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Bush Pledges More Money for Military Pay, Housing, Healthcare

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

FORT STEWART, Ga., Feb. 12, 2001 – President George W. Bush announced Feb. 12 a significant increase in funding for quality-of-life issues affecting U.S. service members.

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President Bush receives the salute of Command Sgt. Maj. George J. Ruo Jr. of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga. With the president were Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Maj. Gen. Walter Sharp, division commander. Bush's Feb. 12 visit was his first to a military base since his inauguration on Jan. 20. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA.
  

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Speaking to a group of roughly 6,000 3rd Infantry Division soldiers and their family members here, Bush pledged an additional $5.7 billion in 2002 to be spent between military pay increases and improving military housing and healthcare.

The president got a rousing round of applause when he announced he plans to spend $1.4 billion on a pay raise for service members -- "pay increases on top of the increases the Congress passed (during) the last couple budget cycles," he said.

Bush also said he plans to spend $400 million on military housing and an additional $3.9 billion to improve healthcare.

But he really gained the crowd's support with a well-timed "hoo-ah!" The soldiers' responding shout was deafening.

"Because of you, America is secure. Because of you, the march of freedom continues," Bush said. "Our nation can never truly repay our debt to you. But we can give you our full support, and my administration will."

He said the nation owes its service members and their families a decent quality of life, necessary training and equipment, and solid defense policies.

"When we send you into harm's way, we owe you a clear mission with clear goals," he said.

Bush called the soldiers the foundation of America's military readiness. "But while you're serving us well, America is not serving you well enough," he said.

The president said problems like low pay and poor housing reach across the services with predictable results. Frustration is up, while morale and recruitment are down, he said.

"This is not the way a great nation should reward courage and idealism," Bush said. "It's ungrateful, it's unwise, and it is unacceptable."

The president opened his speech by asking for prayers for the nine people missing since Feb. 9 when a U.S. submarine surfaced under a Japanese fishing vessel off Hawaii and sank it. He called for a moment of silence for "those missing, their families and our friends, the people of Japan."

In his first visit to a military base since taking office Jan. 20, Bush also visited a single-soldier barracks unit and had lunch with soldiers in one of the post's military dining facilities.

The president's Georgia visit kicks off three days of visits with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to military bases to explain some of his national security policies. Feb. 13 he is scheduled to visit Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., and, on Valentine's Day, the two will visit National Guard and reserve troops in Charleston, W.V.

Maj. Gen. Walter L. Sharp, 3rd Division commander, told Bush he couldn't think of "a better place to see what soldiers and their families are doing in the Army today."

The president agreed. "You've been called the most highly trained and rapidly deployable mechanized force in the world," he told the soldiers. "That is high praise, and you have earned it."

Throughout the presidential campaign, Bush promised to take a hard look at increasing amounts of military deployments. Much of the manpower from those deployments comes from 3rd Division, he said.

Bush noted many division soldiers are currently deployed to Bosnia and still more will replace them in March. In addition to the current and upcoming Bosnia missions, Fort Stewart soldiers are currently training for a May deployment to Kosovo as well.

"You volunteered for this job. You decided to serve a cause greater than yourself," Bush told the troops. "I'm proud to lead you, and I'm committed to serve you."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePresident Bush (center) and a trench-coated Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld troop the line during their visit to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga. Their escorts during the Feb. 12 ceremony were the division Command Sgt. Maj. George J. Ruo Jr. with Bush and Maj. Gen. Walter Sharp, division commander, with the secretary. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePresident Bush speaks to an audience of some 6,000 soldiers and family members of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga. The president's Feb. 12 visit was his first to a military base since his inauguration on Jan. 20. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA.  
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