Cohen, Shelton, Top Leaders Hear How It Is
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 2, 2000 No news was good news May 31, 2000, for the top DoD officials who attended the first annual Military Family Forum hosted by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen.
One hundred service members and spouses met with senior military and civilian officials during the daylong forum at the Pentagon. Senior DoD leaders encouraged the families to voice their concerns freely.
Cohen told the group of DoD's steps to improve pay and benefits and current spotlight on housing and healthcare. He said the forum gave Washington-based policymakers a chance to see the faces of those directly affected by DoD policies. It also gave the people who have to live with those policies a chance to talk with the Cohens, Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ralston, the service secretaries and others.
At the close of the meeting, Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston said DoD leaders weren't surprised by the concerns the families mentioned. "It was somewhat comforting that I didn't hear new problems out there that aren't being addressed."
Ralston, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who now commands European Command, and his wife, Dede, traveled to the conference focused on improving quality of life. He noted that in the short time he's been in Europe, he's already targeted an issue affecting military families in Europe.
"Many of our young families in the States participate in the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, but as soon as they go to Europe … they are no longer eligible," he said. DoD officials are looking at this issue, he said, but it shouldn't take "$6 million and 18 months" to set up an administration to look at it. "I think we can do better than that."
At a dinner that evening, Cohen asked the active duty, reserve component members and family members to help spread the word. "We want you to become salesmen and women," he said. "We want you to go back home …, talk to everyone you meet and tell them you had a chance to convey your messages to the very top officials in our Department of Defense."
In his dinner remarks Shelton stressed that the forum was a "joint" event. "The challenges military families face are the same regardless of service," the chairman said. "This commonality helps us to build solutions that cut across service lines."
Shelton noted that all military families share the same burdens that go with the military's unique lifestyle. Service members of all ranks miss important family occasions, wedding anniversaries, babies' births, and school events, while on deployment.
Military life requires special dedication, Shelton said, but it also has rewards not found anywhere else. "Men and women take special pride in serving our nation," Shelton said, "and our families share in that pride …. America depends upon or military families to defend our freedom and our way of life."
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are working with the defense secretary to improve quality of life wherever possible, Shelton said. "We can never do too much, and for me there is no greater cause than to do all we can for those who do so much for our armed forces, and consequently, for our nation."