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Air Force Sergeants Honor Perry

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

HOUSTON, Aug. 21, 1996 – Payback is sweet when it comes in the form of an award for excellence.

Defense Secretary William Perry gets the payback -- for crawling through the bowels of crumbling barracks, sailing on everything from aircraft carriers to oilers, flying in B-2 bombers, F-15E fighters and KC-10 tankers, and slogging through the mud at Bosnia's Sava River. The award came from the Air Force Sergeants Association.

Perry received the association's award for excellence in military leadership Aug. 14 at a ceremony during the group's annual convention here. The defense secretary was honored for his efforts to improve quality of life throughout the military.

Perry was cited for his staunch support of quality of life programs and the stateside cost-of-living allowance for members assigned in high-cost areas and for "recognizing the critical condition of military housing and taking action to fix it," according to the association.

Since taking office nearly three years ago, Perry has visited service members' barracks, work stations, training sites and deployment camps. Each quarter, accompanied by the senior noncommissioned officer of the four services and the Coast Guard, he's visited a troop base to meet with enlisted service members. He's visited U.S. forces deployed in Haiti, Macedonia, Rwanda and Bosnia.

The award is "a tangible symbol of the deep admiration and respect the men and women of the Air Force enlisted force have for all you have done for this nation's military personnel during your tenure as the secretary of defense," master of ceremonies Chief Master Sgt. Philip Penrod told the secretary before presenting the award.

Perry said he is constantly judged by Congress, the media, scholars and the public. "But no judgment means more to me than the approval of the men and women of the armed forces," he said. About 820 active duty and retired Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve sergeants and their guests attended the evening banquet.

While the United States has the best military in the world, Perry said, training and retaining are the keys to maintaining quality military forces. To retain troops, the military must offer a decent standard of living and quality of life, he said.

"Some people think I push for better quality of life for our troops because I am soft-hearted," Perry said. "Pushing for better quality of life is not soft-hearted; it's hard-headed. After all we've done to recruit, train and equip top quality people, we want to keep them long enough to develop the skills of a senior NCO."

Providing decent quality of life requires "constant attention and commitment," Perry said. "So with the full approval of the president and strong support from the Congress, I have made quality of life issues a high priority," he said. "Working together, we have provided for full funding of the highest pay raises allowed by law for the remainder of the decade and increased funding for BAQ and child care facilities. We are revitalizing military housing using innovative new tools."

Association officials created the military leadership award about three years ago. Perry is the first defense secretary to receive it.

Four enlisted members started the Air Force Sergeants Association in 1961. The private organization represents enlisted members' professional and quality of life concerns to members of Congress and the Pentagon. More than 160,000 active, reserve component and retired Air Force personnel belong to the association.

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