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Family Issues, Budget Battles Top Deputy's Tour

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2001 – Rudy de Leon has learned the ups and downs of military life.

He's mastered the military's acronyms and vernacular. He understands uniformed code and custom. He recognizes ranks and insignia.

Just as the military has left its mark on the soft-spoken security affairs specialist from Capitol Hill, de Leon has left his mark on the military.

De Leon's time in office as the nation's 27th deputy defense secretary is almost up, but his legacy will undoubtedly live on.

Over the past seven years, de Leon has helped the Air Force develop the F-22 fighter and the C-17 airlifter. He has served as Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's principal architect, adviser and spokesman for the $42 billion pay and compensation reform package that gave service members a 4.8 percent pay raise, reformed pay tables and restored retirement benefits.

"The issues were always interesting and the fights over budget were always titanic," de Leon said in a broad- ranging, final interview with the American Forces Press Service.

But at the end of the day, he said, it's the people he'll miss most. The conscientious Air Force technical sergeant he's used to seeing first thing each morning. The skilled professionalism of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The dedicated career civilians he's worked with each day.

"You may still see each from time to time," he remarked, "but the cohesion and the integration of all of these components every day from 7:30 in the morning until 8:30 or 9 at night will be gone."

Prior to joining the Pentagon's senior defense team, de Leon worked in various legislative assistant positions in the Senate and House of Representatives. He left his position as staff director for the House Armed Services Committee in 1993 to serve as the special assistant to the late Defense Secretary Les Aspin.

From then on, he was on a fast track within the military's highest headquarters.

In 1994, de Leon became undersecretary of the Air Force. Three years later, he became undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, serving as Cohen's senior policy adviser on recruitment, career development, readiness, pay and benefits for the military's 1.4 million active duty personnel, 1.3 million National Guard and Reserve component personnel and 680,000 DoD civilians.

De Leon was sworn in as deputy defense secretary on March 31, 2000. His scope expanded beyond personnel and readiness to include national missile defense, defense export controls, information security and a host of other national and international issues.

De Leon talked about his Pentagon years during a mid- January trip to Europe. He said each position has had great rewards and unique challenges.

"In the Air Force, it was taking the C-17 that was in real trouble, knowing that we needed a new transport plane and working with (then Deputy Defense Secretary John) Deutch in really bringing the Army and the Air Force together in one voice," he said. Another challenge was getting "the contractor to keep the quality in and get the price down."

De Leon said his support for the project was "reflected in the multiyear procurement of 120 aircraft and the fact that the mobility study just completed said we need to buy another round of C-17s."

When he served as undersecretary for personnel and readiness, de Leon said DoD was in "a crisis of recruiting and a crisis of retention."

"With the leadership of the secretary, the chairman, the Joint Chiefs, Congress and the strong support of the president we were able to fund the initial part of the quality of life (package), which was pay and the retirement fix," he said. "We built upon that with the schools for military dependents and additional dollars for DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity). Then, the last piece, was the BAH initiative on housing."

Recruiting and retention are still a challenge, he noted, but the department has "completely changed the direction we were moving in."

As deputy defense secretary, de Leon said, he has had "day- to-day responsibility for bringing all of the elements in the department together. That is unique in its challenge, because you have to be able to empower people to do that job effectively. You have to be able to work with people.

"I think we built the right relations between the civilian side and the Joint Chiefs."

Of all the issues he's been involved with, de Leon said, he's found working on those affecting military families to have been the most satisfying. "We have a very strong team in OSD and in the services so from that, we've been able to build programs that will have an impact on readiness, on people and on modernization."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDeputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon (left) meets with Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta (foreground) in the Pentagon on Aug. 24, 2000, to discuss regional security issues. Joining de Leon and Meta in the security talks are Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Frank Kramer (center) and Brig. Gen. James Mattis (right), U.S. Marine Corps, senior military assistant to de Leon. DoD photo by R.D. Ward.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDeputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon addresses the audience at the National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies held at the Pentagon on Sept. 15, 2000. De Leon was the host for the event which included a full honors military ceremony, an address by former Vietnam War prisoner Lt. Col. Richard E. Smith, Jr. and a fly-over by a joint services formation of jet fighter aircraft and U.S. Army attack helicopters. DoD photo by R.D. Ward.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePrime Minister Sheikh Hasina (right), of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh, is escorted by Commander of Troops Col. Thomas M. Jordan (center), U.S. Army, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon (left) as she inspects the ceremonial honor guard during a full honor arrival ceremony at the Pentagon on Oct. 17, 2000. Hasina, who also serves as her nation's defense minister, and de Leon will meet for talks on a broad range of security issues of interest to both nations. DoD photo by R.D. Ward.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAlbanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta (left) is escorted through an honor cordon and into the Pentagon by Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon (right) on Aug. 24, 2000. Meta and de Leon will meet to discuss regional security issues. DoD photo by R.D. Ward.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageItalian Deputy Defense Minister Domenico Minniti (center) and Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon (center right) troop the line upon arrival at Marshal Tito Barracks in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The two senior defense leaders visited Jan. 13, 2001, to talk with members of the Italian Battle Group about growing European concerns over depleted uranium. De Leon assured the troops U.S. experts have found no link between DU and adverse health effects. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDeputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon (from center left) and Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, commander, U.S. European Command, are met by Army Maj. Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of Task Force Eagle, upon arrival in Tuzla, Bosnia. De Leon met with U.S. troops during their visit Jan. 13, 2001. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSecretary of Defense William S. Cohen (left) accompanies newly appointed Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon (right) and his daughters Libby, (center) and Kerry (far right) as they return to the Pentagon following a ceremony for de Leon on April 19, 2000. Cohen and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers, U.S. Air Force, hosted the ceremony to officially welcome de Leon and his family to the number two civilian leadership position at the Department of Defense. DoD photo by R.D. Ward.   
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