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Cohen Makes Time for Worldwide Troop Talks

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

ISTANBUL, Turkey, Aug. 2, 1999 – Wherever he travels, William S. Cohen makes time to talk with America's men and women in uniform.

From Sarajevo to Seoul, from Kosovo to Korea, the senator- turned-defense-leader meets and greets his uniformed constituency. Privates and senior sergeants, lieutenants and commanders alike step up to welcome the Pentagon's top civilian leader to their turf.

Of necessity, Cohen's visits are usually fairly brief -- about an hour at each site. He speaks to troops from podiums set up in sweltering aircraft hangars in the Middle East, aboard steamy carrier flight decks in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, and at muddy peacekeeping camps in Bosnia and Kosovo.

His message is simple and direct: People are the military's No. 1 priority. All the modern equipment and advanced weaponry money can buy is meaningless without good people to operate and maintain it. Recruiting and retaining dedicated, capable people is essential to national security.

"At the very top of the pyramid of all of our interests lies the soldier," Cohen stressed July 29 to about 200 soldiers at Yongsan, an Army base in the middle of the South Korean capital of Seoul. "If we don't have the best people coming in to our military, it doesn't matter how good our equipment is.

"My job as secretary of defense is to try to find ways in which I can make your life better," he continued. "Quality of life is really important to you and your families. It's also important to me because if we can't attract you and then keep you, we're going to see a continued deterioration in the level of superiority we have, and we really can't afford that."

Cohen assured the forward-based soldiers assigned to 8th Army that he aims to do everything he can to improve their quality of lives. At present, this includes a 4.8 percent pay raise, pay table reforms that reward mid-level career NCOs and officers, and restoring the 50 percent retirement annuity.

In country after country, Cohen explains that each individual soldier, sailor, airmen and Marine -- active duty and reserve component -- plays a vital role.

"Day in and day out, your presence helps to create and maintain stability throughout the region," Cohen told several hundred soldiers July 28 at Camp Zama, outside Tokyo. This, in turn, he says, helps promote democracy, freedom and prosperity throughout the world.

American service members are on the front lines of world trouble spots, Cohen said. U.S. armed forces must remain prepared to respond to any contingency.

"You've got to be flexible. All of you have a role to play," Cohen told those in Japan. "Whatever it is you are required to do -- whether it's in intelligence, medicine or support activities -- you are part of that response."

On behalf of the nation, he expresses his gratitude to those who patrol the zones, separate warring parties, guard the arsenals and man the military's fighting machines. Cohen explains how important it is that he leave the Pentagon and meet those who respond to the orders he signs each week. He needs to see the people who make up what he proudly hails as "the best fighting force in the world."

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