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DoD Forum to Spotlight Senior Enlisted

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2000 – A first-of-its-kind Senior Enlisted Forum, hosted by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, is slated June 22 at the Pentagon.

About 80 active duty, reserve component and Coast Guard senior enlisted members, E-9s, and spouses, from bases around the world have been invited to attend. The one-day conference will focus on personnel and readiness issues facing the total force as well as quality of life.

The forum is designed to:

o Honor the service and sacrifice of the senior enlisted personnel and thank them for their dedication.

o Brief attendees on ongoing and proposed DoD initiatives in compensation, recruiting, retention and health care.

o Provide the senior enlisted members an opportunity to brief the Cohens and to discuss issues of importance with DoD experts.

The Cohens want to convey to the top enlisted members that the Pentagon's senior leaders understand how important they are to the total force, said Ian Thomas, a special assistant to the principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Bringing them to the Pentagon for an exchange of ideas, information and dialogue will strengthen lines of communication up and down the chain, he said.

"The senior enlisted folks are the real linchpins of the force," Thomas said. "They stand at the nexus between the leadership and the enlisted. To strengthen those bonds will pay huge dividends for the department in this age of increased commitments, static resources, transformation of the services and the integration of the total force.

"By targeting this group, by thanking them and by beginning a dialogue that we hope will continue, I think we're going to get some real dividends in terms of our continuing ability to communicate up and down the chain. They're key in that process."

Cohen regularly meets each quarter with the senior enlisted members of the four services and the Coast Guard. In the last year, he's also included the top enlisted member of the reserve components. "Whenever the secretary goes out in the field he tries to sit down with the senior enlisted, other NCOs and enlisted members," Thomas added.

The secretary and Pentagon policymakers expect to hear the senior enlisted members' unvarnished assessment of current issues affecting the military, he said. The agenda promises E-9s and their spouses ample "face time" with DoD personnel and readiness officials and the Joint Staff, he added.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is slated to host a forum luncheon. The Cohens will host a dinner in honor of the senior enlisted.

The forum is also part of a concerted effort to institutionalize a process of information exchange, Thomas said. The Senior Enlisted Forum comes on the heels of the Military Family Forum the Cohens hosted here May 31.

"These are not just public relations exercises," he stressed. "These are expressions of the secretary and Mrs. Cohen's continuing concern for the welfare of those who serve the nation."

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