Secretary and Top NCOs Keep DoD's Focus on Quality of Life
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, Jul. 26, 1996 Since he started visiting military bases with the services' top NCOs about three years ago, Defense Secretary William J. Perry has put DoD's focus on improving quality of life, and that's where he intends to keep it.
Perry talked about continuing efforts to improve quality of life and ways to institutionalize the process during a 20hour flight to Sydney, Australia, July 24. Keeping pay levels up over the next five years and accelerating family and barracks housing improvements are two top quality of life priorities, according to the secretary.
"The single most important thing we've done on compensation is get salary increases incorporated into the fiveyear plan," Perry said. "This very significant step puts more stability into the compensation plan than we've ever had before."
The fiscal 1997 budget proposal includes a 3 percent military pay raise and the maximum raise allowed by law for the Future Years Defense Program, fiscal 1998 to 2001.
By law, military pay raises are linked to federal civilian employee pay increases. The Federal Compensation Act ensures civilian employees get an acrosstheboard pay raise each year based on the Employment Cost Index minus .5 percent.
The Employment Cost Index is a measure of wage increases in the private sector. For fiscal 1997, the index came in at 2.8 percent minus .5 percent, civilian federal employees will get a 2.3 percent boost.
The military must get at least the same amount. For the last few years, the military has received the same amount as civilians, a DoD official said. But for fiscal 1997, DoD requested the higher rate of 3 percent for service members.
DoD cannot relax its efforts to ensure raises are included in the future years' budgets, Perry said, since the funding is not yet appropriated. "The fact that it's in the fiveyear plan, the fact that it has been endorsed and supported by the key leaders in Congress, makes me confident we're going to be able to maintain that stability in the compensation."
Continuing vigilance is needed to ensure service members get adequate pay, Perry said. "Nailing down the maximum legal pay allowed by law should not be the end of the compensation picture," he said. A quadrennial review board is scheduled to review salary levels, he said.
DoD has put "a very bright laser beam" on military housing and gotten a lot of people interested in housing initiatives, Perry said. "Base commanders are using their base funds for improved housing. Committee chairmen in Congress are putting in additional money for housing all of that on top of the extra funds put into DoD's budget as a result of the quality of life initiative launched over a year ago."
The fiscal 1997 budget proposal includes funds to build or modernize about 48,900 living spaces in 208 barracks from fiscal 1997 to fiscal 2001. About 2,300 family housing units and 13 support facilities will be built or modernized. Another 4,100 family housing units will be improved. Five fitness centers will be built or modernized.
The need to accelerate housing improvements was dramatically demonstrated during Perry's senior enlisted visits to U.S. bases. The secretary toured barracks with corroded floors and cramped, antiquated family housing. The infrastructure is wearing out, he said, and will be expensive to replace.
While many housing improvement projects are under way, Perry said, the idea to fund housing by bringing in private investors has yet to become a reality. The quality of life task force chaired by former Army Secretary John O. Marsh recommended that idea and other new ways of producing military housing. In addition to funds for new barracks and new family housing, the fiscal 1997 budget proposal allocated $20 million for servicerun, privateventure pilot projects to bring in additional capital.
"To do that, we have to have changes in the law, and we did not succeed in getting those changes this year," Perry said. "I believe it's important to maintain that objective and push hard to get that legislative change next year."
Perry attributes many recent quality of life initiatives to the influence of the services' top NCOs and the quarterly installation visits they make to meet enlisted service members. Only the services' top NCOs and the senior enlisted assigned to the visited base accompany him.
"These visits were immediately responsible for identifying the importance of quality of life to me, and specifically, motivating me to put forward the quality of life funding increase I requested over a year ago from the president," he said.
There's also an intangible benefit from the visits an understanding developed between the civilian leadership of the Pentagon and the enlisted force, Perry said. "I gained a better understanding of their needs and motivations, and I think they were able to gain a better understanding of what I was trying to do as secretary and what the department's leadership was trying to do.
"The bonding and mutual understanding that can develop between the leadership and the enlisted personnel may be one of the best reasons for maintaining the senior enlisted meetings," Perry said. He said he expects the visits will become a DoD institution with future defense secretaries going on the road with the enlisted chiefs.
Perry is expanding his network among the NCO corps. He recently spoke at the Navy's senior enlisted academy in Newport, R.I., is scheduled to address the Air Force NCO Association in Houston and visit the Army's Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, in August.
This fall, the Air Force enlisted corps plans to induct Perry into the Headquarters Air Force Order of the Sword during an allenlisted ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
Perry will join former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger as only the second civilian to receive the Air Force enlisted corps' highest tribute. Only those who provide outstanding leadership and support to the enlisted corps may be inducted into the order.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force David Campanale, the Air Force's top enlisted member and adviser to the Air Force chief of staff, said he nominated Perry because of the secretary's "great focus" and dedication to "taking care of the enlisted folks," especially on quality of life issues.
Perry's tough stance against the "HighOne" proposal, which threatened to cut military retirement pay by as much as 9 percent, led to its defeat in Congress. Perry had vowed to "drive a stake" through the heart of the HighOne proposal. "And he did," Campanale said.
The secretary also championed the "one plus one" dormitory occupancy standard that will give single enlisted members private rooms. "It's a tough initiative, and it's going to cost a lot of money. But he's willing to pay the expense because he sees the worthiness in it. If he had done nothing else, that would have been worthy of consideration."
But it is Perry's willingness to talk to and listen to the troops and act on their recommendations that Campanale said has distinguished his term as the defense secretary.
"He has made a big difference in helping folks out in terms of extra money for base housing, for training facilities," Campanale said. "He has done a lot of great things for our military across the board not just the Air Force."
(NOTE: Air Force Master Sgt. Louis A. AranaBarradas, Air Force News Service, contributed to this story.)