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Cohen Says Today's Military Inherits Legacy of Service

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska, Feb. 22, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said he was going to "inflict" a speech on 5,000 airmen and soldiers here, but it was clearly a message they wanted to hear.

Speaking in an insulated hangar Feb. 19, Cohen thanked the members of the 3rd Wing here and the 172nd Infantry Brigade from nearby Fort Richardson and praised them for their service and dedication. He said the United States cannot remain a great power if it cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest Americans to military service.

During his trips around the military in 1998, he said, service members told him the pay gap between the private sector and the military and the Redux retirement system were driving them from the military. "We're going to change that," he said.

Cohen said the military will never be able to match private sector salaries, but the fiscal 2000 budget request sent to Congress, if approved, will go a long way toward addressing the most glaring imbalances. The compensation package in the request includes a 4.4 percent pay raise on Jan. 1, 2000, a targeted pay raise effective July 1, 2000, and repeal of the Redux retirement program.

"We were surprised that the retirement system we thought would encourage service members to stay in longer actually had the opposite effect," Cohen said.

Redux affects more than two-thirds of the force. The retired pay of members who joined after Redux became law in 1986 would start at 40 percent of base pay after 20 years of service. By scrapping Redux, the fiscal 2000 budget proposal would restore formulas that started at 50 percent of base pay after 20 years.

Just before his speech, Cohen presented the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman's Badge to Roy Bailey, an Alaskan native of the Sitka tribe. Bailey, then an Army private, earned the awards during fighting around Wiesbaden, Germany, in the closing days of World War II.

Cohen told the assembled soldiers and airmen they inherited the legacy of the World War II generation. "The spirit behind Roy Bailey's service from so long ago calls to mind the spirit behind your service today," he said.

He quoted Alaskan poet Robert Service, who wrote, "Give of your best, because there's great work to do." "All of you who wear the uniform 'give of your best' every day," Cohen said. "You are the best-trained, best-equipped, best-led fighting force in the history of the world. You are the pride of our nation and the envy of the world."

He said when he travels the world and meets with ministers of defense and world leaders they want to emulate the U.S. military. "They always ask, 'How do you do it?' And I tell them 'people.'"

The people of the U.S. armed forces must be prepared for a range of missions from noncombatant evacuations to peacekeeping operations to disaster relief to combat in a major regional conflict. Too few Americans understand or appreciate the sacrifices involved, he said, and that's one reason he speaks to "nontraditional" audiences, such as his talk the day before with Microsoft employees in Redmond, Wash.

"It is important to remind [Microsoft employees] of who you are and what you do," Cohen said. "They need to know that you are on duty 24 hours a day and stand ready to risk life and limb to protect the freedoms and liberties we treasure as Americans."

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Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Remarks as Delivered to Military Personnel, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Anchorage, Alaska, February 19, 1999

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