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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Secretary of Defense William J. Perry

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
February 02, 1996
[These comments were made by Secretary Perry during a visit to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas]

Dr. Perry: Thank you, Dave. It's a great pleasure to be here at Lackland and to be here in the company of the senior enlisted of the U.S. military. A few weeks ago, I was in the Bosnia theater -- in Bosnia, Italy, Hungary, where our forces are deploying for the operation in Bosnia. I was enormously impressed with the skill, competence, the enthusiasm of the American soldiers and the American airmen who were deploying to Bosnia.

I was proud of them and all the American people can be proud of them.

During my visit to Lackland, today, I saw very good evidence as to why the American soldiers and the airmen are so competent and it's the training. Training counts. And, the U.S. military has the best training in the world and there's no better example of that of what we see here at Lackland, today. I think that this edge, which our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines get from training, is what makes the U.S. military the best in the world, today. So, I'm pleased and proud of the operation that I saw here at Lackland, which is the under-girding for the competence of our military forces.

Now, with that brief introduction, I'd be happy to take questions. Yes?

Q: Sir, the arguments entered in the case, in Okinawa, today and I was going to ask you is training going to change based on that particular case?

A: General Krulak, who is the Commandant of the Marines, went to Okinawa, met with the troops there, set up a special training program -- not training in technical skills -- and I do believe it's training can have an effect on that. Admiral Boorda, in the Navy, called for a one day stand-down for simply reflecting on the discipline that's required of the American military and the way they project themselves. One of the specific things that General Krulak did was stimulated the Marines in Okinawa to undertake community health projects, to get out into the community, provide assistance. All of those things, I think, are going to make a difference. I can't tell you how sad I am by that horrible incident in Okinawa, but I do believe, and I believe strongly, that it was an aberration that does not reflect the values and the standards of the U.S. military nor will we ever accept it as reflecting that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what can be done to regain the confidence of the people of Japan and Okinawa, to get them to support the U.S. or to further support [inaudible]?

A: Well, I mentioned already one particular thing that's being done, which is American servicemen in Okinawa -- in Japan -- projecting themselves even more in terms of community assistance projects. I think that's one particular point. The second I want -- I have had very detailed discussions with the leaders in Japanese Government -- the Japanese military: we have to start off with a common understanding as to why those troops are there. The U.S. troops in Japan, and Okinawa, are not there for the convenience of the United States. They are there to provide security for Japan, for Okinawa, for the entire Asia-Pacific region. But, we understand that. The Japanese Government understands that and, therefore, it is important that we work together jointly to try to find a way of making that as effective as possible.

So, we will be in Japan. We'll be in Japan for years to come and we'll be in Japan because it is important to their security and to our security. Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, what's your opinion of the ten-year sentences that they got? The ten-year sentences that were announced, today. Do you feel that's appropriate?

A: I have to refrain from commenting on litigation in cases of people under my command, because there's a question of command influence, even though this is a civil suit. There's always a possibility of criminal justice being applied at some later date and, therefore, I cannot comment on any case under litigation. I'm sorry. But, if you'd like to ask another question, I'll be glad to --

Q: How about a case of that kind? Not this particular case.

A: [Laughter] I simply think we cannot tolerate. We can have no toleration for any crime of that sort not only in the military but in the civilian, as well.

Q: How are you going to repair the image, Mr. Secretary: we've had the airplane incident, the "Tailhook", now the Okinawan thing. What is being done, other than what you mentioned, to improve the image of the American military man, of which Bosnia is good P.R. and all that. What can be done to improve this image of our American serviceman?

A: Let me say that the image of the American serviceman is really very good in most parts of the world. I'll tell you, just having come from Bosnia, it is very good in Bosnia and it's very good in the regions around Bosnia. The two very strong impressions I came from during my trip to Bosnia, relative to the U.S. military there is, first of all, the U.S. military is respected. There is no question about it. They are respected by all parties in the conflict. And, secondly, there's an admiration for the fact that the United States is coming there not for any material gain for our country, but to bring peace to that country. And, all of the parties in that conflict understand that. There's no question that the warring parties would not have signed that peace accord in Dayton, would not have agreed to undertake a peace there, without the presence of American soldiers. They have so much confidence in the U.S. military, in their competence and in their integrity. So, I, basically, reject the proposition that we have an image problem overseas. The U.S. military is both respected and admired. And, when we have an aberration like this case, we have to work to deal with it. Yes?

Q: President Clinton had announced, fairly recently, about the handling of HIV-infected people in the military. Has there been anything new on that? How is that going to be dealt with?

A: In the defense authorization bill, which was just passed by the Congress, there is a requirement that with anyone who tests HIV-positive, will be separated from the service within six months. I believe, and the President believes, that that is a poor provision. It is a mistake to have that in the bill. We believe that, because it's part of a larger policy of allowing people to stay in the service as long as they can perform their jobs. It's not just a question of HIV. This is the policy of the military for all kinds of ailments, illnesses, and inflictions. We have military personnel that lost a leg in Vietnam, for example, that have gone on to become four-star generals and have served bravely in DESERT STORM operations. So, we do not simply retire someone because they have a disability. That's the principle. It's an important principle. So, the President has indicated that he is not -- he does not agree with that provision in the bill, and he has asked me to find ways to see if I can find specific ways of getting that particular provision changed. And, we will try. We will consider the proposals -- specific legislation directed at removing that provision.

Q: Is that a witch hunt?

A: I have not given up on this by any means. I intend to fight this.

Q: Secretary, American forces have been lucky, so far, in Bosnia -- I believe only one sniper incident. But, there's other reports surfacing of other NATO forces being killed by mines over there. Any concern about that having a backlash as far as people saying, "I told you so"?

A: I do not believe the American forces have been lucky. I think they have -- their training, their skill, professionalism has paid off. Having said that, we realize we're in a situation with many dangers. When we went over there, we thought we might very well run into the danger -- we might very well have the danger of running into organized opposition. It's clear, now -- we've been there for over a month -- there's not going to be organized opposition. The three warring parties have stopped fighting. They've laid down their arms and are beginning to demobilize. Had they been planning to provide organized resistance to the NATO forces, the time to have done that would have been the first month, while they were building up and while they were most vulnerable. So, I think, we can write-off that danger now.

The second danger is the danger that there will be accidents -- vehicle accidents, in particular, accidents with mines. That danger will be with us all the time we are there. There are millions of mines in the country. We're dealing with that two different ways. We, and the warring parties, are removing those mines. They have given us charts and maps where they think the mines are located. They are busy removing them. We're busy removing them. But, secondly, no matter how careful -- no matter how diligent we are in removing them, we're never going to get them all. And so, secondly, discipline is important. And, before our troops went down there, they spent weeks training, specifically, for the Bosnian operation and every replacement troop that goes in there has to go through that training before it can go in. And, a key part of that training is mine awareness, mine discipline. So, we will be there for another, roughly, 10 or 11 months. We will run into mines again. But, our discipline will minimize the danger to our troops.

I think the biggest danger from the mines will be towards the end of our deployment period -- if we go many months without an accident, we may become complacent. When I talked to the troops there, I said, stay focused, stay alert, and do not become complacent.

Q: Is there any new information on the realignment of Kelly, at all?

Unknown Speaker: If I can interrupt you, sir. We have time for just one more question.

Q: You said 10 or 11 months. Does that still sound realistic?

A: Yes. Kelly: I have worked with communities in which bases have been closed all over the country. I've seen some good examples and I've seen some bad examples. All of the good examples had one thing in common, which is the community came together, put a re-use committee and they worked together to make the re-use effective. So, that's the first requirement and that is already underway at Kelly, very impressively. You have a re-use committee formed here, under retired-General Johnson. You have community support, under the mayor. I'm very impressed with what this community is doing to affect an efficient re-use of Kelly.

The second thing, which makes the re-use effective, is having access to a good facility and the -- not only the buildings at Kelly, but the access to the airfield is going to be very important. And, finally, you need a talented labor pool in the area and that certainly exists here.

So, you have all three things that have been proven to be necessary to make a re-use program effective. And, on top of that, you have very strong support from the U.S. Government, and the Pentagon, in particular. We see this as a model for privatization and we think privatization is very important to the Defense Department in many different aspects. But, in particular, it's going to be the key to how many of these base re-closings will be done most effectively. So, we are looking at Kelly, as a model community for demonstrating how privatization can work and can be effective for the community. Thank you.

Q: Will there be anymore downsizing?

A: The downsizing, both in the number of personnel in the military and in the number of bases, is essentially over. The period from here on in is going to be much -- essentially, stabilization. Thank you.

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