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Clinton Briefed on Potential Readiness "Nose Dive"

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 1998 – Defense Secretary William Cohen, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Henry Shelton, the service chiefs of staff and heads of the unified commands met with President Clinton Sept. 15 to warn of a potential "nose-dive" in military readiness.

Although the national news media speculated the group would ask Clinton for more money, DoD spokesman Kenneth Bacon said they would not directly address budget increases.

"It's a meeting about the readiness of U.S. forces today and their ability to do not only their assignments now, but the challenges they might face in the future," Bacon told reporters at the Pentagon.

Cohen and the military leaders believe "forces at the tip of the spear, those who are forward deployed in Korea or Bosnia or Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia are well prepared, well led and ready to do their job," Bacon said. But they're concerned, he said, about readiness strains in follow-on forces.

"The way [Shelton] has put it is that, in the last year or so, readiness trends have nosed down," Bacon said. "We want to pull up on the stick before there's a nose dive." The leaders' objective was to lay out those trends and challenges for the president, he said.

Although the meeting wasn't about money, Bacon said, the current budget has forced DoD and the services to spend less on quality- of-life programs and infrastructure in order to fund readiness programs. Bacon said a primary purpose of last year's Quadrennial Defense Review was to find the right spending balance to meet future needs.

"For a long while the military services have been making a choice between readiness on the one hand and procurement, quality of life [and] infrastructure on the other," Bacon said. "Secretary Cohen set out to change that balance because he wants to look 10, 20 years down the road and make sure that we're buying the weapons we need to face the challenges of the future."

The challenge now is finding the right balance and not overlooking retention issues like military pay and retirement benefits, Bacon said. A larger budget may be necessary, he said, but greater efficiency is also necessary.

In the past year and, most recently, with Cohen's visits to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and Fort Drum, N.Y., DoD leaders have looked at ways they can better manage training and deployments to reduce stresses on service members and their families.

Cohen has proposed other economies as well, principally additional base closures. The secretary "believes that we still need to grasp tens of billions of dollars in savings that would be available over time from two future rounds of base closures," Bacon said. "We need to reduce excess and costly infrastructure."

Cohen would channel these savings into procurement, readiness and other areas, Bacon said. "Should we not be able to generate enough savings and relieve enough pressure through management reform, then one of the things we'll have to look at is whether the top line is enough. But that is something that will emerge in the course of the budget process."

DoD's immediate financial needs are for $1.9 billion to cover the cost of Bosnia operations and additional funding to cover the proposed 3.6 percent fiscal 1999 military pay raise, which is one-half percent higher than the original 3.1 percent proposal.

"The budgetary process is under way and there are a number of decisions to be made," Bacon said. "Right now, there is a balanced budget agreement. On the other hand, we do face readiness demands, and those are the demands that the secretary is determined to meet -- to keep readiness trends from changing from a nose-down to a nose-dive. The secretary is committed to making sure the military is adequately funded to carry out its mission today and in the future."

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