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Chu interview with Steve Scully, Washington Journal

Presenters: Dr. David S.C. Chu, USD Personnel and Readiness
March 08, 2002

(Interview with Steve Scully, Washington Journal)

Scully: Dr. David Chu, good morning -- over at the Defense Department, the undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness. I appreciate you being with us.

Good morning, Steve. I'm glad to be here.

Scully: Is the Pentagon recruiting more women?

Chu: The Pentagon is, in a historical sense, recruiting a lot more women than they did 10 or 20 years ago. Relative to last year, we're about the same level as we were, and that's about where we planned it. We're about at the proportion of women in the force that is likely to be true for several years in the future.

Scully: And how do you do that?

Chu: How do we recruit them? The same way we recruit men. We have a force of recruiters around the country. They visit high schools. They go through shopping malls. We have recruiting stations. We have a variety of programs to try to acquaint young people with the opportunities military service can provide them, either as an element in their long-term career or as a career that might last 20, 30, 35 years.

Scully: We've been taking a look at the numbers that the president has put forth in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2003. Right now the personnel budget is at about $82 billion. The increase, as proposed by the president, would make that budget $94 billion. What is the money used for?

Chu: Well, what that money reflects is the commitment of the president and the secretary to people as the most important part of the Department. People are the Department. They are the essence of our military strength. Money goes in that particular account, chiefly for pay and those things that represent cash in members' pocket.

But we actually spend far more than that on people. We have a school system. We have a hospital system. We provide housing for many of our people. There is a whole host of things that we do.

Scully: When you talk about increasing benefits and pay, how does that retain members of the military, at what percentage?

Chu: Well, we are a volunteer force, as you know. That was a decision the country made in the early 1970's, when we ended conscription in this country, and it has been a great success. But it does mean we have to be competitive with what the private sector offers our people. It increasingly means we have to compete against the aspirations of young Americans who want to go right on to college after they finish high school.

Scully: If you are in the military you can give us a call at 202-585-3882. Our other phone lines are divided regionally at 202-585-3881 for those of you in Eastern and Central Time Zones. And for those of you in the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones, the number is 202-585-3880.

The Defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, will be talking about this new military in his speech later today. When it comes to recruiting these individuals, though, are you looking for specific talents?

Chu: Absolutely. We are like Lake Wobegon; we're looking for the above average young American, someone who is at least a graduate from high school with a diploma, someone who scores well on our vocational aptitude battery test, and someone whose moral and physical background suits him or her for military service.

Scully: How many are currently serving?

Chu: In the military we have over 1.3 million active service members. We have 1.4 million in the reserves in one status or another.

Scully: We often see these ads, "Be All You Can Be," and the other slogans that are used by members of the military to recruit men and women. Are these spots effective?

Chu: We think so. In fact, we find advertising is one of our most effective ways of getting additional young people to serve.

Scully: Lakeland, Florida, good morning. You're on C-SPAN.

Caller: Yes, I was just curious as to why the people from the Vietnam era as well as the Gulf War, who came back sick and ill with no - what do I want to say? - no incentive about going into the military and coming back sick, and then having to fight for their rights to get proper medical treatment. That is a problem that I have seen and hear all the time in the military, and they're just finally getting around to the Gulf War, taking care of these personnel people. I was just wondering why they didn't take more initiative to take care of these people?

Scully: Dr. Chu?

Chu: This has been an ongoing issue. Many people came back from the Gulf War with symptoms that didn't fit a pattern. In the past, it did take the Veterans' Administration a while to gear up to afford them appropriate treatment. That is now happening, however. We are taking care of these people, and in fact, as you know, a recent study for the first time linked a specific illness, potentially - this has yet to be validated by the scientists - but Lou Gehrig's disease, in very small numbers, to service in the Gulf War. The VA has stepped forward and said they will take care of these people. The Veteran's Administration is acting, and it's really the - for those who are discharged, it's really the agency that provides this. If you're still in uniform then we take care of you.

Scully: Our guest is the undersecretary of defense for personnel readiness.

Our next call comes to us from Holly, Pennsylvania. Good morning.

Caller: Good morning, how are you doing today?

Chu: Good morning, fine thank you, how are you?

Caller: Good. I have to make a comment. You just mentioned the VA, and the VA is really a first-class operation. After the Vietnam War it was a joke, but it has really improved, and I get all my treatment there.

Chu: That's terrific. I know the VA leadership will be delighted to hear you say that.

Caller: The one thing I want to tell you though about the military - I served in Vietnam, and prior to going to Vietnam when I was at Camp Geiger, by Camp Lejeune, half of my company came down with a thing called ARD, which was acute respiratory disease. Myself, I was in the hospital for 52 days getting nothing but aspirin and cough medicine, and had corpsmen taking me into the shower to break my fever. We lost some people from my company during that time. Nobody really told us what we had. I'm service-connected for it now, but zero because they said I smoked cigarettes, so that's really the problem. But that's beside the point.

But I'll tell you, I hope the military has changed, because I told an uncle of mine who is a career military that when I was at the naval hospital in Camp Lejeune and I still had this lung infection but I was able to move around, the military had me buffing floors in the hospital, and he looked at me like I had two heads.

So, unless these people that are in the military are treated with dignity when they're in the service, you're not going to be able to retain them. I really do hope that it has changed since then.

Chu: It has, sir. I don't want to defend the practices of the past, but one of the things that we emphasize is that these are professionals, they have to be treated that way or they're not going to stay with us. That's the whole lesson of the volunteer military. It has been a great military. Its performance today in Afghanistan I think attests to that fact. The president and the secretary are very much concerned that we do the right thing by our people. We're trying to.

Scully: What is the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service?

Chu: This is an organization that was inaugurated just over 50 years ago at a time when there were very few women in the military. In fact, women did not serve in that period in the mainline military. We had a separate corps for women. We had the Women's Army Corps, you had the Waves and so on and so forth.

In that era it had two objectives. One was to advocate for an increased use of women in the military. Second was to insure that the conditions of service were appropriate. The first objective, of course, has been achieved. The secretary of defense has just this last week reconstituted this group with a refocused agenda that targets the 21st century issue, which is, do we have - do we offer the right kind of professional development for our military women, who are professionals? We're going to try to have a group that pays more attention to problems at specific installations that we may identify. It's a bit small in character; it's part of a larger review of all boards and commissions the secretary has undertaken. So, we're in the process of reconstituting this group and refocusing it on today's problems.

Scully: When were women first allowed in the military?

Chu: We've had women in the military in various forms going back to the prior century. But in terms of being part of the main element of the military, that's only within the last generation or so that that's happened.

Scully: Phoenix, Arizona, good morning.

Caller: Good morning.

Chu: Good morning.

Caller: My question is, are there foreign troops in the United States? If so, how many and why are they here?

Chu: There are a small number of foreign military personnel in the United States who are here for training. For example, the German Air Force does training in the Southwestern United States, also true of some of other air forces. And from time to time, foreign military personnel will come here for short training courses, whether that's at the senior officer level - you have some, for example, typically at the National Defense University right here in Washington, D.C. - or whether it's participating in something like the Red Flag air combat exercises at Nellis Air Force Base in Arizona.

Scully: Next call is Boston. Good morning.

Caller: Yes, I had a question. They said they want to treat the military like they were, you know - like the guy said, he was buffing floors. But they do that all the time; you're up at 4:00 in the morning out there cutting the grass for them. I mean, they treat you like that all the time. They said they want to keep their military personnel, but that's the way you're treated. And I just don't understand it. Could he comment on that?

Chu: That's been substantially reduced. I don't want to be naïve and pretend it doesn't sometimes still happen, but we have long since decided, and as a department, that those kinds of housekeeping tasks should typically be performed by support or contract personnel from the civil sector. So we generally do not ask military personnel to perform tasks that aren't part of their main military duties. There are some exceptions to that statement, but in general the policy today is that those are contract tasks that someone else performs.

Scully: Let me go back to something you said earlier about the role of women in the military. Do you draw the line in the role that they play, particularly whether it's ground combat or frontline defense?

Chu: There is, in a set of agreements partially enshrined in law between the Congress and the executive branch - and Congress has spoken rather pointedly on this issue over the years - a line that's drawn, and that is women are not allowed in units that will participate in direct ground combat where the individual is using an individual or crew-served weapon to engage the enemy and is exposed to enemy fire. The services and regulations that we monitor may also exclude women from a small number of skill areas where its not feasible to provide separate quarters, and that goes to issues like the submarines and so on and so forth. But beyond that -

Scully: So the effort that we've been seeing in Afghanistan with the Navy SEAL troops that have been on the ground and in helicopter.

Chu: The special forces SEAL units themselves do not take women. On the other hand, women may be pilots or crew chiefs for helicopters that take people into forward areas. That's been true for a long time.

Scully: Do you think that will change at all in the coming years?

Chu: No, sir, I don't expect a change.

Scully: Next call is from Greenville, South Carolina. Good morning.

Caller: Good morning, how are you today?

Chu: Fine, thank you. How are you?

Caller: Great. I was calling, I have a comment and then a question.

Chu: Yes, ma'am?

Caller: I have a relative that was given a full scholarship to West Point. I feel that there might be problems with the testing environment because after he made it through West Point and they were about to send him off on his first stint, basically he found Jesus and said, "You know, I can't possibly kill people." He is from Georgia. I just thought, you know, you ruined somebody else's life in Georgia that could have gone and actually gone through with their missions. And I always was curious about the testing and how you test for aggressiveness.

Scully: Caller, when did this take place? When was he accepted and then decided not to go?

Caller: Within the last four years.

Scully: Okay.

Chu: Well, appointees to the military academies go through a lengthy and vigorous testing process, but it is the case - these are young men and women. They're typically 17, 18, 19 years old. They often have not fully decided what they want to do with their lives or what their views are on some of these kinds of issues. It is not surprising, it's not unknown, to find young people - and we don't criticize this - who change their minds about whether this is the right thing for them to do.

So that does happen. We try to preclude it by being sure we've interviewed people thoroughly, and they're interviewed at a variety of levels before they are appointed, but it does happen.

Scully: When one enlists in the Navy at the same level as he or she may enlist in the Army, is there a pay difference, or is it pretty much across the board?

Chu: No. We have a uniform pay scale for the entire military system. It's the same in any particular military service.

Scully: So for that individual, what would he or she earn in one year?

Chu: It depends on where you are, but an entry level person is going to make - in terms of all the elements of compensation that we provide - on the order of $15,000-20,000 a year as a starting point, at the very bottom. Now, it moves up from there. If you have a certain amount of college, if you come in through a special program, you may get more money. You may get a signing bonus, basically, and we do pay signing bonuses.

Scully: Next call is Santa Clarita, California. Good morning, for Dr. David Chu of the Pentagon.

Caller: Good morning, I'm surprised I'm on.

I'm a mother of four boys, and I live in California. And I know that we've been selling our military bases even here as we speak, and I know that we might need these bases, and how are we ever going to get them back? Property is so expensive here.

Then I need to know why - our schools are in such danger and, you know, overcrowded. Can't we combine the school system with the military for children, as Israel does for their four-year olds? I think it would be something that we could help prepare our youth and start getting them ready for, maybe, this war on terrorism.

Scully: Thank you. We'll get a response.

Chu: Let me answer your second question first. In many communities - this depends very much on the local situation - there is a community school on the military base to which children from both the civil society and the military may go. That's very much a local situation; it depends on the demography of that area.

On your larger question about our bases, with the end of the Cold War and the shrinking American military, the Department concluded it didn't need as many - particularly the smaller bases - that it once had. That process continues. We estimate that about one-fifth or one-quarter of the bases we have today probably aren't really needed for the military of tomorrow. We're going to go through - Congress has given authority -- in 2005, another big round of what's called base realignment and closure, and that will reshape the bases that we do retain for the 21st century. We are careful to keep those installations that have high military value. But some of these places really date from the mid-19th century in terms of their structure, size, location, et cetera, and are no longer appropriate as military installations.

Scully: David Chu earned his economics and math degree from Yale University, earned his doctorate also from Yale.

How do you explain your job to others? What do you do?

Chu: I'm the people person of the Department. So if it involves people, whether it's their pay, where they're housed, how they're cared for, how they're trained, how we take care of them in terms of their health situation, that's my responsibility.

Scully: Big Sandy, Texas, good morning to you.

Caller: Good morning, sir.

Chu: Good morning, how are you?

Caller: Good, sir.

I'm an ex-field recruiter, and my question to you is twofold. One is, why don't they use more retired military officers and enlisted people that have been successful in second careers for recruiting purposes? In other words, you know, you stay in the military for 20 or 30 years, you come out, you have a background in electronics, you have a background in leadership, you've been successful; use these types of programs for recruiting.

The second part of it is there are a lot of us military retirees I'm sure that could help out the recruiting aspect of it by becoming more - not eliminating field recruiters altogether but have a combination of both field recruiters and retired military that could come back into the force that are specific -- can do those type of jobs that could relieve some of the pressure that you would have, especially having experience now with a background in being a civilian after having 20-30 years in the military.

Chu: Well, that's a good question. I'll look into it. We do actually use our retired personnel in a variety of other roles. One of them, as you know, the Army has been experimenting with using retired personnel to help as instructors in our ROTC programs, and has been very satisfied, I might report, with that experiment.

As you also know, from your own experience, what often is important to a young person is speaking to another person approximately his or her own age. As you know, we do a great deal of that, sending people back to their hometowns and to their home area who had the year or two in the military to tell other young people what it's like.

Scully: You served in the Defense Department 20 years ago. What has changed in that time?

Chu: A great deal has changed, but the one thing - in terms of equipment, in terms of operating practices and so on - but the one thing I would argue hasn't changed is the importance of our people. They've only gotten better over that period of time. It's just a distinct pleasure to serve with them.

Scully: Next call is from Camden, Michigan. Good morning.

Caller: Good morning.

Chu: Good morning, ma'am.

Caller: Hi. I think that the best thing that you can do when you're showing the boys and the young girls all the benefits of service life would be to take them to a veterans' hospital and show them how they would be treated after they're wounded and abandoned by their government.

Chu: Well, I'm concerned that you have a poor view of our VA care. In general, I've been impressed with what the administration has done and the quality of institutions in which people are cared for.

Scully: We've talked about the VA often, and I know this is not your direct area of responsibility, but could you see in the future that retired members of the military more and more could be using local hospitals and not VA hospitals as a way to save money?

Chu: Well, actually we are looking at a closer collaboration - I'll be testifying this morning on this subject for the Congress - between the VA hospitals and DOD's hospitals. Often we are in the same general area of the country but at somewhat different locations, and it might be easier for people to go to one versus the other, and so we're looking at --

Scully: What would an example of that be in this area, for example in Washington?

Chu: Well, in this area of course you've got the Walter Reed, Bethesda complexes, which presently don't see many veterans, but we will be looking at whether they ought to see more. A better example, I would argue, is in Colorado. You have, at Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy, two quite good hospitals that can serve the southern area of the state very well. They serve the military populations there now. In Denver itself we no longer have a military hospital, but VA has a big complex at the University of Colorado, and yet we have a growing Air Force installation right there in the Denver metropolis, and increasingly might look to sending some of our people there rather than shipping them to a more distant point.

Scully: I'll test your expertise on numbers. Again, how many right now in the U.S. military?

Chu: 1.4 million on active duty, 1.3 million in the reserves.

Scully: How many retired, approximately? Do you know?

Chu: That would be over five million, but I'd have to get you the exact number.

Scully: And, again, approximately, do you know how many VA hospitals there are operating in this country?

Chu: There are over 100 in this country -- 150, something like that.

Scully: Next call is from Paramount, California. Good morning, for David Chu.

Caller: Good morning.

Chu: Good morning, ma'am.

Caller: I have three children who are all in the U.S. Army, two at Fort Hood and one in Kentucky. During basic training, teamwork is always emphasized. However, when they were deployed to their respective bases, dissension - there is a lot of dissension in their areas now. Every man is out for themselves. They report to me poor supervision. The chain of command seems not to be working.

My concern is what can they do? Do you train your supervisors? I was just very concerned. They don't want to re-up. And this is a new experience for my son, and he says, "Mom, I just don't want to be in here anymore. I'm going to serve my time. I'm going to go on and get out after my four years is up." Is there anything that can be done in these cases?

Chu: Well, I'm distressed to hear that. That's not our typical experience. We do give a great deal of leadership training to both our officers - our commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers; let's say the sergeants, et cetera. I think what I'd advise your son, if he's not happy where he is - which might be a bad leadership situation - what he might try to do is apply for a transfer to a different unit, whether at the same location or some other place, and give it another try, so to speak, before his term of enlistment is up, before he makes his final decision.

Scully: Good morning to Midlothian, Texas. Go ahead please.

Caller: Good morning, Mr. Chu.

Chu: Good morning, sir. How are you?

Caller: I'm fine. I've got two questions. I am an ex-military, Vietnam-era veteran. My dad served 30 years in the military -

Chu: Congratulations, sir.

Caller: Well, he's passed away now.

Chu: I'm sorry to hear that.

Caller: I have a question about -- first of all, whenever you go to the Veterans Administration you have to have an insurance card if you make over a certain amount of money. I don't understand that. Whenever I was in I was told my veteran benefits would be from now on, but it seems like Congress has got it now to where you have to pay if you make too much money. That's my first question.

My second question is they cut my mother's military benefits. She was supposed to get half of his base salary, and since the Congress voted to cut that from 50 percent to 35 percent it seems like to me that its only veterans that served in World War II because most of them are dying now.

Chu: Well, on your first question, if you are not disabled, as the Veterans Administration defines that condition, then, yes, it is true, if your income level is above a certain amount there is a deductible you have to pay in order to use the system.

On your second question, I'm actually surprised if there has been a change in your mother's pension benefit. That is a set of statutes that have been more or less constant for a long time. We'd have to look into what happened there.

Scully: If people have questions, who should they go to?

Chu: In the Department of Defense? They should go to the Military Personnel Center that serves their particular area.

Scully: Also, you can log onto Defenselink.mil, M-I-L for military, if you want to get more information on David Chu and his office. The focus is on military personnel and recruitment.

Last call for our guest, Chicago. Good morning.

Caller: Good morning.

Chu: Good morning, how are you?

Caller: Great. I have a question concerning the use of depleted uranium.

Chu: Yes, sir.

Caller: It seems to me that it could be too much the cause of the sickness that some of the people, the military personnel, are experiencing. It has been mentioned on a few sites that I have visited that, in fact, that is the reason why. I'd like to see your comments.

Chu: Well, that was one hypothesis about the cause of the so-called Gulf War illness syndrome, or syndromes, plural. The scientific community has been through that at great length and has concluded that actually there is no connection between depleted uranium and any kind of symptoms that we can find. Both the United States and its European allies I think now largely accept that conclusion.

Scully: One more look at the Personnel budget for the Pentagon this year. It is $82 billion, a $12 billion increase proposed by the president, that would increase it to $94 billion. When it comes to the issue of pay raises for the military, how much more will they be getting?

Chu: We are proposing - and Congress must decide this; it's a statutory matter - an across the board increase of 4.1 percent for everybody in the military. In addition, we would like the authority to target $300 million more toward those areas of greatest need, mostly the mid-career, enlisted and officer ranks.

Scully: Dr. David Chu, who is the undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness over at the Pentagon, thank you for being with us.

Chu: Thank you, sir; a pleasure to be here.

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