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DoD News Briefing: Remarks at Great Lakes Naval Training Center

Presenter: Remarks at Great Lakes Naval Training Center
September 23, 1997

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much. Appreciate the introduction. When I became the Secretary of Defense, I set out to visit all of the basic training centers in all of our four services and I wanted to see how civilians become soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines. And I would like to say, and as I've said on many occasions, that we have the best military in the world. In fact, the envy of every other nation.

It has been my experience since having been sworn in as Secretary of Defense to have a multitude of Ministers of Defense in virtually every country that we have a relationship with to visit me at the Pentagon. And the first question always is, "How can we become more like the United States? How can you help us train our NCO Corps? How can you help us build an officer corps that you have? How can we, in fact, measure up to the high standards in which you have set?"

And so I reiterate that today that we have the finest military in the world and the envy of other nations. And much of this strength really reflects the quality of the training that the people get when they enter the services at every stage of their careers, as well.

And this is my final visit. Last week I spent an afternoon visiting the training center at Parris Island. I've been impressed with the training I've seen in each service and they each train somewhat differently depending upon their culture and the different type of challenges that they present to their recruits.

The Great Lakes Naval Training Center is currently turning 53,000 civilians into sailors. It stresses the Navy's core values of honor, courage and commitment. And the U.S. Navy is the key to our global reach. The fact that we are a superpower, that may be continental-based, as such, but has a global reach, is by virtue of our Navy.

And the recruits that I have met here today are going to go forward from the sea to protect our interest all around the world. And sea service, as I think everyone recognizes, can be difficult, demanding, and obviously it's very dangerous but it's absolutely crucial to our national security.

But after reviewing the training that I have seen here today, I am more convinced than ever that we have the finest Navy in the world and it's the result of the kind of leadership that you have her at the training center and that we're very proud to have serving the nation's interest.

And with that, I would like to entertain your questions. I'm sure you don't have any after that story.

Q: How many bases have you visited or boot camps?

AI've visited the Air Force, Army, Marines and now the Navy.

QAll four?

AYes.

QIs this the final stop on (inaudible)?

AFor the training centers, yes.

QIs there anything special that stands out in your mind about your visit today to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center?

AWell, each training facility obviously is special in terms of the people who are attracted to the individual services. What is I think special is there's something that the Navy has added as far as battle station to their program.

But I think what is special about all of it is the way in which we're going about training these young civilians who are trained -- trained very quickly in a very short period of time into becoming sailors.

I think there have been reports which have been misrepresentative in terms of what is actually taking place. There's some notion somehow that we don't train as hard as we once did, that we have become soft in our training rigors. That is in error. This is a very hard, strenuous training program that they have.

And the approach I think is the correct one, and the approach that is taken is not to try to intimidate or browbeat people into submission, but rather to be stern, be strict and instill the core values that the Navy has instilled over the years of honor, courage, commitment, and to bring that out from the heart as opposed to trying to drive it down through with the force of intimidation.

And so can the drill instructors as such be intimidating? The answer is yes. Should they be? The answer is yes. But they're doing it in a way in which, at the end of that training period, these young people are leaving fully capable of going out and defending this country's interest. And so it's a remarkable transformation that takes place in a very short period of time. Astonishing, most of all, to the parents of the young people who come here.

And I'm sure that tomorrow or whenever graduation day is for these recruits who have completed their training their parents will, if not pass them by and not recognize them, will undoubtedly say to the leaders, "How did you do this? How were you able to take this young person that has spent their young lives with me and turned them into this sailor?" It's a remarkable transformation, so we have a great deal to be proud of in terms of the kind of people that we're turning out, turning into the military.

QMr. Secretary, one of the places you visited sailors, the USS Nebraska, where 987 new recruits are stationed, and 209 of those are female. Now in light of the sexual harassment problems at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland do you see any potential problems here or have you learned of any possible sexual harassment problems at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center with recruits?

ANo, just to the contrary. As a matter of fact, I did receive a pre-brief from General Reimer and Secretary Togo West yesterday on the report that they are releasing as we speak. Apparently the press conference is ongoing at this moment.

But what they discovered, what the Army discovered, at Aberdeen, number one, is that it was an exception, an aberration as such in terms of what was taking place there. But they went further and even though that was the exception to the rule, nonetheless they found deeper problems.

Aberdeen was the exception that they found they were not getting strong leadership. It was a leadership deficiency at Aberdeen. But they've also found that it's much wider than they anticipated, that they were not getting the kind of leadership that that is necessary, the kind of oversight that is imperative and, for a variety of reasons, they had to get back to basics.

And so now they're adding more people to the training centers as such. They are going back to the core values that have always been part of the Army's training. They are going to put more chaplains back into service as such and there have been some (inaudible) on that.

But I think they were surprised by the fact that some of the -- many I would say, of the male drill instructors felt that they were not properly trained to deal with the opposite sex. And that is not the situation here at the Naval Training Center. Just to the contrary.

I've found that the way in which gender-integrated training is handled here is a role model. They are handling it well. There's strong leadersp. There's strong oversight. They watch very carefully what is taking place. They assign responsibility, but they demand accountability and there is a chain of command that ensures that that accountability will, in fact, measure up.

So I think it's quite different what I've see here. I think that the Army has recognized -- and to their credit, the Army conducted this investigation and it's quite self-critical recognizing that Aberdeen, while an exception to the general rule, nonetheless there were problems that were beyond Aberdeen itself.

QMr. Secretary, how could it get to that point in Aberdeen and here we have a situation like you said that's totally different? How could (inaudible) in the military? How could it get so bad?

AWell, you have different problems and different services. With respect to the Army I think that they have now recognized that they have not done as good a job as they need to do, that they have to get back to those core values which have been part of the Army's tradition for many years. But there was a laxity of enforcement and there was a lack of leadership.

And this is the Chief of Staff who is now talking, General Reimer, who is saying that there was a failure of leadership, the failure of leadership management. You have very strong leadership management here. The Navy in it's past has had problems, of course, which it dealt with very openly and vigorously, changed attitudes in terms of accountability, as well and, as a result of that, you're seeing some superb sailors being turned out of this institution.

QMr. Secretary, are you familiar with -- it's a local issue here on base of the civilian teachers and apparently there's disagreement between the Navy and the Labor Department over their pay. You're not familiar with that?

ANo. I'd be happy to hear about it but, no, I'm not familiar.

QBack on the Army report, do you agree with the recommendation? Does it go far enough?

AI think the Army has done a very important -- conducted itself in a very important and positive fashion. They've looked at the nature of the problem. They've not tried to in any way obscure the nature of the problem they confronted. They have met it head on. They've made some positive recommendations. I support what the Army's recommending.

I know that General Reimer feels very strongly about this, that leadership is the key. I know that there are questions about should we have gender-integrated training, an issue that's been raised by a number of members of Congress. And I asked former Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker to head up a panel to look at this issue because it had been surfaced in the Congress and there were questions as to whether there should be outside investigations. And that panel will be making recommendations to me in the very near future, by November at the very latest.

But I think from what I've seen here that the Navy has a system which works. I visited the Marines. They have a somewhat different system, but it works for the Marines. And I think that each service ought to have the opportunity to institute a training mechanism to train and prepare their young men and women for the fighting force that they have to become.

There may be different approaches, and that's the purpose of having this task force panel look into the issue of the integrated training. But in talking to recruits and in talking to their leadership here and to the commanders here, it seems to me that the principle of training together and fighting together makes a good deal of sense; that by learning to function as a team, by training together as a team and having strong leadership and insisting upon strong values and having strong oversight accountability, that we're producing sailors who are going to continue to make the United States Navy the finest in the world.

QMr. Secretary, you referred to problems in the past with the Navy and that they were able to get past that. What problems were you referring to and how did they really go about overcoming them?

AIt was raised during discussions today. Tailhook was something that I think the Navy had to deal with. It did. The problems have been addressed. Every service has encountered problems in the past.

But let me say again, we have fewer problems in our military than we have in society in general. That you have the highest standards that can be set in the military. Will there be people from time to time who will fail to measure up to the standards? The answer is yes, but far fewer in the military than we have in society itself.

So we have high standards and we insist upon them. And the reason that we are the best in the world is that because we do not tolerate the least. And so you will have in any institution, any organization, there are bound to be problems from time to time.

But what I have been most impressed with during my career of 24 years on Capital Hill and now as Secretary of Defense, is that we tend to be consumed on a day by day basis with some fault, with some deficiency when, in fact, if you go around the world we are the most highly regarded military in the world.

We also happen to have the one institution in this country that it the most respected. That's our U.S. military. So we tend to be consumed from time to time on either exposes or examples of misconduct. But those examples are, again, the exception to the overall general rule that we have a very high standard of excellence and that on a day-to-day basis we measure up to that.

And all you have to do is to out into the field. Wherever you go -- I've been in Eastern Europe recently. I'm going back to Eastern Europe. I'll be going to Asia again, China, Russia, wherever. They look to the United States and we are really the role model in terms of how we conduct ourselves: the training, the capability, the technology, the fusion, the fact that we're able to integrate women into our military in a way that makes us the finest fighting force. All of that is the results of being the envy of the world.

So we have to remind ourselves of that. Too often I think we get consumed with what's wrong, how could it happen, how deep is the problem when, in fact, overall you'll find that the American people should be very proud of the kind of young people that we not only produce here for the military, but there's another aspect to this.

Once these fine, young people complete their service they go back into the community as private citizens. They've had the training, the discipline, the order, the morals, the high standards, and they bring that back to the community to make the community a much better place. And so it's a double benefit.

We train people to provide for our security and when they complete their obligations and decide to either -- to retire and go back into the community, the community benefits. So it's a double winner for the United States and for the American people.

QHasn't the Army though, taken steps in from the past to address the issue? Then, I mean what faith do we have that these further steps that are recommending will have some impact or (inaudible)?

AWell, the most important thing is to recognize and to state openly that we have a problem. It would have been far easier to say, "Well, Aberdeen is an exception" and not make the effort to really go out and try to survey the people in the military to find out what are the problems? How deep seated are they?

Is there a feeling on the part of the people in the military, the Army in this case, that their complaints will be met with indifference, that examples of discrimination, be it sexual, physical, racial, that those complaints will be met with indifference, will be held against them. How deep seated is that?

Now, it takes, I think, a very confident and very honest institution to say, "Let's look at this problem. Let's face up to it." If it's real and it's deep, let's deal with it. If it's only a superficial problem and isolated in nature then we can, you know, disregard it.

But here the Army, to it's credit, said, "Let's look inside the institution and find out what, if anything, is wrong and correct it." And I find that to be healthy. I've always found that to be a part of the great example we set for the world.

I can recall back in the days of Watergate, for example, when other nations were saying, "What in the world is the United States doing?" And I would say, "We are examining ourselves. We are finding out what a wonderful country this is that can examine itself, look for its deficiencies, and then openly deal with them and correct them."

And that's the reason why with the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the end of the Soviet empire as such, people are rushing to embrace democracy and embrace our ideas. I'm going back by way of example to Bulgaria where I was just about a month or so ago. And here is a country that was under the Soviet Union domination for so many years. They are now a burgeoning new democracy with very young leaders who have embraced economic capitalism and freedom and democracy. And I'm going back. I want to encourage them to continue the path that they are following right now.

And so I think this is what we show the world, that we are capable and strong enough and looking at ourselves, examining our weaknesses as well as our strengths, and when we see a weakness or a deficiency, taking measures to correct it. That's precisely what the United States Army has done in its report and we'll be the better for it. They will correct it.

We have dealt with every problem that we've had to confront, whether it was drugs in the military back in the late '70s, mid-'70s. We had a serious drug problem throughout our military. We dealt with it. We had a serious problem as far as race in the military. We dealt with it.

We are dealing with the problem as far as sex in the military. We are dealing with it. And so I think we can take a good deal of pride as how an open society like our own which is still, again, has the finest military in the world could say, "We've got some problems here. Let's fix them."

Moderator: I'm sorry. He's got a plane to catch. Thank you. If there are any follow-up questions I can take them at the office. Thank you very much.