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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
December 07, 1999 1:35 PM EDT

MR. BACON: Good afternoon.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: I'm going to pop out from different directions from now until the end of the year just to keep you guys on your toes.

This evening, Secretary Cohen will give a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He'll talk about U.S. engagement around the world and the military role in that engagement. Tomorrow, he will go to Tampa, Florida, first to McDill Air Force Base to have visits with the commanders in chief of the commands there -- Central Command, General Tony Zinni, and the Special Operations Command, Admiral Pete Schoomaker (sic) [General Pete Schoomaker]. And then he'll give a speech to the Tampa Chamber of Commerce tomorrow at 12:45, and we anticipate that will be piped back to the Pentagon. It is a speech about the importance of the U.S. military to the everyday lives of Americans in preserving security and stability around the world.

With that, I'll take your questions.


QKen, can you bring us up to snuff on what's going on on preparation by the Eisenhower battle group to go overseas?

MR. BACON: Well, I can't really go much beyond what Secretary Danzig announced on Friday. I thought he was very clear that it's performing the bulk of the training in various domestic sites. Several ships will have live-fire training at Wrath Island in Scotland on their way to the Mediterranean, and there could be additional training as the battle group continues during its deployment. And beyond that, I don't have much to add.

QWhen will their deployment be?

MR. BACON: The deployment will be at the normal time. I think the battle group is supposed to leave in February, I believe. But there will be no delay in the deployment.

QWhere is the live-fire training going to be, other than at Scotland? That won't involve the planes on the Eisenhower. Where are bombs going to be dropped?

MR. BACON: Well, some bombs can be dropped and have been dropped domestically, but not with the same degree of concentration that they could be dropped on Vieques. There's more limited live-fire training and ranges on the East Coast than we've been able to carry out in Vieques. So I think Admiral Johnson and General Jones and Secretary Danzig were pretty clear that they believe that it can be ready enough to deploy based on training they've been able to cobble together, but it won't always be possible to do this type of training without Vieques.


QWhat's the next step on Vieques in terms of negotiations, because the Puerto Rican government has pretty much turned down what the administration announced and doesn't want any training there. Is there a process that is starting, embarking on now?

MR. BACON: Yeah. Admiral Kevin Green, Rear Admiral Green, will be in Puerto Rico later this week and will begin discussions with the government and the people of Puerto Rico and Vieques. I wouldn't say "negotiations" are what's going to happen next. The Navy, the Marines, and the Defense Department have put forth a package that's, I think, a good package that balances readiness with the concerns of the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico. It's a -- I think the package is as far as we can go at this stage, and the next step is to try to sit down with the people in Puerto Rico and explain the package to them, listen to them, and to talk about how this package would operate, what it brings to Vieques and what it allows the Navy and the Marines to do.

I think it's very clear from the package, and very clear from Secretary Danzig's presentation on Friday, that we have allowed for a cooling-off period, and that's why the Eisenhower Battle Group is not training on Vieques, why no effort was made to have it train in Vieques. Obviously, tempers are hot now, and we're hoping that there can be a time for cooling off as people review the terms of this package.


QKen, Secretary Cohen's letter on Friday referred to productive discussions, I think was the phrase he used, between the White House and the governor of Puerto Rico. In light of what we heard from the governor, can you clarify what productive discussions there were? It didn't sound like anything was very productive.

MR. BACON: I think I'll let the White House talk about the degree of the discussions.

Yes, Pam?

QI was interested in the language that was used to explain the Vieques decision, which was: We will be training again, we will resume training next spring, and here's the package that we will be offering. Does that mean, even if Puerto Rico doesn't agree or doesn't accept the package or doesn't accept that the Navy should continue training there, the Navy will go ahead and use the range?

MR. BACON: It means that we're going to be sitting down with the Puerto Ricans, both government officials and citizens' groups, over the next months, the next few months, and be talking to them about what the package means for them and what it means for the Navy. And I think that I can't go beyond the terms of the letter right now. There is a cooling-off period. We hope that both sides can use that period fruitfully to come to an arrangement that will work for the Navy and the Marines.


QSo in essence, the Viequens still hold a veto power over this?

MR. BACON: Well, right now the package has been on the street for four days, and the Navy has not yet deployed Rear Admiral Green to Puerto Rico to begin discussions on it. There could be more meetings in Washington between administration officials and Puerto Rican officials. So I think there's room for dialogue here. It's December. The George Washington Battle Group would train in March, toward the end of March. So there's some time to continue discussions.

QBut again, if they continue to say no in March, will the United States use inert bombs or will they back off from that as well?

MR. BACON: I think I won't speculate on what's going to happen. I will assume that everybody will be able to sit down and agree to the package that has been presented and we can begin working under the terms of that package.

Yeah, Chris?

QBack to the Eisenhower Battle Group. You said there "could be" additional training in the Mediterranean --

MR. BACON: I'm repeating what Secretary Danzig said.

QNo, let me just continue. Does that mean that the battle group might go on station without any fully integrated training? You talked about the Scotland live-fire training, but of course there's no one under the guns in that scenario; it's not the integrated thing. We've been led to believe last week that there would be -- before they were actually on station, there would be some form of fully integrated training, and now you're saying there "could be."

MR. BACON: Integrated training is extremely important to both the Marines and to the Navy. I do not know enough details about the training to be able to tell you how much integration will occur before they take off. That's a question you should give to the Navy or you should have asked Admiral Johnson on Friday, who would be perfectly well-qualified to answer that question. But Admiral Natter or somebody in the Navy Staff can answer that question for you.


QThere's a report in the Puerto Rican media that a group of -- they were identified in the story I saw as "Marines," showed up at 5:00 a.m. this morning at the padlocked gate to Camp Garcia and attempted to remove the gate that the demonstrators had put there, and that demonstrators blocked their way and these Marines retreated. Can you tell us anything about that?

MR. BACON: I'm not aware that that's the case. There are demonstrators outside of Camp Garcia, but from my discussions with the J-3, I'm not aware that Marines showed up and were rebuffed from getting in or from removing the lock.

QThe gate is locked?

MR. BACON: The gate has been locked. It's been opened to let people in and out of the camp, but --

QSo you can pass in and out?

MR. BACON: Right. I mean, they are opening it up for some people to pass in and out. But they have locked the outside.

QSo the demonstrators have placed the lock, not the Navy?

MR. BACON: The demonstrators placed the lock, that's right.


QKen, what concerns does the department have that this sets a precedent or an example for other training areas not only outside the United States that the United States uses, but also within the U.S. itself? I mean, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, and here these people are refusing to allow the U.S. Navy to use U.S. Navy property.

MR. BACON: Well, we've tried to make the point from the very beginning of this that in the most basic terms, that freedom isn't free. It does cost something in terms of training, it costs something in terms of inconvenience from time to time, but all around the country there are areas of the country that are prepared to allow the military to train. The National Training Center, various training ranges in California and in Nevada and other places, training ranges along the East Coast. Puerto Rico has produced a large number of heroic soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It has made a real contribution to the strength of our armed forces, and we anticipate that it will continue to do that, both in terms of providing people and, we hope, in terms of allowing training to resume in Vieques.

But I think everybody realizes, when they think about it, that we do have to pay the price for maintaining a ready military and this is an important contribution for Americans in various areas of the United States to make. That's the point we've been trying to stress to the Puerto Ricans and one of the purposes of this package and the cooling off period that it allows is to give everybody time to reconsider their positions and look at the long-term costs and benefits of training or not allowing training on Vieques. And I think that the Puerto Ricans have to look at that just as the Navy and the Marines have looked at it.


QNew subject? A soldier has pled guilty to murdering another soldier who was believed to be gay. And this appears to have been sort of the culmination of several months of harassment of this one soldier because he was believed to be gay. What is the U.S. military doing to prevent the harassment of soldiers who are believed to be gay but have not broken the "don't tell" part of the agreement?

MR. BACON: The military has very strong policies against harassment for any reason involving sexual orientation, race, religion, language, ethnic background. And it's up to commanders to enforce these rules no matter what the cause of harassment. Remember, the ultimate goal is to develop a cohesive fighting force based on trust and respect and mutual understanding. And harassment is antithetical to that. You can't have racial harassment -- that's one of the reasons we were so concerned about the findings of the report several weeks ago -- you can't have ethnic or sexual harassment if you want to build that type of trust and cohesiveness. So it was very clear in the Dorn memorandum put out several years go and reissued in August, it was very clear in Secretary Cohen's statements last August and also earlier, that there is no room for harassment or discrimination in the military. So all commanders have been instructed to make this policy, which is enshrined in law, work as well as possible.

We are in the process of designing training, a special training to deal with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy so that everybody understands exactly what the policy is and what it isn't, but principally so that everybody understands that there is no room for discrimination or harassment or so-called "gay baiting" in the military.

QSo right now there is no training or instruction?

MR. BACON: There is training taking place at Fort Jackson. Not today, but it does take place there regularly. General Van Alstyne,(sic)[Brigadier General Raymond Barrett], who is the commander at Fort Jackson, has carried on such training. But there's going to be uniform training throughout the military. The services are now developing plans that are being cleared, and this is in response to a directive that was put out in August.


QThank you. Chechnya. Is Russia violating any of the Geneva Convention by its siege? And I understand now they have the city completely surrounded and they will -- they have threatened to destroy every bit of life in that city. Is this something that is counter to human standards?

MR. BACON: We've made very clear to the Russians that we believe there's only a political or a diplomatic solution possible over the long term in Chechnya, not a military solution.

The Russians started out in a war against terrorism, something that concerns them greatly. They, just late last month, issued a draft of a new national security concept paper that highlights the growing problem with terrorism and the threat that it poses to worldwide stability. So they are concerned with terrorism just as we are. They also wanted to protect their territorial integrity.

We believe that what began as a legitimate and understandable campaign against terrorism has turned into a campaign that involves a lot of civilian casualties, and this is not acceptable. We've made it very clear to them -- and the president just made a statement on this yesterday -- that the long-term costs they'll suffer from this, in terms of dealing with their own territories and in the world at large, could be high. So what they have been doing to civilian populations is not acceptable. I can't tell you the legalities of it. You heard Secretary Cohen deal with that question earlier this morning, and I have nothing to add to what he said.


QIs the U.S. planning to do anything to impose costs if the Russians continue?

MR. BACON: I think the president was very clear that the cost, the high cost that Russia will face will come in terms of their stature internationally, as well as their ability or inability to deal with internal problems, based on the precedent they've set in Chechnya.

QSo other than the cost they'll pay in international standing, the U.S. is not considering terminating any of the U.S.-Russian programs that are going on military-to-military?

MR. BACON: Well, the main military-to-military program is the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, and that's something that I think benefits all Americans, and I dare say all Russians. We also, of course, have been dealing with them on the Shared Early Warning Center and the Y2K Center. I think those are important programs that benefit both countries and should continue.

Yes, Pam?

QCould you just sketch out for us the differences between the situation in Yugoslavia with Kosovo and in Russia with Chechnya? I mean you have two sort of break-away Islamic provinces that are then being sort of put down very brutally with an organized military. How is the U.S. drawing a line between those two situations and saying in one situation we acted and in one we don't?

MR. BACON: The principal difference is that when NATO acted in Yugoslavia, it took extraordinary measures to hold civilian casualties to a minimum, and we did --

QOh, no, no. I'm not suggesting that NATO did. I'm saying the case for intervention; NATO getting involved in Yugoslavia with Kosovo but not getting involved in Russia with another --

MR. BACON: In Yugoslavia we had a situation where the policies of one man had destabilized a whole corner of Europe for 10 years and had led to war after war. And it was something that the international community, including Russia, had tried to stop diplomatically. There had been extensive diplomatic efforts involving Ambassador Holbrooke, General Clark and others for a long period of time. Secretary Albright was very involved in the Rambouillet conference. Those diplomatic efforts failed. And despite those diplomatic efforts, we know now, and we have known for some time, Yugoslavia was planning a massive depopulation of Kosovo, driving out the Kosovar Albanians. And in the face of diplomatic efforts and continual warnings, it continued this policy.

I think that the Russian situation was a direct response, one, to a wave of terrorism within the confines of Moscow and continuing threats to their territorial integrity in Chechnya. This obviously isn't new, it's been going on for a number of years. But the difference in execution is that NATO tried very hard to hold civilian casualties to a minimum, and I believe succeeded, and we don't see that same type of restraint on the part of the Russians in Chechnya.


QIs the secretary going to talk tomorrow about crimes being committed against the Afghani women in Afghanistan? Yesterday, the president spoke to the country on this issue. And also, the war is now 20 years old, and Osama bin Laden has stood there and Afghanistan is crying for U.S. help.

MR. BACON: I don't believe he plans to address either of those issues. They're important issues, but they're not part of his speeches.

Let me just make one other announcement. On Thursday, General Clark will be here at 2:30 to talk primarily about Bosnia. We're very close to the fifth anniversary of the initial deployment of our troops to Bosnia. Some of you were there. Jack was there, and others were there covering that deployment, and he will be here to give you a summary of what's happened over the last five years -- the accomplishments and also the challenges that still lie ahead.


QOne last question -- The secretary's going to speak in Tampa on the importance of the military to the civilian community, and at the same time we have this problem in Vieques where people don't want the military around for their training. The Army, meanwhile, is facing another shortfall in recruiting, despite massive amounts of money on advertising and so forth. We keep hearing that the Department is addressing this military/civilian disconnect. How are they actually doing that? What concrete programs are being put into place to bridge this gap?

MR. BACON: Well, first of all, as I'm sure you're aware, every year polls reveal that the military is the most -- the leadership of the military is the most respected institution in the United States, and there are polls that come out early every year that have shown this consistently and we hope and assume that it will show it again early next year, when these polls come out. So I think there is a healthy respect for the military throughout the country.

The problems that the military is facing today, I think, are severalfold. One is, of course, in the light of the very strong economy there are many, many opportunities both for people considering whether they should join the military or go to work in the private sector and for people who are in the military, in mid-career, and have received very solid training as aircraft maintainers or electronics specialists or transportation specialists or food service specialists. There are many opportunities for them in the private sector, and many are being lured out.

Despite that, I think that all the services have been showing better luck with retention in the last three to six months than they were before. Every service is making a big effort to improve retention. The pay increase, obviously, has helped. The pension changes have helped. And they haven't even taken place yet. They'll take -- start in January and then phase in over a period of time. So that has helped, because I think it's shown that the administration and the Congress are willing to pay people in the military for the work they do. It's been an important sign of support.

I think there are other -- obviously, the end of the draft has sharply reduced the number of people who have served in the military, and therefore, through a sort of a leeching effect through the economy, the number of people who even know people who have served in the military, who have had a brother or a mother or a sister or an uncle who have served in the military -- so I think there's somewhat less understanding of what the military does. And that is what Secretary Cohen and Mrs. Cohen have set out to educate the public about by doing speaking and getting others in the department to go out and speak on this. I think the president has been trying to do the same thing -- focus attention on the military and the job that it does.

And what's fundamental, I think, for everybody to understand about the military is that it provides the foundation for our stability, our peace, and therefore our prosperity, but not just America's prosperity; you see it providing the foundation for prosperity in Europe, in Asia, and throughout the world, and that the jobs that we require of our people in the military today are difficult, demanding jobs that require a lot of training and therefore deliver a lot of satisfaction. And that's the message that Secretary Cohen is trying to get out.

I think we're making progress. I think that the -- although recruiting problems continue, they're slightly less acute than they were before. And one of the reasons they're less acute is because retention has increased. And obviously, the more trained people we can retain in the military, the fewer new people we have to recruit.

I think there's probably one other aspect, which is, as our military has decreased in size by 36 percent, from 2.1 million to 1.4 million, obviously its footprint in the country is a lot less. We have fewer bases. And even though we have more than we need, we still have far fewer bases than we used to have, so the military presence in everybody's life has been diminished somewhat by that.

But I think when people think about the role that the military plays in making this country a world leader, in preserving stability, they realize that this is very important and very satisfying work, and they see that the administration is working very hard to compensate and care for soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines adequately.

QThank you.

QOh, just --

QThank you.

QJust one more!

MR. BACON: I have to go. The dean has declared this briefing over! (Laughter.)


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