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Cohen Salutes Abe Lincolns Crew

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, Nov. 20, 2000 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen praised sailors and Marines here Nov. 16 for enforcing the Southern No-Fly Zone over Iraq for their commitment and expertise.

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Defense Secretary William Cohen greets USS Abraham Lincoln crewmembers Nov. 16 in the Persian Gulf off Bahrain. (Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore)

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Cohen took a half-hour helicopter flight from Manama, Bahrain to the carrier involved in Operation Southern Watch. The Lincoln is an important part of the U.S. military’s forward presence in the region, Cohen said. He thanked the crew for their good work and shared some news about military health care and housing.

“I’m here because I want to meet you and thank you for the service that you provide to our country … I know that I’m sending you out to a dangerous area,” he said. “I speak of danger because [the attack on] the [USS] Cole is most recent on my mind, and probably most recent in yours.”

Cohen said that in today’s relative peace, many Americans are unaware of the dangers and hardships the Lincoln’s crew and other U.S. service members face on a daily basis. “They see you at a time of crisis, they see you when there is a war in Kosovo … but for the most part, they don’t really understand what you are doing with your lives every day,” he said.

Cohen said he appreciates the difficult jobs service members perform, and he therefore has worked to improve pay, retirement and other quality of life issues. “We’ve tried to focus on issues that affect your quality of life, which is critically important because if you and your family don’t have good quality of life, then you’re not going to be able to carry out your job or want to reenlist.”

Cohen told the crew on the hanger deck that pay has been increased for all service members, and the military retirement system is changed back to the original 50 percent of base pay after 20 years service. Now, DoD is committed to improving military health care and housing.

“We are changing the way we allocate housing … we’ve asked Congress to change the law, and over the next three years we’ve put over $3 billion into the budget so that if you live on base, or off-base, money doesn’t come out of your pocket,” he said.

Cohen said the TRICARE military health care program “has had lots of problems,” but added that DoD is preparing fixes to reduce waiting times and cut paperwork. DoD is also exploring ways to develop a job placement service for military spouses using local chambers of commerce.

Cohen told the crew they are extremely valuable to the military and to private employers. “I’m not advocating that you leave any time soon,” Cohen said. “I want you to stay as long as you can. But when you leave, you are prime targets for the private sector. They are looking for people who served in the military.

“They know you are well trained, well-educated, well- motivated, action-oriented, take to leadership roles, can get things done and are unafraid. The skills you are developing while serving your country are going to serve you very well when you decide to leave, at whatever point that is,” Cohen said.

Chief Petty Officer Chris Neerhof, 31, and Petty Officer 1st Class Andrea Bell, 32, are Lincoln shipmates who said they enjoy being in the Navy while receiving valuable -- and marketable -- computer training.

“I knew there was a future in computers and that is why I joined the Navy,” said Neerhof, a 10-year veteran from Spokane, Wash. “I also didn’t have any discipline or study skills before I joined the Navy. The Navy pushed me and now I do.”

Bell, a 13-year vet from Eugene, Ore., said the Navy helped her get on track. “I was going nowhere in college and figured I needed to do something with my life. I learned responsibility and discipline in the Navy. Plus, I got a good trade out of it,” she said.

This was Cohen’s second visit to the carrier. He visited the Lincoln in 1998 when it was also part of Operation South Watch.

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Click photo for screen-resolution image Defense Secretary William Cohen's helicopter prepares to land on the USS Abraham Lincoln's deck Nov. 16. (Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore)   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary William Cohen shakes hands with Rear Adm. Phillip Balisle, commander of the Abraham Lincoln battle group Nov. 16 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf off Bahrain.  
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