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Senior Enlisted Forum

Presenters: Dr. Bernard Rostker, Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel & Readiness)
June 22, 2000 5:00 PM EDT

June 22, 2000 - 5:04 p.m.

(Also participating were Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Donald K. Shaft, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Renee Chapman, Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Patricia Orsino, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse G. Laye, and Mrs. Laura Ball)

Rostker: Good afternoon. I am Bernie Rostker, the under secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and what I'd like to do is just take a very few moments and review with you what happened today and then call up the senior enlisted advisors -- and we have one spouse -- to talk about the results of the forum and what they told the secretary of Defense just a half hour ago.

This is the second of the forums that Secretary and Mrs. Cohen have sponsored. You'll remember several weeks ago we had a family forum. We followed effectively the same format, information, during the morning. There was a lunch for the participants and then in the afternoon they broke into working groups, covering a number of subjects.

At 4:00, a single member from each of the working groups -- in this case, representing each of the services and a spouse, presented overviews to the secretary. We in his team will take that for action and will address the items that report to his attention. Many of these were items that we have been and continue to work, but it's important to have the direct feedback from the people who -- in this case, the senior enlisted advisors -- are the most senior enlisted leadership in the department and in our military services.

So without any further ado -- and I'll be available to answer any questions you might have -- without any further ado, let me turn it over to the first presenter.

Shaft: Good afternoon. I'm Master Chief Shaft out of San Diego, California, and I'm stationed with Fleet Logistic Support Squadron 57 in North Island. The two issues that I talked to the secretary about were child care availability and youth programs.

Under the child care availability, I talked to him about the centers on base, as well as the family child care centers offered on base and out in town. And with those child development centers on base there, we talked about it being an issue of staffing and not necessarily space available, and the reason for the staffing issues on base for child care is because of the competitiveness of the pay on base compared to off base. And those child development centers on base are near and dear to each one of our hearts because we put in long hours, and what we'd like to do is get those hours extended a little bit where our service members do not have to worry about their children while they're at work. Our hours aren't 8:00 to 5:00, they're 8:00 to 5:00, 16:00 to 24:00, and we need to extend those working hours in those development centers so our children are taken care of while we're at work and we can have a peace of mind while that's taking place. So that was one of the issues that I did talk to him about.

The other issue was youth programs, youth programs within the military, the pre-teen and teenagers. There's a lot of programs out there that support both of those, but we need to make them more available to those individuals. During their summer breaks off of school, they need to have access to fitness centers and things like that. They need their spouses to sponsor them into those areas because there's an age requirement, they're 18 years of age. Pre-teens and teenagers usually, you know, get trampled, or what have you, say, you know, overwhelmed with the older adults in those centers and they don't feel like they can go in there and participate in those areas. So that was just one area.

Also, another area, just to have some facilities where the pre- teens and teens can go and have dances, or what have you, close to the base, if not on base -- if it's not available there, have it close or have transportation to those places so they could have more things to attend and keep them occupied.

We also talked about setting up maybe computer labs, something to further their education while they're on their summer vacation -- probably the last thing they're thinking about, but something that's near and dear to the parents' heart, and make sure that their kids are getting some good education, on the other hand, also.

And that's what I talked with the secretary about. Thank you.

Laye: Good afternoon. I'm Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse Laye, from United States Southern Command in Miami, Florida. And I participated with a group that -- we discussed compensation and military pay.

We discussed many issues, and one thing that we decided upon is that we did not know how to put a price tag on what a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, or Coast Guardsman should be paid. We couldn't do that.

But we did look at the pay table reform a little bit, and we thought that between pay grades E-4 and E-5 there was not enough of a raise there. And the reason for that was right now, depending upon the amount of years you have in service, going from a specialist in the Army or a third class in the Navy to a second class, the entire rules change for you. You have new rules under Uniform Code of Military Justice. You are now totally responsible for four, five to 10 people that work, that you are responsible for their care, their welfare, and their safety and their training, and that right now, the pay gap between E-4 and E-5, or that promotion, is anywhere from about $78 to about $90, which -- in the civilian world, that would equate to anywhere from $19 to $21 per week pay raise. We felt that that needs to be looked at, and the secretary, of course, agreed with that.

Secondly, we talked a little -- a lot about the pay table for senior noncommissioned officers, seven, eighth, and ninth, and the disparity between, and what the seven, eight, and nine brings to the table today versus what he brought 29 years ago, when I first came in the Army. Today most noncommissioned officers have some college or have a college education. Back then it was very common to see a noncommissioned officer with anywhere from a seventh- to a ninth-grade education. Noncommissioned officers in a downsized military bring a lot more to the table today, and many are working at very upper-level staff-officer positions.

If we continue to give across-the-board percentage pay raises to the military, this gap gets bigger and bigger between the officer corps and the enlisted corps. And we felt -- everybody in our group thought that we needed to look at targeted pay raises to fix the disparity over the year and to fix the education increase of a noncommissioned officer.

Thank you.

Chapman: Hello. I am Chief Master Sgt. Renee Chapman. I am from the National Guard Bureau, Air National Guard Division. My area of discussion was on Tricare, our health benefit program.

One of the biggest problems we found was that the family members do not know what Tricare is supposed to do for them or how to get service when it's needed. We discussed the educational process, probably during in-processing and to include the spouses so that they are more aware of where to go and what to do when they change stations and, at the stations that they're at, how to get their care.

Another problem was benefits across regions. When you transfer from one Tricare division to another -- they don't talk to each other -- you get lost in the shuffle. You could start a claim in one place, end up somewhere else, and you can't talk to anybody about your claim anymore. And it -- we'd like to see Personnel and DEERS [Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System] get more involved with keeping that process up to date.

We also would like to know who decides on what qualifies as emergencies. Right now, Tricare has a system where they determine how many days it takes to get an appointment for a specific procedure. And I think -- we believe that should be left up to the providers to decide. If they call and say they need care right way, that that care should be given right away. They shouldn't have somebody sitting on the phone behind a desk somewhere, saying, "Well, we have up to 30 days to get you that service." And that was a big bone of contention.

We also feel that the payments to providers probably aren't enough. We have this big book of providers. But when you call or try to get assigned to one of them, they are not taking patients anymore. A lot of them only take one or two or maybe 10 patients so that they can say they are participating in the program, but it's not really getting us the care that we need. There is also a problem with reimbursing members when the members pay out of their pocket for a procedure or care.

My last thing that we discussed was with the Guard and Reserve not really being included when the Tricare program was developed, and that we need to have more cooperation with the active forces in making sure that our Guard and Reserve people are taken care of when they have been injured in the line of duty, to make sure that the infrastructure is in place in order to take care of their needs because these people were injured performing a service for our country also.

And that's what my discussion with the secretary was about.

Thank you.

Orsino: Good afternoon. I'm Master Gunnery Sgt. Patricia Orsino. I am stationed at Manpower and Reserve Affairs Headquarters Marine Corps in Quantico. I participated in presenting ideas to the secretary on the area of recruiting and retention.

In the area of recruiting, we discussed that the services as a whole might look at presenting the military to the American public more than just a job with benefits and education, but, you know, a profession, an honorable profession; that we sell the American public once again on -- (inaudible) -- a generation that has been raised pretty much by many parents who have never been affiliated with the military; that we appeal to the young people to be part of something bigger and better than themselves, that it's more than just going in for benefits, that there's a transformation that we offer.

And along those lines, in keeping that transformation in place, we discussed that another issue was we are giving them a challenge in recruit training, we're challenging them in their basic schools, but we are not maintaining that challenge when they arrive at their duty stations or their new assignment. In many situations, they don't have the tools that they need to perform the job that they were just trained in. There is a concern that we lose that edge. We've just developed this edge, we've trained this person, and they are demoralized because in some situations they can't be utilized immediately. So we discussed that some of the solutions might be, again, employ them optimally and improve the resources for training and equipment.

Another area that we discussed to address retention was leadership, not only the challenge I discussed, but leadership among the senior enlisted in the commands and the officer corps. That the values training that we're offered from the time we enter in the military should continue throughout career. That these young people will look to us as mentors, someone that they want to be like. That they don't just see us demonstrating careerism, that we're worrying about our own careers or that we are just concerned about a career path. That we enhance professional military education at all levels, right up to the senior level, so that we continue to inspire them and they have an incentive to stay and it isn't just about benefits and pay; it's maintaining that, you know, commitment and patriotism.

And that's basically what I shared for my colleagues to Mr. Cohen.

Ball: Hello. I'm Mrs. Laura Ball. My husband is stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. My discussion with the secretary involved education in the schools. The first thing that we asked was that they reevaluate the tuition-assistance program for active duty members and Guard and Reserve. The current cap on tuition assistance is $3,500, which forces them to either go for schools of lesser quality or pay significant amounts out of their own pockets.

We also asked them to reevaluate tuition assistance as far as spouses are concerned. A lot of times when military members are stationed overseas, spouses can't always find employment, and tuition assistance would greatly help in those situations. We asked them to explore raising the cap on the current active duty members, and we also asked them to explore to provide tuition assistance to the spouses.

We also would like them to publicize existing tuition opportunities, such as the aid societies and the different grants and tuition assistance available through enlisted associations.

The other issue that I discussed with the secretary involved the quality of schools around and on DoD installations. There are several areas in the United States, and abroad, where the local schools are testing well below a national average, and parents are forced to home school their children or to suffer financial burdens and send their children to private schools. We've asked them to explore expanding the current DoD schools to help more students, to add DoD schools, and also to explore providing financial vouchers to offset home schooling, private schooling, or to even supplement public schools in the local area.

Rostker: We all would be happy to take any questions that you have. I might say that many of the things that you just heard are things that we have addressed, we are addressing. Improvements have been made.

Clearly more improvements need to be made, and we can discuss that also.

So we'll be happy to take any of your questions.

Q: Why is this panel needed when you -- when the senior enlisted -- when each commander is supposed to provide exactly this kind of input?

Rostker: We need it for -- to get these messages in a variety of ways. We do it by field trips. We do it through the formal process of the CINCs in identifying their requirements. And increasingly they've done that within -- including human resource program requirements. We do it through the military departments. It's important to take a check to make sure that we are addressing the right things and to constantly evaluate where we're headed.

Let me give you an example. We have had an action program to look at extended hours. It's not just a matter of resources; it's a matter of finding people to -- who will work extended hours. We need to put more emphasis on that.

We heard about the needs for DoD schools. That's been a great success program. In some areas, we have been able to help. We obviously need to try to help in other areas, and it gets into our relations with the local communities around our base.

In Guam now two and a half, three years ago, frankly, the situation became so bad and intolerable, we walked away from the local school system and in about a five-month period created a whole K- through-12 school system on the -- shared by the Army and the Navy in Guam.

But there has been a move to rely more heavily on local communities, and we get the kind of disparities that we heard about today. We need to redouble our efforts through the programs that exist and are underfunded in terms of Impact Aid, and we need to reassess the role of our DoD schools. We've actually moved to close DoD schools over the last -- domestically over the last decade or so, and it may be time, based upon what we hear, to reassess those kinds of programs.

But talking and communication is the heart of making sure we stay in touch and we can improve things in the future.

Q: How about pay reform for the enlisted pay tables?

Rostker: We did pay reform last year. In fact, it's just going into effect now.

And that was the first time in really 20 years that we addressed pay reform in terms of the pay table. We are going to do that again in the quadrennial review of military compensation. It's an every-four- year review. It's ongoing now. It will report in the fall. And I can assure you, it clearly will deal with the issues that were raised here.

The pay table historically, has been built on the model of a high school graduate, and we have measured ourselves in terms of how adequately we compensate compared to the high school graduate. We pay over the 50 percent level for those who do not go on to college and only have high school. But that's not going to be adequate for the future, and we know that. And the analysis that's going on right now is to look at higher standards, the pay structure for those with college education and to continue to address the composition of the pay table, not just across-the-board increases.

I might say, I was not in P&R [personnel and readiness] when this was done last time. And I give Rudy de Leon a great deal of credit. The wisdom in this town for almost two decades was that all we could do was adjust the pay proportionally. And that was based on, "You have got to do it for the most junior enlisted person, and you adjust the pay, and everything else will take care of itself."

That was clearly not right; it was not right for the senior enlisted, where we had some pay adjustments. And it was not right for officers. Officers were also underpaid, particularly junior officers, because of the way we were adjusting. And Rudy broke that paradigm and say, "No, we can address the internal composition of the pay table." We did that once, and we will do it again. And there is a lot of merit to what was suggested in terms of the content between E-4 and -5, and there is a great deal of merit in terms of recognizing the educational level, as well as the tasks and responsibilities of our senior enlisted in the high three grades. And I can assure you we will address those problems in this report that is due out in the fall.

Q: Are you looking at some -- a separate pay for education or --

Rostker: That could be one of the things. As you know, many governmental pay tables -- my wife is a teacher at Fairfax County, and their pay chart is not only longevity, but educational attainment. That certainly is an option that we have. But that would not necessarily capture the changes in responsibility that go along with it. There's a double impact here, and to a very large extent, you're not going to get promoted in the military today unless you've achieved those educational levels; for officers, gaining Masters, but increasingly for the senior enlisted also, gaining college and masters degrees. And we have senior enlisteds with one and two masters, and even Ph.D.s And so the important thing is to support the promotion process and support these men and women. And it is not a matter of a lot of money. There are not that many E-7, E-8s and E-9s. It's a matter of getting the structure right, getting the motivation implicit in that structure right, and we clearly are prepared to address that issue.

Yes, sir?

Q: Could I ask you about the timing of these forums? Obviously, they're coming pretty late in the game for the current administration. And obviously, a lot of these issues will have a life of their own that will carry over. But do you think they could have been more effective if they had come maybe a little earlier in Secretary Cohen's tenure? And do you have any concerns that that momentum will falter a little bit during the changeover?

Rostker: I think that we've booked these -- this is the first senior enlisted forum and the first family forum. There are, by the way, many forums that occur that do not have the presence of bringing people to Washington; there are family forums that occur by command, by service. There have been DoD forums. There will be more forums. There will be, later this summer, a DoD-wide family forum, which will be several days.

These forums were called specifically by Secretary Cohen and Mrs. Cohen. They really had two purposes. One, to validate their impressions and to bring a better forum to capture the impressions that they had from their extensive traveling around the military. They have gone all over the world and met with our families and our senior enlisted people wherever they have gone.

They also wanted in a very tangible way to say thank you to both the families, those who serve, as well as the senior enlisted advisers, and bringing them to Washington in a way that, hopefully, would be a meaningful experience for the people that were able to come representing the many who could not come, in a very visible way that the secretary and Mrs. Cohen could say thank you.

We would hope that this would continue. We certainly will recommend to any incoming administration that it does continue and be expanded. One of the things we've heard today, and we heard from the family forum, it's too much in one day. We need to expand it in time, and that will clearly be one of our recommendations.

Thank you very much.

Rostker: Thank you.

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