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Cut the Tail, Not the Tooth, Cohen Says

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 16, 1997 – Just as service members are expected to be lean, mean, fighting machines, so should the rest of DoD, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said here May 15.

"Just as we want our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to be more agile, more flexible, more capable -- with lighter equipment so they can move faster -- we want our force structure to be leaner and more agile as well," he said. "We've had a 33 percent cut in our force structure, but only an 18 percent reduction in infrastructure -- bases and facilities. We're carrying excess weight."

Meeting with DoD internal media reporters four days before unveiling the Quadrennial Defense Review May 19, Cohen said review results call for "modest" cuts in personnel and infrastructure over the next five years. Without giving exact figures, Cohen said the proposed personnel cuts are aimed at DoD's "tail" rather than its "tooth."

"We want to make sure whatever cuts we recommend come mostly out of combat support, civilian, Reserve and National Guard," he said. "We've tried to minimize the impact on the combat forces. We've tried to maintain our combat strength. We don't want to see that diminished."

Cohen called the cuts prudent and responsible. He discounted national defense observers who want more radical approaches, such as cutting the force in half, withdrawing from Asia and Europe and applying any savings to research and development.

"We don't think that's a responsible course of action," Cohen said. "If you do that, you lose the ability to shape events. You lose the ability to respond [to a world crisis.] You would, in fact, compromise our ability to respond as effectively because that technology, while promising, has not matured yet."

Cohen stressed the personnel cuts in the review are proposals that need the consent of Congress. These recommendations are based on DoD's six-month self-examination. He said panel of civilian defense experts has until the end of the year to complete a second, independent review and to make further recommendations.

Congress will then evaluate the Pentagon's and the expert panel's findings, he said. "BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] proceedings obviously have to be approved by Congress. The same is true with recommended cuts in the forces. We have to work hand and hand with Congress."

Periodic reviews such as the 1991 Base Force, 1993 Bottom-up and now the Quadrennial Defense reviews play a vital role for the department, Cohen said. "Any organization should always be willing to look at itself to say, 'How can we do things better? Are we preparing for the future?' It's healthy -- it's prudent to constantly examine ourselves to say, 'Are we on track?'"

The Quadrennial Defense Review started with the proposition America's military system is working well, Cohen said. "We happen to be the envy of the world," he said. Visitors from the around the globe ask DoD for help with downsizing, restructuring and modernizing. "The Russian minister of defense, the Ukrainian minister of defense -- all of these countries are coming to us and saying, 'We want to be more like you.'"

Review proposals "make sense for the present, near-term, mid-term and long-term," Cohen said. "We tried to determine what we need to do in terms of reforming our operations and support functions to save enough money to put into the modernization program."

In an earlier interview, Cohen said DoD's goal is to shift $12 billion to $15 billion from the operations account to modernization. "We're going to make investments in the kind of technology that will reduce the need for large numbers [of people] by putting more capable weapons systems into the hands of our fighting forces," he said.

But technology should not be seen as "a silver bullet or magic elixir," Cohen warned. "Even though we are depending on technology to help revolutionize the military, giving us total dominance over any battlefield, we still have to have people," he said. "If you keep reducing the size of the force, saying we now have the technology that will overcompensate for any loss of people, you miss a very important [point]."

Forward-deployed troops shape people's opinions, Cohen said. They reinforce U.S. commitments to allies and send a strong message to potential adversaries that America is prepared to respond, he said. While DoD intends to modernize at a fast rate, Cohen said, defense officials must balance the potential, the possibilities and the promise of tomorrow with today's reality.

One military requirement that won't change is the need to recruit and retain quality people, Cohen said. "We have some remarkable scientists who can conceive, imagine and develop the most sophisticated equipment ever seen in the world, but it will be useless unless we have quality people coming into the military," he said.

Defense officials are considering things important to troops -- aggressively addressing inadequate housing, ways to help with day care, schools, Cohen said. "We have placed people at the top [of DoD's priority list], their quality of life second and then modernization under that. I hope that that message will get out to all of the troops."

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