Let me just briefly introduce a few people that are traveling with me. My Senior Military assistant, Brigadier General Jim Mattis, United States Marine Corps is here. [Applause.]
Let me also introduce a colleague, Bob Soule. Bob is the son of a Navy captain. [Applause.] He was born in San Diego and lived in places like Subic Bay, Norfolk and any place that the Navy is located. He's a graduate of Amherst and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. He's one of the most important people in the Pentagon because he is the director of Program Analysis and Evaluation, PA&E.
Let me also acknowledge Janice Hahn. [Applause.] I believe that when I graduated from El Camino in 1972, Kenny Hahn was the speaker.
I'd like to acknowledge both an El Camino Dean and a family friend for more years than he would care to acknowledge -- probably at least 40 -- and that's Bruce Fitzpatrick, who has done a lot in the geology and astronomy departments. [Applause.]
The headlines of this morning, and even the more recent radio reports, bring us directly to this issue of national security. In Belgrade, Yugoslavia right now it's probably near midnight. There are hundreds of thousands of people out on the street. They are demanding that the ballots that they cast a week ago Saturday be counted and be counted fairly. The prelate of the Serbian Orthodox Church has already decreed that the winner was the opposition leader, [Vojislav] Kostunica, against [Slobodan] Milosevic. So people who have experienced this taste of democracy and who cast their votes a week ago despite all of the effort to essentially rob them of their ballot through computer tricks and other ways to try to stuff the ballot box, are tonight out on the street.
This is going to be a story that we in the Pentagon track very carefully. President Clinton has already spoken to this issue. We have reached the critical juncture in terms of Yugoslavia and what direction it will go. They had a free election. The opposition won. The incumbent power, Milosevic, seems unwilling to give up power.
The key test tonight is that, as hundreds of thousands are in the street, where will the army go? Will they essentially stand, as they have thus far, with the citizens in the street? Or, under great pressure, will they respond to the dictator? This is a critical saga that is unfolding thousands of miles away and almost a dozen time zones away, but it is something that all Americans should be focusing our attention on.
Indeed, ours is a hostile world, and those free elections would not have occurred without the contributions of United States military forces and those military forces of our allies in Britain, Canada, France, Italy and others.
But even as we're reminded by the conflicts in the Balkans, even more challenging is the fact that representatives of the government of North Korea are coming to Washington next week to meet with President Clinton. It was just June 25th, 2000 that I was with Secretary [of Defense William] Cohen and the President on the Mall in Washington for the 50th anniversary of the Korean conflict. If we have any World War II and Korean era veterans here in the room, if they would just stand at this moment. [Applause.] They know better than anyone else the true significance of what it means for the North Koreans to be coming to Washington.
Now, as different as these two pictures -- Yugoslavia and Korea – are, as distinct as the histories are that have propelled these two nations to this epic moment, they share a common thread. Both moments would have been impossible without the presence, the persistence and the determination of the United States armed forces and our allies. Both remind us of the powerful forces of freedom that can be unleashed by the stabilizing presence of the American military around the world.
So there's no more fitting time than now to consider how we reached this particular moment and to consider the great questions that will continue to face our nation in the future. What should our role be in the 21st Century? Is America's military ready? How can we ensure that our forces can meet the immediate crises of today while at the same time modernizing to meet the emerging threats of tomorrow? These are valid and profound questions, and those are the topics that I would like to discuss in these remarks.
Military readiness is a function of many factors, including the overall level of defense spending, the quality and quantity of those we recruit and retain, the capabilities of their equipment, and their ability to understand -- and for America to clearly define -- its role in the mission that we ask of the young men and women who serve. To understand each of these is to understand the capability of America's military at the dawn of this 21st Century.
I'd like to talk briefly about these four pieces. First, there is the spending the nation devotes to our men and women in uniform. I think if we look over our shoulders at the past decade, we see that there have been a series of great revolutions in the country [that have impacted the size, and spending on, our military]: the end and fall of the Soviet Union; the rise in information technologies; the revolution in demographics that Dr. [Thomas] Fallo [Superintendent/President, El Camino College] and I were talking about [a few moments ago] between Generation X and Generation Y.
[This third revolution] is something Dr. Fallo sees at El Camino College in the profile of his students and is something I saw in my former job as Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness in the recruiting environment.
Fourth, there is the financial revolution -- the global economy and the economic factors that led to the balancing of the [federal] budget. A decade ago we were looking at deficits as far as we could see. When I was staff director of the Armed Services Committee, from the mid-'80s to 1993, the deficit was the single greatest impediment to our military forces. In fact, the decline in defense spending didn't start with the fall of the Soviet Union, it starts with the Gramm-Rudman budget acts in the mid-'80s, which were designed to bring the deficit down.
Today, we've achieved a sea change in our financial affairs. Because of hard decisions that were made in the '90s, as well as deficit reduction and the success of the economy, those record deficits have been turned into record surpluses. And those surpluses have allowed us to do something that many thought unlikely, if not impossible, only a few years ago. With the leadership of President Clinton and Secretary of Defense Cohen, working with the Congress on a very bipartisan basis, we are now making new investments in our military men and women totaling some additional $180 billion in just the last two years -- the largest sustained increase in defense spending in 15 years since the Reagan buildup.
So indeed, one change that has impacted our national security in the decade of the '90s was the balancing of the budget and the fact that we can go from a focus on asking "How do we reduce government spending and living within our means?" to asking "How can we invest in the capabilities that are so critical to America and its position in the world?" So with respect to this first aspect of military readiness -- the defense budget itself -- we've made dramatic increases in these last two years.
There is a second measure: the quality and quantity of those we recruit and retain. That dynamic economy is both pulling away many potential recruits as well as many of the highly skilled people that are serving in the armed forces today. So we faced the twin challenges of too many people leaving the force and too few people entering the force. That's why a significant part of the $180 billion increase in defense spending is going toward dramatic improvements in the quality of life.
With respect to pay, all of our men and women have now received the largest pay raise since the early 1980s. Others with special skills and many in their mid-careers have received additional raises and bonuses on top of that, some as much as 5 percent more per year.
With respect to benefits, we have made dramatic changes. We have fixed and improved military retirement, restoring benefits so that our people can once again retire with 50 percent of their pay after 20 years of service, a powerful retention incentive for the force.
With respect to housing, we're making progress as well. We've modified housing allowances to better reflect the actual cost of living off base. Now we’re making a truly historic change. We're reducing from 19 percent to 15 percent what many of our military people pay for out-of-pocket costs for off base housing. Secretary Cohen has laid down the mandate. And Bob Soule and others have found $3 billion in additional funding to make sure that within five years, that 15 percent goes to zero out-of-pocket expenses for those military members who are living in the community.
With respect to health care, we've made, and will continue to make, improvements in an area that is of concern particularly to our military retirees.
As Mrs. [Janet Langhart] Cohen, who has spent a lot of time with military families, has said, "We recruit an individual, but we reenlist a family." So in many ways, our force is only as strong as the families behind it. Indeed, because many of our professional personnel are also parents, we've also devoted tremendous time and attention to ensuring strong military families. As a result, the DoD schools for dependents of military personnel recently led the nation in a national survey on writing; our overseas schools coming in second only to one state, and our stateside schools coming in first. And in recent years, students in our schools have scored well above the national average at all grade levels and in all subjects.
At the same time, we've added $190 million to child care programs over the last six years. As a result, the Department of Defense now has a child care system that has been described in an editorial of the New York Times as a model for the rest of the nation.
Thanks to all of these efforts to improve quality of life, we are witnessing some important improvements in retention. However, it's not only the financial rewards that keep people in uniform; it's the personal reward of doing the job they were trained to do. For example, those soldiers that are serving in places like the Balkans have some of the highest reenlistment rates in our armed forces. So the services will also continue to work to relieve some of the stresses of current operations. In the future, our challenge will be to ensure that the stress on our forces and their families doesn't turn into a motivation to leave the armed forces.
We want our forces to stay because by almost every measure, the quality of our men and women in the United State military today is higher than it's ever been. With more of them staying in the force longer than 10 years, they are more experienced than ever. With more high school diplomas and more advanced degrees to their name, they are more educated than ever. So while very real challenges remain in keeping quality people, America needs to know what General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the U.S. Senate last week. He said, "In my 37 years in uniform, I have never been around better soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines."
If retention -- keeping the skilled workforce that we have day to day -- is challenge number one, the next essential issue is to improve recruiting. Now, in addition to the opportunities in the private sector, something that I took for granted growing up in this community was that if I was a high school graduate, I could go to El Camino College. In this respect California, along with Massachusetts and some of the New England states, really led the rest of the United States in the '50s and '60s. If you grew up in California, you took [education] for granted. Well, that opportunity -- the opportunity for every high school graduate to go on to college -- has now been realized in all 50 states.
So our recruiting is not only competing with a very robust and vibrant economy, it's also competing with new and unlimited chances for high school graduates to go on to college. In addition, there's been that demographic revolution I mentioned. The cohort of young people born between 1965 and 1979 -- they're called "Generation X" – is a very small group. They are 3 million smaller than [their peers] during the 1980s Reagan buildup. This has meant that the work force, colleges and the armed forces are all competing from a much smaller pool of 18- to 22-year-olds.
Well, as Dr. Fallo and I were discussing, we are now in the cusp of a generational change from Generation X to Generation Y; Generation Y being the offspring of the baby-boomers and having a much different sense of where they fit in and what their challenges are. And so by the year 2003, we're going to be seeing improvements in demographics.
So in this highly challenging time for military recruiting, we're putting more recruiters on the streets, we're creating higher bonuses for enlistment, we're increasing educational incentives, and we're tailoring advertising and more spending on advertising to reach out to young people. As a result, we're now seeing a real turnaround in recruitment. Army Secretary Lou Caldera on Friday raised his hand and gave the oath to the Army's 80,000th recruit of the fiscal year, marking, indeed, a turnaround in the Army.
Shortfalls remain in some areas, like Naval flight officers and computer specialists, but for the first time in three years, every service not only met their active duty recruiting goal, they exceeded them, and not only in terms of quantity, but in terms of quality as well, with over 90 percent holding high school diplomas, much higher than the national average. So while challenges remain, America needs to know that we're still recruiting the best and the brightest that the nation has to offer.
The third critical measure of readiness is the quality of the equipment we give our forces. The end of the Cold War was a time of transition for the force, but by 1997 we knew that the 13-year decline in procurement spending would have to end. So Secretary Cohen and the Joint Chiefs ended it.
The procurement budget [for this year] contains $60 billion in annual funding for new weapons, tools and technologies that our warriors need, up from $43 billion three years ago. Over the next five years, we plan to increase that number to $70 billion, and in the years beyond, building the advanced force of the future means that procurement will have to be a national priority. That's why we're investing in the next generation of military aircraft, for example, investing $38 billion for the revolutionary V-22 Osprey helicopter that takes off and lands like a helicopter but then flies much faster like a plane.
Last night, I was meeting with Air Force test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, where we were talking about the $62 billion that our country plans to invest in the F-22 that will ensure our air supremacy over the skies for decades to come. And then there is the largest acquisition program in the history of the Defense Department -- the Joint Strike Fighter. Out at Palmdale, California, there are two prototypes -- one a Boeing team; a second, a Lockheed team -- which have the potential to be the jet fighter of the future.
America needs to know that this investment is fueling an unprecedented revolution in military affairs. Indeed, it's not enough to spend more; we also have to spend smarter. We're doing both, using the information technologies that are available. But in addition to procurement in hardware, America needs to know that we're also transforming the Defense Department to react and better support this new military.
We've created a Joint Forces Command in Norfolk to improve the ability of the services to operate together jointly and to experiment with the most advanced technologies and tactics. We created a Defense Threat Reduction Agency to pull together our counterproliferation efforts and to deal with the spread of technology and terrorism. We created a special task force to advise and assist communities should a chemical or biological weapon ever be used on American soil.
We were having a vigorous conversation at the [lunch] table about the defense of information technologies; how on one hand, information technologies offer so much promise for our military to be both safer and stronger and for our economy to continue to grow, but at the same time there is great vulnerability with information technologies and how they may be used or misused. And [so I would point out that] we created another task force to defend our computer systems as part of the normal war-fighting mission.
The final piece of readiness, and perhaps the most important of all, is the ability of our men and women to complete the missions that we ask of them. Now, our frontline units -- the first to fight in the event of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, in the Persian Gulf or in the Balkans -- are fully capable. The Joint Chiefs testified on that last week. Our forces can fulfill our strategy. And as [General Shelton] said, in the future we should experience an increasing trend in readiness based on the investments I mentioned.
But the investments and improvements we have made these last three years in particular are a starting point; they're not a finish. Indeed, these issues are very much part of the national debate that we're having on defense right now. And so if the question is asked, "Is America's military ready if we call them?" We only need to look at the times when we have called on them and what we have asked them to do.
When Central America -- closer to you in Los Angeles than to Washington -- was struck by devastating floods and hurricanes [two years ago], it was our National Guard and our U.S. Army that was down there helping Honduras to recover.
Consider Kosovo. For 78 days last year we conducted the most precise air engagement in the history of airpower -- some 38,000 NATO sorties, with only two planes lost and not a single combat casualty. That was a historic achievement on which our forces and the American people should be enormously proud.
So the true measure of America's military is the job they do every day. In short, America needs to know that the U.S. Armed Forces are the best trained, best educated, best led, and most respected and finest fighting force in the world today.
But there is something else. There is a responsibility for everyone in this room, and that's what I would like to close on. I want to recite a page from America's past that I believe points the way to ensure our military strength in the future. Half a century ago, this nation stood at the hinge of history, an unprecedented time of both promise and peril. There was the promise of the victory in World War II, something that my generation can never repay to the Greatest Generation, and we are indeed fortunate to have some members of the Greatest Generation here with us today.
But with the victory in the Second World War, there was also the peril of a dawning Cold War, and America's very survival demanded that we think and act anew. And so to navigate the shoals of the century that lay ahead, Arthur Vandenberg, a Republican senator from Michigan, joined with Harry Truman, a Democratic President from Missouri, and the nation came together around a common foreign and defense policy to defend freedom and to create the Marshall Plan and an alliance called NATO that would eventually win the Cold War.
Today, in the long wake of our triumph in that long struggle, America again stands at that hinge of history. Again there is the promise -- we stand as the world's sole economic and military superpower. Again there is the peril -- the threat of new dangers in this new century. And so to chart the nation's course in our time, Bill Cohen, a Republican senator from Maine, joined with Bill Clinton, a Democratic president from Arkansas, to help restore a spirit of bipartisanship to defense policy and to ensure that when it comes to our men and women in uniform, politics indeed does stop at the water's edge.
Our men and women in uniform are the finest young men and women that our country can produce. They're not millionaires; they're not famous sports athletes. But they're role models for us, whether they're in Korea, the Balkans, the Middle East, on a ship at sea or, potentially, later tonight, on the Space Shuttle headed toward the space station. And our responsibility as Americans is to support them.
We ought to be encouraged by this generation. I was encouraged here at the table because of people like Tracy Kuaea, Tracy Chow and Evelyn Herrera, students at El Camino. They ought to stand for a second. [Applause.] Each of them has their own dreams, whether it’s Evelyn Herrera, a single mom, or Tracy, who's deciding whether she takes her economics to Berkeley or to UCLA. They're following the path of their ideals.
Well, there are millions of young Americans who are also following their ideals in the armed forces of the United States. And so that is our tasking -- to make sure that we support them. That is the message I wanted to bring to you today. So Tony Kriss [El Camino College Foundation Board Member], I want to thank you for the chance to come and for the invitation to be here today. Thank you very much. [Applause.]