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Secretary, Senator Call for More Defense Dollars

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

BILOXI, Miss., Oct. 23, 1998 – Defense Secretary William Cohen and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott joined here Oct. 19 in demanding bigger defense budgets for the year 2000 and beyond.

At this coastal city's annual banquet honoring enlisted service members, Lott lauded DoD's success at representing America's global interests. "We are free, we are at peace, because you have been vigilant," he told the assembled soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and their families.

He pledged to fix the problem of insufficient funding that threatens the U.S. armed forces. Congress and DoD will "work together next year so the top line goes up," Lott said. "We cannot and will not drop the ball."

Taking the podium, Cohen praised the senator's pledge to raise the defense budget and said last year's Quadrennial Defense Review provides the strategy to ensure peace and stability prevail. The secretary cited former vice presidential candidate James Stockdale's self-introduction to the American people, when he asked rhetorically, "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?"

"That's really the kind of questions we have to ask ourselves," Cohen said. "Who are we as a nation? Why are we here, over there or wherever? We have to ask those questions because we have to assume a great deal of burden in this world. We have to be willing to understand what the role of a major superpower is after the fall of the Soviet Union."

The quadrennial review addressed these questions and produced a strategy that has become a mantra in the Pentagon, Cohen said: shape, respond and prepare.

There is no substitute for a forward-deployed military that helps shape American foreign policy and prestige, the secretary said. "When we are forward deployed, we are shaping people's opinions about us in ways that are beneficial to the United States." When foreign countries witness the high quality of the U.S. military, Cohen said, they want to be allied with the United States.

Conversely, if the United States retreated from the world scene, Cohen said, other nations with adverse interests would quickly step in.

"Shaping is part of our obligation and our destiny," he said. "We are keeping the peace [and] maintaining stability where there are a lot of unstable nations and regions that, if left unchecked, will pose enormous threats to our security."

The United States also has to be flexible and able to respond to a wide spectrum of crises, from humanitarian to combat, he said. The military can respond, now, he said, but there's no guarantee of future capability. He said DoD and Congress have failed to come to terms on the amount of money needed to finance military readiness. "[Defense procurement is] only at $42 billion this year and we should be at $60 billion. Maybe next year."

Cohen called the now-approved $9 billion increase in the fiscal 1999 defense budget "a down payment" that must be increased in future years. "We've got to look at ways in which we can raise that top line to a level that will make sure we keep the forces we have today in the best fighting condition possible."

The military banquet headlined a week of planned activities honoring members of the armed forces based in southern Mississippi. It gave Cohen an opportunity to help the region recognize its top enlisted performers. Eleven junior and mid- level enlistees from each of the services based here were honored. From them, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Raymond Turner of Keesler Air Force Base was named the top honoree.

The secretary also used the opportunity to meet with service members who helped the area recover from Hurricane Georges, which came aground at Pascagoula, Miss. Earlier in the day he presented medals and certificates to service men and women and civilian employees at Naval Station Pascagoula, and later to members from all area installations at the Naval Construction Battalion Center.

During and following the hurricane, service members delivered more than 100,000 gallons of drinking water and 2 million pounds of ice to area residents who were left without water or power. They also conducted more than 200 rescues and filled and stacked more than 1.2 million sandbags.

Cohen called their accomplishments "truly staggering. There's no other organization in the world that could have provided this kind of capability with the speed and precision you provided on such short notice. Every year I see this happening all across the country -- hurricanes, floods, forest fires, snowstorms -- and the U.S. military is always there."

Cohen likened the flood relief work in communities to similar community involvement overseas, where service members serve as unofficial ambassadors "People all across the globe look to us with great admiration and with some degree of envy, he said.

"We intend to continue to be the envy of the world," Cohen said. "That's because of the quality of our people, the quality of our leadership, the quality of those we bring into the military and the kind of commitment you demonstrate day in and day out."

"I am proud to be your secretary of defense," he told the hundreds of service members assembled at the naval construction center. "You make every one of us proud that you are serving this country and this community."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary William Cohen addresses sailors and officers at Naval Station Pascagoula, Miss. Cohen traveled to the Gulf Coast Oct. 19 to thank service members and present medals to those who provided relief to residents following Hurricane Georges. Sen. Trent Lott hosted the secretary on the one-day visit. Douglas J. Gillert  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary William Cohen congratulates Seaman 1st Class Rudolph Ortega after presenting him with the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal at Naval Station Pascagoula, Miss. Ortega was one of 10 enlisted service members recognized at the station Oct. 19 for their contributions to the Hurricane Georges relief effort. Cohen later presented additional awards to other relief workers from the National Guard, Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Pascagoula. Douglas J. Gillert  
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