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10 Ways to Look at the Department of Defense
Prepared remarks of Edwin Dorn, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, the 26th annual Student Symposium sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Presidency, Washingto, Saturday, March 25, 1995

Thank you. ... It's a pleasure and an honor to speak with 700 of the nation's most outstanding college students. Your presence here is heartening. You are here in the nation's capital to talk about and learn about one of the world's most important and intriguing institutions -- the American Presidency. The insights you gain and the inspiration you derive from these few days will shape your thoughts and actions for years to come, just as a similar visit by a young man from Arkansas 30 years ago shaped his aspirations. ...

We spend, in round numbers, $260 billion a year on the nation's defense. You are citizens, and you are -- or soon will be -- taxpayers. You have a right and an obligation to know why and how we spend that money.

The U.S. military is changing. The world is changing. We've gone from a Cold War to a fitful peace. And President [Bill] Clinton and Secretary of Defense [William] Perry have reoriented our armed forces to deal with a new mix of dangers and challenges. In today's unpredictable world we've put a premium on keeping the troops ready. We're doing that by putting people first -- by wisely investing in them because we recognize that good training and high morale are the keys to maintaining readiness.

You are probably thinking about your own futures in this changing world. Right now you're focusing on a college major -- accounting, engineering, maybe even theater, and you're trying to identify employers who hire people with your skills. When you consider organizations -- potential employers -- you probably think about their products: Ford makes cars, IBM makes computers, and the government makes laws and regulations.

This morning I want you to consider a new way of looking at organizations. Look beneath the surface at the diverse mix of skills and processes required to produce cars, computers or legislation.

For example, the Department of Defense is obviously about troops, armaments and military readiness. Our armed forces are trained and equipped to perform whatever mission President Clinton asks of them. But there is a lot more to the department than what you see on a battlefield. That's one way to think about DoD and probably the most important way. There are other ways, however. Today I'd like to give you 10 ways to think about the Defense Department:


  • The world's most powerful military force;
  • The world's most capable deliverer of emergency relief;
  • The nation's biggest employer, and the nation's biggest employer of minorities and women;
  • A large business enterprise;
  • The nation's second largest health care insurer and provider;
  • The world's largest educational enterprise;
  • The nation's largest day care provider;
  • A major supporter of research;
  • A major purchaser of goods and services; and
  • The world's largest equal opportunity training program.

Let's go over each of these.

Without a doubt the U.S. military is the world's most powerful military force. Russia and China actually have more uniformed personnel than we have, but the money we invest in our people, their training and their equipment far surpasses any other country in the world. Those investments in our people pay off.

Take Desert Storm. In just 42 days in early 1991 our forces were able to completely overrun the Iraqi army, including their top-notch troops, the Republican Guards. The air part of the war lasted 38 days. During that time our fighters flew more than 1,100 missions a day. They dropped bombs on Iraqi command centers, air defenses, Scud launchers and ground forces. In the remaining 100 hours our ground troops -- with air support -- liberated Kuwait and decimated the Iraqi ground troops.

I think our forces surprised themselves. We had planned for a much tougher fight. And last fall, when Saddam Hussein started moving divisions southward toward Kuwait, we responded with enough show of force to convince him to turn those divisions around.

Second, the U.S. armed forces are the world's most capable deliverer of emergency relief. Last July President Clinton directed the military to deploy to Rwanda for Operation Support Hope. In early August, at the height of the operation, more than 2,350 military personnel were assigned to the region. As of late September, when President Clinton closed the operation, Air Mobility Command had flown more than 1,220 flights, delivering almost 15,000 tons of humanitarian aid.

Only 40 hours after being alerted to go to the region, U.S. troops (stationed in Europe) were pumping purified water to 1.2 million refugees at Goma, Zaire. The troops' water production efforts helped stem the cholera epidemic and reduced the death rate in the refugee camps from 5,000 per day to less than 250.

A third way to look at the Department of Defense is as the nation's biggest employer. We employ 1.6 million active duty personnel and 1 million reservists. Nine hundred thousand civilians also work for the Department of Defense -- that's half of the entire federal work force.

The military services recruit 200,000 people into the active duty force each year. Most of those join the enlisted ranks. Still, about 20,000 newly commissioned officers also enter active duty each year. We get officers from ROTC programs, the service academies, officer candidate schools, medical programs and direct appointments. We also hire about 22,000 people every year into our permanent civilian work force at all levels. About 4,000 of them are recent college graduates.

On the civilian side the Department of Defense doesn't just hire bureaucrats. We employ close to 3,000 biologists, 57,000 accountants and budget analysts, 100,000 engineers and architects, 5,000 lawyers, 3,000 librarians, 7,800 mathematicians and statisticians, and lots of others. Both our civilian and military employees serve in interesting locations all over the world. While most of them work here in the U.S., we have 900 in Egypt, 3,900 in Iceland, 52,000 in Japan, and 900 in Bermuda, just to name a few.

The Department of Defense is the nation's biggest employer of minorities. For example, there are about 320,000 blacks on active duty, and about 140,000 African Americans serve in the civilian work force. Over the last 20 years the representation of all minorities has steadily increased in our civilian workforce. That increase shows up in every level -- in entry-level jobs, midlevel and high grades.

The Department of Defense is also the nation's biggest employer of women. There are 195,000 on active duty. And 340,000 women are employed as civilians -- that's 37 percent of total civilian employment in the department.

A fourth way to look at DoD is as a large business enterprise. The Defense Commissary Agency runs 326 grocery stores all over the world. It's the eighth-largest grocery store chain in the nation. Last year those stores did $5.6 billion in sales. The services also run exchanges, which are like department stores. They sell everything from clothes to electronics to china. Last year the exchanges did close to $10 billion in sales. The commissaries and exchanges are important benefits for our service members. These stores offer significant savings and allow military personnel and their families to maintain decent standards of living no matter where they are stationed.

My fifth way of looking at DoD is as the nation's second-largest health care insurer and provider (behind VA [Department of Veterans Affairs]). We operate the Defense Health Program, which has an annual budget of about $15 billion. This program has about 8 million potential beneficiaries. The military health services system operates 127 hospitals and over 500 clinics in the U.S. and overseas -- in places like Britain, Japan and Panama. And remember, our health care system has to be ready for war.

Sixth, DoD is the world's largest educational enterprise. The military services spend $15 billion each year for individual training -- for 20,000 courses. In addition we operate large elementary and secondary school systems for the children of service members. Our 256 schools serve 128,000 students in 14 foreign countries, seven states and Puerto Rico.

Seventh, DoD is the nation's largest day care provider. We run or sanction over 700 defense day care centers and care for over 160,000 children every day. And the demand is growing. President Clinton just sent Congress a budget that asks for a 23 percent increase in child care spaces and $56 million to build or expand 20 child care centers. Our child care centers have much higher accreditation rate than private sector child care facilities: Over 50 percent of DoD's child care centers are nationally accredited, while only 4 percent of private sector centers are.

Why do we provide day care? With over 1.2 million children under age 12 belonging to military families and more families requiring two incomes to make ends meet, child care is a high priority. There are simply not enough child care services available in the private sector to meet the needs of military parents. Indeed, the civilian sector is experiencing a shortage of child care.

Eighth, the Department of Defense is a major supporter of research and development -- in fields ranging from engineering to medicine to social science. In '94 DoD spent a total of $4.4 billion on research (basic and applied). One quarter of that went to universities. Last year we spent $114 million on research in psychology and the social sciences.

Our medical research and development programs are particularly interesting. The Army runs six major medical research laboratories. A couple years ago Army researchers developed something called telemedicine: using two-way videos and computers a doctor at, say, Walter Reed hospital in Washington can engage in real-time voice and visual consultation with a medic treating wounded soldiers on a distant battlefield.

Last year our medical researchers submitted a hepatitis-A vaccine for final FDA [Food and Drug Administration] licensing. This vaccine proved 95 percent effective in a recent test in Thailand. Researchers think it will protect our troops during deployments to Africa, Asia and South America, where hepatitis-A is a significant problem.

Our medical research is so good that in the past Congress has added money to our budget for research on AIDS, breast cancer and other things. Still, the bulk of the medical research we conduct directly addresses unique military requirements which are not adequately addressed by other public or private medical research organizations.

Of course, the products of our research have private sector uses as well. For instance, doctors in Georgia are using telemedicine to provide health care to people who live in remote rural areas. DoD researchers created key parts of the Global Positioning System. GPS was used in the gulf war to determine the exact location of troops, and it is now used in aircraft and recreational boats. The system may become standard equipment in automobiles. The lasers we developed to guide our "smart bombs" are now used for eye surgery and in compact disc players. And we cannot overlook today's Internet, which DoD began in 1969.

Ninth, DoD is a major purchaser of goods and services. Last year, DoD spent $123 billion on 11.5 million nonclassified purchases. Our purchases range in price from the small change that goes for supplies like pencils to about $3.5 billion to build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

In 1994 DoD spent $112 billion with U.S. businesses. Our prime contracts with small businesses accounted for $24.8 billion in '94: that's 22.1 percent of the total, the highest percentage performance in the last 40 years. We purchased $6.1 billion worth directly from small, disadvantaged businesses: That's 5.5 percent, the highest percentage performance ever in the history of the program.

Finally, the 10th way to look at DoD: We run the world's largest equal opportunity training program. The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute in Florida has a permanent staff of 100 people. It was founded in the early 1970s, during a time of racial instability and violence in the U.S. military -- and the rest of society.

When it was founded the institute's mission was to train professional staff who would return to their units and train other military personnel on issues like race discrimination. From those modest beginnings the school has grown into a widely respected institute, which not only continues to train military personnel in equal opportunity, but also trains civilian employees. The institute now provides consultative services on EO matters to state and local governments and other nations. Just recently the school sent teams to train military personnel in Russia and police officers in South Africa.

The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute and the rest of our EO programs are extremely important to the U.S. military. Our armed forces have been far ahead of most other major American institutions on the matter of race. The military took the initiative not merely because it was morally right, but because ensuring equal opportunity and fair treatment is a military necessity.

Our history has taught us that it is essential for the armed forces to recruit from as broad and diverse a pool as possible and, further, that the services must have the flexibility to train and assign people to the jobs for which they are best qualified. Today's EO training programs are grounded in that bit of wisdom.

To sum up, the Defense Department is a powerful military force. And there are at least nine other ways to look at DoD -- emergency relief, employment, business, health care, research and development, and so on.

OK, so what does all this mean? Well, for starters it gives you a notion of just how complex the Defense Department is. Second, it gives you new ways to look at organizations. Don't just look at their product, but at the collection of skills needed to design, make, deliver and sell that product.

The Department of Defense, for instance, needs to offer day care in order to retain good people -- so that we can field a top-notch military force. I mean top-notch. It's harder to get into the military than into some colleges.

And take it one step further. Find a new way to look at yourself: as a collection of skills and interests. One skill won't do it. You may be majoring in chemistry or history or mathematics, and you may know a lot about that subject. But you also need many other skills -- leadership and business sense, for example. A good engineer's career will be stifled if she isn't also a good leader, manager and communicator.

You will advance only if you have the right mix of skills. That's always been true, but the right mix is even more critical in today's rapidly changing world. Victory goes to the most adaptable.

So keep learning, explore subjects other than your major. And don't imagine that at graduation you've learned everything you need to know. If you want to succeed, if you want to be leaders, you will keep on learning -- every day of your lives.

A student of leadership and learning once said: "In time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."

Keep an open mind -- not just about the Defense Department, but about all of life's thrilling possibilities.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at