Cohen Talks Terrorism, Quality of Life, Total Force
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 27, 1999 Military and civilian security officials at home and overseas are on guard against the threat of Y2K terrorism.
All U.S. military facilities in the United States and overseas are "watching very closely," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said during a recent trip to Italy and the Balkans. "Everyone is fully apprised of the nature of the threat."
All bases are taking extra precautions over the next few weeks as the new millennium begins, Cohen said. Defense officials are keeping base commanders fully advised so they can get out the word if there should be any specific threats to that facility or to the families who live there, he said.
"We try to see if there are any specific identifiable threats and where they may be," Cohen said. Referring to a global warning recently issued by the State Department to Americans living abroad, Cohen said that there have been no specific threats aimed at Americans in specific overseas areas.
There are some groups, however, such as Osama Bin Laden's organization that aim "to find weaknesses," Cohen said. Security officials are determined to prevent any defense breaches by staying alert and aware of the heightened threat, he said.
"The more prepared you are, the less likely groups will be to try to penetrate that," he said. "If the guard is down, then they certainly will take advantage of it." Cohen called on everyone in the military community to be alert and take precautions.
Y2K terrorism was one of a several issues the secretary talked about during a late-December visit to Italy's Aviano Air Base and the USS Bataan in Naples. He also visited Task Force Eagle in Tuzla, Bosnia, Task Force Falcon at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, and Camp Able Sentry in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The main reason for the holiday trip was to express the nation's appreciation to the military. A USO show with sports celebrities, singers, comedians and six Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders accompanied the secretary to entertain the forward-deployed troops.
As Cohen looked out at about 1,000 soldiers assembled in Bosnia's Eagle Sports Complex, he noted that there is no other military in the world where there is such diversity. "From many, we have one," he told the fatigue-clad men and women with M-16s slung over their shoulders. "You are the force."
Along with paying tribute to the troops for their dedication and service, Cohen pledged to follow the recent pay raise with better health care and housing.
Cohen's talks with troops and reporters also highlighted DoD's quality of life initiatives. At each stop, he pledged to improve military health care and housing. "Those are the two principal quality of life issues that I will be directing myself and my staff toward during the coming year," the secretary said.
"We are going to try to devote as much attention as we can to making TRICARE work," he said. The goal is to correct deficiencies in the system that lead to long lines, delayed appointments and other complaints service and family members have raised.
On housing, Cohen said an important initiative will be included in the budget and that it will be announced in a few weeks. "Stay tuned," he said. "We are going to focus on getting adequate housing for folks."
The secretary also told the active duty and reserve component troops that DoD's total force concept is a success. "In recent years," he said, "there was some question about whether or not the Guard and reserve could be fully integrated into the total Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. That has taken place today."
National Guard and other reserve component members are playing an equal role and bearing a full share of the responsibility in Bosnia, Kosovo, Southwest Asia and other missions, Cohen said. Their success, he noted, influenced his recent decision not to cut 25,000 from the Guard and reserve forces.
"I came to the judgment that if we are going to continue to carry out our current missions, we can't afford to go down any further this time," he said.
The secretary responded to questions on efforts to close more bases. Congress has turned down DoD's requests for two more rounds of closures.
"We are carrying too much infrastructure," Cohen said. Congress is spending billions in tax dollars each year on facilities that are no longer necessary for the mission.
"That is a waste of tax dollars that can be better spent for pay, retirement benefits, housing, health care and procurement," he said. Congress has to decide to either cut the overhead or increase the budget, he said.
"Hopefully, in the coming years, my successors will be more successful than I have been in getting additional base closures.