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DoD News Briefing: Remarks to Eisenhower Elementary School

Presenter: Remarks to Eisenhower Elementary School
September 23, 1997

Secretary Cohen: Thanks very much. Pleasure for me to be here. I'm especially proud to be here at the Eisenhower Elementary School. Ike, of course, is one of -- all of our favorites. I don't have a button that Pat and Jim have on, but "I like Ike" as well as most Americans. But he was dedicated to education. He was not only a great military hero and President, but he was also the president of the university and had committed much of his life to the pursuit of education, especially for our children.

And so I wanted to be here to promote the President's program and that of Secretary Riley back to school, get involved. Our military schools have unique problems and challenges in terms of being required to have children come to them. They might be here only for a year and these are the challenges that face all of the children of our military personnel who can be called upon to transfer every two, possibly every three years. Requiring them to get an outstanding education is one of our highest priorities and so this elementary school, I think we can see in a very brief tour, truly measures up to that.

Education has always been a high priority for me in addition to having been a public servant in Congress. I also had an occasion to teach at the University of Maine for nearly six years. And so education has been a part of my life as well and something I put a very high premium on. But with that, I know you're anxious to ask other questions other than my commitment and that of the President to education. But we believe that educating our children in order to prepare them for the future is one of the most important national security interests that we have.

We are developing more and more complex technology. It's going to require the best and brightest minds that we have available to come into our military to protect our national security interests. And we're seeing how these young students at very early ages are becoming computer literate, how they are being wired into the Internet, how they are developing a global view of the world itself. And all of that is going to be terribly important to our future security. So education is a major component of our national security interest.

Q: Do you have a comment on the Army's (inaudible)?

A: I think the Army met that head on. I had occasion to speak with Secretary West and also General Reimer before coming to Kansas to get a pre-brief on their study and to point out that it's the Army that investigated itself. It was the Army that undertook to find out exactly how deep and wide were the problems. We knew about Aberdeen and, as the panel had found, Aberdeen was an exception, it was an "aberration."

But the Army went further and they found through the survey that there were deeper problems, and it was as a result of a lack of effective leadership. General Reimer is an outstanding Chief of Staff and is determined that they're going to get back to basics; that they're going to add, obviously, more training. They're going to put more people in positions of oversight which have been lacking in certain institutions.

But they're going to get back to fundamentals, and that is they're going to delegate responsibility and demand accountability and hold those in charge to strict standards. There has been some laxity in the enforcement of the standards, the rules that have been on the books, but they haven't been enforced. Certainly not enforced enough.

So I give the Army credit for looking head on, straight on, into a problem and being committed to dealing with it. We've had similar problems in the past. I think Secretary West talked about this. Going back into the '40s, '50s, and '60s we had serious racial problems in our military. We've dealt with that effectively. Back in the '70 and even up into the early '80s we had serious drug problems and alcoholism in our military. We dealt with that. We will deal with the problem of sexual harassment or discrimination or any other type of offensive behavior. I am convinced that we will overcome any problems that we currently have.

Q: What do you take personally, Mr. Secretary, and do you share or feel any sort of personal responsibility for not only the results of the survey but the attitude which clearly exists among some -- attitude adjustment as well.

A: I think it has to do with leadership, of what the Army said there was a failure of leadership.

Q: Well, where does the buck stop and does it stop at your desk?

A: It stops at all of our desks. I, as the Secretary of Defense, obviously set the highest standard possible, setting a standard of zero tolerance for misbehavior. That has to go down through to those who are, in fact, in charge of our troops. When you have someone who's in charge of the troops on a base or a facility those Commanders have to be responsible for the conduct of those who they're in charge of.

So, sure, it goes all the way up the entire chain. This conduct that took place at Aberdeen obviously preceded my own arrival as Secretary of Defense. I suppose you could say, do all members of the Congress, the House and the Senate bear responsibility for the conduct that's taken place at our military facilities, or do all members of society? I mean, where does the buck stop exactly in terms of those standards?

We think that the military has very high standards. We want to make sure that people measure up to those standards. Whenever you have an organization as large and diverse as the U.S. military, you are bound to have problems, and it's required and incumbent upon the leaders of the military to insist that we adhere to the standards, not lower them.

Some time ago we had some members of the press and academicians speculating as to whether the military might be too good for American society in the sense that the standards were higher, that there's a sense of elitism building up. That somehow the military might look down with disdain upon the declining morals of civilian society, of abuse of drugs, of laxity in their behavior, the lack of discipline, the lack of respect for authority. Was there a separate class being created with the military being out of touch with contemporary mores?

Now you have the reverse question being asked, so the focus has shifted rather quickly. And the reverse question is, well, now are military good enough for the American people? What I would say is that the men and women who serve in the military, they have very high standards. We demand excellence from them. You are bound to have problems in anything as large as 1.4 million people, but they I think are the exception notwithstanding this particular survey.

Everywhere I go -- I have been all over the world in my very brief tenure as Secretary of Defense -- every other country looks to us with envy. Every Minister of Defense who visits me, and I have by the tens and dozens of Ministers of Defense from all over the world who visit me saying, "How can we become more like you? How do we emulate the kind of spirit and the esprit de corps that the American military has? How do we develop an NCO Corps like you have? How do we have an officer corps like you have? How can we be more like the American military?"

So even though we have our deficiencies we are open enough and strong enough to look at those deficiencies and say, "We've got a problem. We're going to correct it. We'll meet it head on." And we will. So I look at it as something that we can deal with. We will deal with it.

And I still want to reiterate we have the finest military in the world. It's the envy of the world. Whatever deficiencies we have, we will meet them. We will make more and make a greater effort to correct our training problems, insist upon strong leadership and hold leaders accountable starting at the very top, and you saw that take place yesterday.

Q: That was my question.

Q: Down the road we have a (inaudible) -- down the road (inaudible) high-ranking Army officials that (inaudible) (inaudible). What do you prefer (inaudible)?

A: The 29th.

Q: But why do you prefer the 29th (inaudible)?

A: Well, there was some disagreement in terms of the question of safety. I've been advised that the people who've looked at it believe it is structurally safe and, yes, there may be some problems. I'm not familiar with the plaster falling down, but to the extent that we need to make repairs we'll make repairs. Senator Robb has indicated that $20 million has just been dedicated or allocated to the facility. So if there's a problem, we'll fix the problem.

Q: Can we ask just quickly, we have -- there's a demonstration at Whitman Air Force Base involving (inaudible) and because of the -- obviously there's some concerns down there. As you know, the B-2 deploy there. That it's getting some bad press that it has no mission, that it can't fly in the rain, that it cost too much to build. (Inaudible) as to whether you think the B-2 is a valuable program, as the Secretary, and whether a new B-2 should be ordered?

A: I think it's a marvelous piece of technology, and I think we have enough of them. I have in the past indicated that we have built the 19-20 that we now have, that that should be sufficient to protect our national security interest. That while I would like to have more if there were a great deal more money. That is not the case. We have higher priorities. There is no one in the Joint Chiefs, none of our CINCs, our Commanders in Chief of our combatant commands, not one of them support allocating greater resources for building more. We have enough to carry out whatever mission we need to use the B-2 for in those extreme cases where we have to use them.

Q: Are you worried about the performance of the plane?

A: Well, there are always going to be questions raised. I think that we have to take a closer examination in terms of whether the allegations about its performance bear out. But I'm satisfied it's a unique piece of technology that is very much in our national security interest, but I don't believe that we need to build more. In fact, we can't afford to build more unless we're willing to give up many of the programs which our best military advice would indicate that there are higher priorities for the future than the B-2. If we had unlimited funds we could afford to build more, then perhaps that would be the case.

We're now looking at, for example, developing a new range of tactical aircraft. We've got debates taking place between the Senate and the House. F-18E&F models, building the F-22 for the Air Force Joint Strike Fighter that will serve all the forces. So we've got other priorities in terms of where we're going in the future.

We're also looking at trying to exploit technology that we can bring forward on the Force 21, the Army (inaudible) experiments. All of this is a very rapidly changing environment in which we're trying to get the very finest technology into our forces as soon as possible. The B-2, according to our best military judgment, is of a lower priority than these other instruments that we're talking about.

Q: (Inaudible) are there other (inaudible)?

A: There was a directive sent out by me very early in my tenure saying that there would be zero tolerance for any sexual harassment, any kind of discrimination of any kind. And I have made it a point to visit every one of our training centers. I've been to the Air Force Training Center. I was just last week down at Parris Island. I just came from Great Lakes yesterday, and also down at Ft. Jackson in North Carolina.

So I have made it a point to visit all of our training centers and to emphasize the point that we will not tolerate any form of harassment -- sexual, racial, any other type of discrimination. We're going to have a zero tolerance for that behavior.

I also would point out that we have former Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, whom I've asked to head a panel to look at all of these issues dealing with gender-integrated training. And she and her panel will be making a recommendation to me by the end of November.

So we're looking at it to deal with the problem. It's a problem that's not unique to the military. It is a problem that cuts across every facet of our society from corporate America to communities and to the military itself. I think we will deal with it more effectively than most organizations, and I would say that we will deal with it in a very short period of time

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