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Remarks as Delivered to the Illinois General Assembly
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Springfield, Illinois , Thursday, January 28, 1999

Mr. Speaker [Michael Madigan], Congressman [John] Shimkus, Lieutenant Governor [Corinne] Wood, Major General [Richard] Austin [Adjutant General of Illinois], Members of the General Assembly. It is an honor to be here to address the representatives of the great people of Illinois.

I know it is somewhat unusual for a Secretary of Defense to address a state legislature. When Americans think of national security and the military, they tend to think of the Pentagon, of Washington. But the military is an extension of the people, it is your military. The men and women who serve our nation are your sons and daughters, your husbands and wives, from Springfield and Champaign and Chicago. The money we spend to train and equip them is your money. And the safety and security they protect is yours, and all America’s. It is in your name that they fight, and it is you upon whom they rely for support. So I wanted to come here, to report on America’s armed forces; who they are, what they do, and why they need your support.

The men and women who wear America’s uniform are a part of a long and proud tradition of ordinary men and women, from city streets and country roads, who showed extraordinary gallantry and bravery. They are heroes like Hal Fritz of Chicago, who today serves all Illinois veterans. It was just thirty years ago this month in the jungles of Vietnam that Captain Fritz served his country. He ignored his grave wounds. He valiantly led his men who had been ambushed and outnumbered with only a pistol and bayonet in his hands. After routing the enemy, he then refused medical attention until all his men were cared for. Capt. Fritz was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor and bravery, and I must say we are deeply honored to have him here on this today. [Applause]

 

Today the men and women of our armed forces bear the daily sacrifice of military life to serve us. They are Americans, like James Roussell who serves his community as a sergeant in the Chicago Police Department and serves his nation in the Marine Corps Reserve. Like Sergeant Thomas Rojas of Quarry Heights who signed up after high school and worked his way to seven Army Achievement Medals in six years and he now serves the cause of peace in the Balkans.

Our service members endure separation from family and friends for months at a time. I just returned from a very long but quick trip to the Persian Gulf, out to visit them in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and on the USS Enterprise. They serve in the cold of Bosnia and the desert heat of Kuwait, they live without the comforts we take for granted every single day. And they are always prepared to offer the ultimate sacrifice for us. They do this to protect American lives and our interests around the globe, meeting the challenges of our very uncertain world.

We have a national strategy and it is summed by in three basic words: Shape, respond, prepare. That summarizes our national strategy. We use our military to shape international conditions in ways that our favorable to American interests and values. Our wisest and most cost-effective actions are those that create an environment which encourages peace and discourages violence and instability. That means being forward deployed in Asia, we are forward deployed in Europe, we are in the Middle East. We are in various areas across the globe establishing cooperative relations with other military forces, and addressing early signs of instability before they turn into full scale war.

When elements of the Illinois Air National Guard went to Poland for a first-of-its-kind joint exercise in 1997, they were helping to shape a more stable and peaceful world. When pilots like Major Ricky Yoder of the Illinois 183rd Fighter Wing patrol the no-fly zone in Southern Iraq, they are preventing the repression of millions of innocent civilians and the spread of conflict throughout the region.

In addition to shaping the international environment in ways that are advantageous to us, we have to be ready to respond to a whole host of contingencies, to a crisis that could be here at home or anywhere abroad. So when hurricanes devastated the lives of millions in Central America, we responded. We sent thousands of service members and millions of dollars to help rescue and to help rebuild. And creating that life-saving "air bridge" were the men and women of the US Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, like Lieutenant Colonel Ernie Woollard of Tower Lakes. When Iraq refused to cooperate with UN inspectors, threatening the peace and stability of the Middle East, we responded with Desert Fox, an operation carried out by skilled professionals like Lieutenant Katie Boyce of Chatham aboard the carrier USS Enterprise, seriously degrading that regime’s ability to deploy weapons of mass destruction and threaten its neighbors.

So we have the shape and the response capability. The third pillar of our strategy is the need to prepare for the future. We must invest in the new generation of weapons and technology if we are going to maintain our ability to shape and respond to world events in the next century. We must recruit and we have to retain the highest quality personnel and provide them with the quality of life they deserve. That is why President Clinton has asked Congress to begin the first long-term, sustained increase in military spending in some fifteen years. [Applause]

The Chicago Tribune recently wrote an editorial asking the President and me to take our case for more defense spending to the American people, and, frankly, that is one reason why I am here today. The Tribune observed that "the end of the Cold War does not mean the end of history, " of course, calling to mind the brilliant essay written by Francis Fukayama who talked about "The End of History."

It’s not the end of history; we are seeing the beginning of a new world, one we hoped would be one of order, and we look across the landscape and see it is one of more disorder than order. So we have a whole landscape of new threats and diverse threats we have to face. We have the menacing instability of Stalinist North Korea launching new and more powerful rockets over Japan. We have Iraq developing and concealing the deadly vessels of chemical and biological weapons. We have a growing list of nations who try to grasp the nuclear genie. We have instability that can flash from Serbia to Central Africa, fueled by those who would prefer to dig fresh graves than heal old wounds. We have the specter of increasingly lethal terrorist attacks, such as those we witnessed last summer at our embassies in Africa. So it’s clear that our forces are facing more and more threats in more and more areas.

So as we now praise the peace-making that is taking place in Bosnia that we are contributing to, we praise our humanitarian work in Central America, or our fight against Iraq’s deadly weapons of mass destruction, we know these successes would have been possible – they would have been impossible -- without the investments of the past. We have the finest weapons and technology in the world, there is no question about it, but will not retain this technology superiority unless we spend additional resources on the next generation of ships, aircraft, and armor. We have the most skilled, the most highly skilled and best trained people in the world. They will not remain so without significant attention to their quality of life and training. So in short, preserving security tomorrow means we have to make prudent investment today.

First, we’ve got to give our troops the right tools – that, is the training, the weapons and the infrastructure; what they need to accomplish the many missions that we give them. The defense budget has fallen some 40 percent since the end of the Cold War. And when we look at weapons procurement -- all of those things that we need and that you saw as we carried out Operation Desert Fox with absolute precision, launching 600 sorties, most of them at night, carrying out all of those Tomahawk cruise missile attacks, all carried out with absolute perfection. We have cut our procurement budget almost 70 percent since the height of the Cold War and have had a 13 year decline until we started to reverse that trend in 1997. So a great portion of the funds that we’re seeking in the President’s proposal is going to go for to modernizing our weapons and technology to face these new threats of the 21st Century.

Second, we have to provide a better quality of life for the members of our Armed Forces. As a nation, we’ve got support them with the same dedication and patriotism displayed by Tom Weed. His small Peoria company had to sacrifice a fifth of its employees when they were called up to serve during the Persian Gulf War. Tom, who has joined us today, could have complained about it, but he saw this as an opportunity for his company to serve America. So on behalf of America’s one and half million guardsmen and reservists, and the nation they defend, thank you Tom, and thank all of you supportive employers.

We are also honored to have with us today a group of outstanding service members and military families representing all those from Illinois who are sacrificing today to protect our freedom. I would ask that they all stand and let us honor them. [Applause] And representing the next generation of service members is a distinguished future officer, Naval ROTC Midshipman First Class Julie Kovach, a senior at Champaign-Urbana, would you please stand. [Applause]

Ladies and Gentlemen, if we are going to retain high quality service members like those I’ve just mentioned, and attract the best of our young people into service, we’ve got to offer a satisfactory quality of life. It is a moral obligation, but it is no less a practical necessity. I know that Congressman John Shimkus, a West Point graduate and a reservist in the Army, serving our country in two capacities, would verify that.

I would ask you: What is a fair salary for someone who is on-call 24 hours a day, who’s prepared to lead troops into deadly combat, who is rigorously trained in highly lethal, cutting-edge technology, who is constantly relocated and restricted in lifestyle, who is called upon to manage complex political and ethnic divisions with the skills of a diplomat and warrior, with ten years unmatched leadership experience? What’s that worth? We can never pay our men and women enough, but we can pay them more than we’re paying them. That is why the President’s proposal includes the largest boost to military pay and benefits since the early 1980’s. [Applause]

We would not ask for this new funding, indeed I would not be here in a position to even have a right to ask, if we were not doing everything possible to generate savings through reform, and to ensure that any new money is being well spent. When we ask Congress for a dollar for readiness, it should go for training and fuel and ammunition for our people, not simply for managing paperwork. That is why we are engaged in a dramatic initiative to reform the Department of Defense, both to save money and improve efficiency by cutting out waste and emulating the best of corporate America.

 

So we are cutting our headquarters staff and moving responsibilities out into the field. We are putting up over 225,000 government jobs for competition with the private sector, creating savings and incentives to work smarter. We are destroying some 8,000 unused buildings whose maintenance and utilities are simply drawing down our resources. And we are moving aggressively to bring our business practices into the age of the microchip, replacing those costly paper contracts with on-line purchasing catalogues that include everything from antibiotics to combat boots.

At the same time, we are switching to less expensive, more flexible commercial technology in our very sophisticated weapons systems. To give you an example, we’re planning to put a Power PC computer chip, the same kind you would find in a Macintosh computer, in the circuitry of the F-15 fighter jet. The result is cheaper maintenance, greater flexibility.

But I must tell you, the most politically difficult aspect of reform, yet perhaps the most crucial, remains ahead. It’s called additional base closures. I know that BRAC is now seen as a four-letter word, but I must tell you that the vast sums of money we waste on unneeded facilities is robbing our men and women in uniform of needed training, modern weapons and a better quality of life. The first three rounds of base closures have already yielded some $3.7 billion and will generate more than $25 billion by the year 2003.

The two additional rounds that we will fight for this year will ultimately save $20 billion and generate $3 billion dollars annually. I don’t have to quote from Everett Dirksen to tell you that adds up to real money. Imagine, in exchange for property that we don’t want and don’t need, we can put $3 billion on an annual basis into weapons that give our troops a life-saving edge, into training that keeps us the best in the world, and into the pocketbooks of military families. It should offend every one us that serious needs for our troops remain unmet while we squander money on facilities that we no longer need.

I can tell you from personal experience, I have been through this and have been on the other side of where I am today. It’s very hard. It’s frightening for most communities to even contemplate the thought of even losing a major facility. I was a young city councilman just a little bit older than that 18-year old that was driving that ship, in Bangor, Maine when Dow Air Force base was closed down . It was traumatic experience for a small city in Maine to absorb that cost. I was a Senator when Loring Air Force Base was closed in my state. But as hard as it was and as hard as it is, it is clearly necessary; necessary for the good of our service members, necessary for you and me and all of us as taxpayers, and necessary for our national security. We must see past our fear, to places like Rantoul, Illinois – a classic example.

I suspect that of you know the shock that went through that community when Chanute Air Force Base showed up on the closure list back in 1988. But with superb local leadership, represented by Mayor Joseph Brown who is with us today, and $6 million in federal support, a dynamic plan of reuse was put in use the very next year. Today there are commercial and industrial tenants producing $1.2 million in annual revenue and 1,400 new jobs.

Rantoul is just one of many success stories. I have been all the way from Orlando to Alexandria, Louisiana to Indianapolis, out to the Bay State area and we have seen the enormous thriving of communities who have made this transition with a lot of assistance from the Department of Defense and a booming private sector economies. In fact, a recent GAO study revealed that incomes in 63 percent of base closure communities have actually grown faster than the national average.

The hard truth is that we must have more closures. The process has been successful and my preference is to use that method again. But whatever the methodology, whatever the mechanism, we have to find a way to close bases and reduce the excess infrastructure that is dragging down our efforts to maintain readiness and modernize.

The defense budget increase that the President will propose should never be used, and will not be used, as an excuse to avoid more reform and more base closure. No amount of new spending can justify the continued waste of your tax dollars. For the men and women in uniform that we call upon to perform all of these services, we need both new funding and we need additional savings. To be good stewards of our defense dollars now and in the future, this must be done and I ask you for your support.

 

I bring a simple message to this distinguished body today. We cannot return to our shores. There are some that we read and listen to who say, wouldn’t it simply be easier for us to come back to the continental United States and let the Europeans and the Asian and other simply fend for themselves. I will tell you there is now way that we can return to our shores and

slip into a continental cocoon and watch events unfold on CNN, nursing the delusion that we are insulated and secure from all the consequences of events that are taking place out there.

We have to be engaged; we have to be forward deployed; we have to be out there shaping and preparing and responding and showing how good we are. I can tell you, this has been the most demanding and most exhilarating job of my life. I have long experience as a city councilman, a mayor, a Congressman and a Senator. There is nothing that has been as daunting as the challenge of being in this position. And there is nothing as rewarding, because I have the opportunity to travel around the globe to represent the United States, to represent out military and I can tell you our military is the most respected, the most admired and indeed, in cases, most envied military in the world. It is because we have attracted the best and the brightest, and we need to continue to attract them, we need to continue to train them and equip them, and give them the quality of life that they truly deserve. So we have an absolute obligation to prepare for the future, and the best way to prepare for that future is to give our full support, moral and financial, to those who will defend us.

It’s a solemn duty we undertake. For those who have served, and those who serve us today. For the 1,600 fallen Americans who lay just to the east of here at Camp Butler National Cemetery. For the one million, four hundred thousand who are in uniform today who are stretched across the globe, protecting us in a dangerous and uncertain world. From the frozen hills of Korea and Bosnia to the flight-line at Scott Air Force Base. From Marines on maneuvers in the deserts of Southwest Asia to the eager recruits at Great Lakes.

These men and women in uniform need more than support from Washington. They need the support of their countrymen. That is why I am here today. I want to thank you for your support. And to ask that you continue to support those who are defending out country. Thank you very much.