press: What do you think the likelihood is that American troops will have to use these suits?

Secretary Cohen: We want to make sure that the American troops have these available. Any time that we have to go into an environment where we suspect that the adversary might use chemical or biologicals, we want to make sure they have this. So we have them available, we had our protective suits and garments available during the Persian Gulf War. It did not become necessary to use them. So any time that we have to put our military folks at risk in any kind of environment where we suspect the might have biological and chemicals, this is going to protect their lives.

Press: Is that risk more likely today than before?

Secretary Cohen: I think as I pointed out during the briefing, the risk of proliferation is growing. To the extent that we have 25 nations who are now developing these types of weapons, then we've got a greater risk today than we had ten years in the past. We hope to be able to cut down that risk by cutting down the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction. But as long as that technology is out there, as long as there are countries who are determined to develop it, we're going to have to make sure that our men and women who are serving this country so admirably are fully protected.

Press: Mr. Secretary, is it accurate to report that much of this equipment and the trained personnel are currently forward deployed in the Gulf, in places where there might be terrorist attacks by chemical or by nerve agents?

Secretary Cohen: I think what is fair to say is that we have adequate protection in the field today. What you're seeing is a quantum leap in technology. In the Quadrennial Defense Review we recommended adding a billion dollars to our five year plan to enhance what we're doing already. You're seeing technology revolutionizing the system, and we will continue to build on these systems and prototypes and to put them in the field as rapidly as possible. So we have adequate protection right now. We will get even better with this type of technology.

Press: Is there a current biological agent risk, attack by terrorism, delivery by terrorism, in the Gulf to our forces at the present time?

Secretary Cohen: Of course. The fact is that we have been discussing the risk of VX, of sarin gas, anthrax, of ricin, other types of toxins, botulinum, a variety of toxins and poisons that could threaten our troops that are deployed there. That's the reason why we are placing such a special emphasis on defensive protective measures.

Press: Thank you.

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