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DoD Briefing with Mr. Michael Dominguez and Maj. Gen. Stephen Goldfein from the Pentagon

Presenters: Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Michael Dominguez and Vice Director of the Joint Staff Maj. Gen. Stephen Goldfein
April 18, 2007
            BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): Well, thank you for being with us this afternoon. As I indicated earlier in the day, we have some experts that have been working on the issue of mobilization compensation. As you will recall, back in January, early January, the secretary indicated in his managing-the-force policy that one of the things that we were going to do was to establish a new program to compensate both active and Reserve components that are required to mobilize earlier than the established policy goals. And today -- actually, late last week, the secretary approved the plan. 
 
            And today, we have Mr. Michael Dominguez, who is the principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and Major General Stephen Goldfein, who is the vice director of the Joint Staff. And they are here to outline for you the policy and take some questions with respect to it. 
 
            So with that, let me turn it over to you. 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: All right. Thanks, Bryan. Okay. Good afternoon. I guess we're afternoon, yup. 
 
            As Bryan said, I'm Mike Dominguez. I'm the principal deputy undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness. I would not apply to myself the very generous term of "expert" that Bryan offered, but I'm going to do my best. What we're going to talk about today is -- it's simple architecture, but it's just complicated to explain. So let me take you back in history. 
 
            January 19th of this year, the secretary implemented a policy that established very, very clear force management parameters that he set as goals for us to manage against -- that's the one-year deployed as an active component member, you should expect two years back home; and that if you're a member of the Reserve components, you should expect to serve one year of involuntarily mobilized service and then five years back home before being called again. 
 
            In that policy memo and in the announcements and the discussions the secretary had around that, he acknowledged that that was the goal, but that the national security and the demands of the national security may cause us at times to not be able to hit that target. And so he commissioned us to think about how you would recognize service above and beyond those established parameters.   
 
            What we've come up with today and which I'll explain to you today is that program. I want to say first off that along -- you know, Secretary Gates and all of us honor the service of the men and women in uniform, particularly in these demanding times. And we just want to -- they are always foremost in our thoughts.   
 
            This program can't be viewed as being commensurate with the level of service that they offer to the nation. So in many respects while it is substantive and it is tangible, it's also symbolic. It's part of our recognition that we're keeping them in our thoughts and we're trying to do something for them, and that when they do above and beyond we want to acknowledge that in some small way.   
 
            Now lest I confuse you entirely, I want to make sure that you also understand that from 2004 on we have been doing as established policy in the department that when someone is extended in the combat theater -- Iraq, Afghanistan, certain limited geographic areas supporting Iraq and Afghanistan -- so when you are extended there beyond 12 months boots on the ground -- you've all heard that term before -- we've been paying you a thousand dollars a month for tours that extend beyond 12 months boots on the ground. That policy continues. That is in place. It will continue in place, and it applies to the people who will be going over on 15-month tours, okay?   
 
            That policy, again, practiced since 2004, recognizes the duration of your service in that theater.   
 
            The policy we worked on very carefully and thoroughly with the Joint Chiefs and with the military department secretaries and which we're announcing and discussing here today deals with the frequency of your call forward. So this is about, you know, how often we issue the call. 
 
            Now, the press release summarizes the recognition device that we've selected to use in this particular case, in terms of the frequency, and that device that we chose is administrative absence. That's the pass. You've all heard of the three-day pass. Three-day pass is an admin absence. It's not limited to three days.   
 
            The secretary's authority to grant administrative absence is pretty well unfettered, which is one of the things that attracted us to this policy. He didn't need special statutory authority in order to do this. So he could give time off.   
 
            And the second thing that attracted us to this device is that time off seemed to be a logical connection with getting the call frequently. We used you a lot, we used you more than it was expected; why don't you take some time off once you get back. 
 
            So that's why we've come up with the recognition device here as to the frequency of our call to you in excess of these force management parameters is the admin absence. It applies to all of those active component service members who are deployed into the Iraq, Afghanistan and in certain geographic areas from January 19th, 2007, forward. So if you're deployed or will be deployed, this policy now applies to you. And if you're a Reserve component member, if you were involuntarily mobilized from January 19th forward, this policy applies to you. 
 
            Now, the -- this is where it gets complicated. The trigger for whether you begin to accrue administrative absence is whether you break -- breach the policy parameters. So if you're a(n) active soldier or sailor, airman, Marine, if you're active-duty, and you serve more than one year in -- and within a 36-month period, that's one up, two back, right? -- if you serve more than 12 months, on month 13, you'll begin accruing one day of admin. leave for every month in excess of that. So in a 36-month block of time, right, you're expected to be deployed in this area only 12 months. If you go to 13, 14, 15, right, you get a day of admin. absence from the secretary for each one of those days (sic). 
 
            If you're a Reserve component member of the armed forces, and you are involuntarily mobilized -- and let's assume one Reserve component member of the armed forces was involuntarily mobilized two years ago and then is mobilized today, right, that's more than 12 months in a 72-month period -- one up, five back. Okay? 
 
            So on that -- on the day I mobilized, today -- even though my last mobilization was two years ago, this policy applies to me. On this day that I am involuntarily mobilized, I look back, realized I served a year of involuntary service two years ago. But today is inside that 72-month period, so today I begin accruing one day of admin. absence for -- per month for every month I now stay on involuntary mobilization orders.  
 
            So that's how it works. It's -- if you breach this 1:2 in active, 1:5 for Reserves, the clock begins ticking and you accrue admin. absence. You -- at month. Seven months into it, right, you begin accruing two days.  
 
            And if you get to 24 months, it becomes -- so that's -- you begin accruing four days. So it's an escalating scale that's appropriate because of the -- this is one of frequency of our call to you. 
 
            Now, you're probably -- I hope that's clear to you, but at this stage General Goldfein and I can take questions and help you clarify. And we start over here. 
 
            Q     A mechanics question and then a philosophy question. On the mechanics, does this then apply to soldiers that have been extended in Iraq and Afghanistan that --  
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yeah --  
 
            Q     So if their dwell time was broken prior to this -- to January 19th -- 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: If they're in there on January 19th -- 
 
            Q     It's sometime in the previous 36 months? 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ:  Yeah, because it's a rolling window of 36 months. But if -- you have to be -- 
 
            Q     Well, for example, if it starts counting now, and you have to wait for the end of three years --  
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: No, no, no, no. If you're on -- if on January 19th you are on month 13, boom, it starts right there. 
 
            Q     Okay. 
 
            Philosophically, I think people on the outside are going to look at this and go, "Big deal." You know, they were in a combat zone for an extra three months, and they get three days off. You know, we get three days off all the time in the civilian world.   
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Right. 
 
            Q     How is this not going to be -- why limit it so much when the exigency's on you-all? 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Well, this is what we do, right? It is the job. This is the job of the members -- men and women of the armed forces, from which they do not shirk. And the volunteer force is extraordinary in being able to sustain the demands we have -- the security of the nation has placed on it. 
 
            Q     So when -- (off mike) --  
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: So what -- but my -- well, the -- well, because, as I said -- look, you can't honor -- I mean, this is -- in a measure, it's just -- it's saying: Look, we know what you're doing. We recognize what you're doing. We're proud of what you're doing. We're grateful for what you're doing. And you know, so -- I mean, if we start getting into why one, why not 10, why not a hundred, why not a thousand? Because it wasn't about that.   
 
            This is about saying: Look, I know this is extraordinary. I wish we didn't have to do this, but we have to do this. But at least you'll know that we're thinking about it, and we're thinking about you. And that's what this is about. 
 
            We'll go that way. Sir? 
 
            Q     You say in the release that this can be used at the convenience of the soldiers. 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yes. Yes. 
 
            Q     But of course it has to be approved by the commander. Now, as I understand -- 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Well, yeah, the exact moment you go. But your entitlement to it is approved by the secretary. 
 
            Q     But it has to be approved by the commander before you can take the -- 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Before you can get away, right. 
 
            Q     Right. So when you get back from a deployment, as I understand it, you have a block leave of, let's say 30 days -- is that right?  
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yes. 
 
            Q     And then after that, for the most part these units are training up to get ready to go back over. Now, what commander is going to let hundreds if not thousands of soldiers off for three, four more days while they're all training up to go back to Iraq or Afghanistan? Won't the commanders in many instances say, "Well, I'd like to let you go for this nice leave plan, but we're all training up to go back over." 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Well, I'll let General Goldfein talk about what -- how an operational commander manages the spin-up. 
 
            My point is this is a lifetime entitlement, or as long as you're in uniform, this is for you. Say for the Reserve component, at the end of their mobilization time, they will get this, right? So for the Reserves, they come back and they'll take this time. For an operational -- for an active component, member of the armed forces, through your career, all you have to do is before you check out of the armed forces, you know, you can take this time. It stays with you until you use it. 
 
            But, Steve, do you want to talk about what a commander does getting ready to -- 
 
            GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah. First of all, it's policy, so the commanders are going to implement it. In addition to that, the services, the service secretaries have a range of options to themselves and they have a number of programs under way, and the services work all of those.   
 
            And just so as not to confuse, "leave" is a different capacity completely handled in a different manner.   
 
            And I think what we see with most of our units is when they get home, there's a certain amount of basic unpacking to do, and then fairly quickly the commanders seem to all be universal in the way that they get folks out the door and reconnected with their families and other things that they need to do. So I would expect that you would see this happen fairly rapidly as folks come home. And because it's policy, it will be done. 
 
            Q     I guess there was some thought that the compensation would be money as opposed to time.   
 
            And do have a feeling -- is this what they want? Do they want time as opposed to money or do you not -- 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yeah, you got to go back to this is what we do, all right, and the cash piece of this is talked about up-front when you join. And it's good, but most of us in the armed forces aren't here for the money. We're here for a whole bunch of different reasons and that includes those men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so -- and this is a way of saying we're not doing this thoughtlessly; we're not doing this thanklessly. I mean, we acknowledge the service and the sacrifice. We know what we're asking of you. It's a conscious thing from us. And that's what this is about. 
 
            Q     I understand that's the message you're trying to send to them. 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yeah. 
 
            Q     But do you have a message from them? Have they indicated that they would have preferred money?  Do you -- I'm asking, do you know what they would have preferred? 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Again, the -- I think -- this is about the culture of our department, the culture of service, and this was -- is a leadership thing. So it was up to us to figure out how to tell them we acknowledge what you're doing, and that's how we approached it. 
 
            Yes, ma'am. 
 
            Q     I'm going to try both Pam and Pauline's question again because I'm not clear that, frankly, that we're getting the answer. 
 
            Did you consider giving the troops money, either on the OSD side or the uniformed military side? Did you -- number one, did you consider giving them money? Do you have any input from the troops about what they would like? And -- to go back to Pam's question -- is one day a month enough? 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: We considered an enormous range. 
 
            Q     Did you consider money? 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Money was one of the things that we absolutely did consider, absolutely. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: We rejected it because we felt this was the more appropriate means of recognition, of communicating to the members of the armed forces: This is -- we understand what we're asking of you; we know we're doing this. It's not mindless and thoughtless. 
 
            Q     Well, wait a minute. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- money -- 
 
            Q     So what are you hearing from the troops? Why did you come to the policy decision that time -- one day a month is more appropriate than money? And is one day enough? 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Again, the -- I tried to set the tone that said, you know, we weren't trying to find some metaphysical balance between the service you’re rendering and buckets full of gold or any other thing we could do for you, right?   
 
            This wasn't about that balance. This was about telling men and women of the armed forces that this is not -- that we know when we ask you to do something extraordinary. We're conscious of it; we're aware of it. And we're mindful of that, so it's a conscious decision on our part. It wasn't --  
 
            Q    (Off mike) -- led you to come to the conclusion that one day -- is one day enough? And tell us what you're thinking was behind that. Why did you come to that conclusion?   
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: What do you think, Bill?   
 
            Bill is my deputy for Military --  
 
            MR. BILL CARR: I'm deputy undersecretary for Military Personnel Policy.   
 
            (Cross talk.)   
 
            MR. CARR: With regard to a day of administrative absence versus money, the thing we're addressing here is frequency and intensity of service. What offsets intense frequency? The answer is respite. So when it came to a debate between cash, which produces a set of behaviors, or respite, that produces a set of behaviors of a break from the unit and the intensity of your exposure to the military environment, that was the reason for at this moment saying the respite is the behavior we would like to encourage.   
 
            With regard to a day, if you took soldiers today, you're going to find for the most part that they'll trip the trigger on 12 out of 36 on their first month of deployment. Because they've had a year in the past three for the most part, for the career force. And by the middle of their tour, the 18th month, they'll be accruing two days. So typically they'll leave that tour with 18 days accrued.   
 
            Now for those 18 days, the value of those 18 days is that the leave that they've accrued, they won't have to take, because they can use this pass. Is that helpful monetarily? Yes, because they have the option to sell back leave which they otherwise would have had to take. Now they don't, and that's valued at anywhere from $150 to $250 dollars a day. So if you take 30 days of leave, then you're looking at about $6,000. So it -- there's a correlation between the two.   
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Thanks, Bill.   
 
            MR. CARR: Yeah.   
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Well, you can't cash out admin absence. And again, I want to -- Bill reminded me of a point I made here, which is that the demand of frequency -- the compensation -- the logical thing is, get -- take some time off. You can use admin absence and allow your leave to accrue, all right? Because that leave, controlled by statute, has specific things associated with it.   
 
            And so what this does is provide some choices and some flexibility, but the concept was, you know, hard work/time off, hard work/time off. 
 
            Q     Well, wait a minute. 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yes, sir? 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- provide special pay, some extra pay in other situations. For example, if someone is extended, they get $1,000 a month. I am not seeing the logic here in giving people time off instead of money. So I'd like you to explain, how is it even close to adequate? 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: I think I have already explained the reasoning -- 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- logical connection here. You're saying time off -- 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Time off for hard use. 
 
            Q     -- extra time down-range, you get $1,000 a month. 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Existing policy already in practice for several years, worthy policy to keep in place. 
 
            Q     Well, why (if you break ?) dwell time do you not get money? 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Because we -- 
 
            Q     Because -- (off mike) -- time off. Why? 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Because we made that connection. I'm telling you the rationale that we used in our discussions at arriving at where we are. And that's what we have. 
 
            Q     Well, what are you going to say to a soldier who says, "You've got to be kidding me, this is not even close"? 
 
            GEN. GOLDFEIN: Can I just add a clarification for a moment. The leave -- they can cash out on leave, but they can't cash out on administrative absence, right? So they can use the administrative absence and then decide, if they have eight days of administrative absence, to cash out on eight days of leave. 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yeah. Let me make clear. In the Reserve components, when you demobilize you either take your leave or cash it out. In the active component, you can take it or accrue it to, if you're enlisted, at a point where you re-enlist you can cash it out. If you're an officer, you do it at the end of your career. 
 
            You can either take it or cash it out. That's leave, annual leave, controlled by statute, how much you can accrue, how much you can roll over year to year. It's a very technical statute. 
 
            Admin. absence -- it's the secretary's discretion how much to award and when and all that, and it's not -- but there's not a cash alternative to an admin. absence. 
 
            Both are time off, so you can use whichever one suits your circumstances at the time. And so that's -- 
 
            Q     Does your -- no, and that's helpful. Just a quick follow- up. Does your department, your office, have the budgetary flexibility to consider alternatives like additional cash bonuses or -- as an alternative -- 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yes, the budgets and constraints on the budgets were not binding or determinative in this. And let me say on that, you know, the Congress of the United States has been superb and excellent in terms of if we needed something for the troops, they've given it to us, all right? So if we -- 
 
            Q     So they might need some more money. (Off mike) -- you're saying. They don't have the money -- 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: -- no, what I said was if we needed something, the Congress has appropriated it for us. So we weren't concerned about the budget. 
 
            What we were concerned about is the recognition device for telling people, look, we know we're asking you to do something extraordinary, but something that was consistent with the ethos of service and something that was connected in a reasonable, logical way with, look, if we use you hard, we're going to give you some time off. 
 
            Yes, sir. You've been trying to -- can we get right here. 
 
            Q     One is, clearly you've done some modeling of how much this will be used. Do you have some sense of how many days off would be earned over the course over the next six or eight months under this policy? That's one question. 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yeah. 
 
            Q     And the second is, it was my understanding -- maybe the general could speak to this -- that when the secretary announced this policy or announced the objective or its intent, that there was a lot of pushback from the Joint Chiefs, or at least their staff, who felt that this -- that any kind of compensation along these lines would somehow be -- you know, go against the grain of service or be maybe even insulting. I don't know; that's my word.   
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yeah. 
 
            Q     But was there some -- was that part of the debate? Why was it -- maybe the general could speak to that, but I understood that that was part of the problem and some of the delay. 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Well, let me say that the secretary gathered lots of people around him to involve them in the discussion. Senior enlisted advisers were involved, not in direct discussion with the secretary, but certainly it's -- my office engaged them. 
 
            The Joint Chiefs were deeply involved, and the service secretaries were deeply involved. And we encouraged ideas. We encourage debate and dialogue, and we had it in this case. And that's part of the reason that it took as long as we did, is that we had a healthy, rousing discussion of this policy to make sure that -- you know, that all the ideas were put on the table.   
 
            And Steve, you want to -- 
 
            Q     Well, I mean, was there any truth to that? It was -- were members of -- the uniformed members of the policy team, whatever, looking at it concerned that this -- that somehow compensating in this way would be against the grain of service?   
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: Well, you know, I'm not going to dissect the process we got here, and I don't think Steve wants to either. The point here is that the chiefs were deeply engaged in the discussion, as was my office, as were lots of other policy advisers to the secretary -- it was his decision, after he listened and heard all that advice -- and that the chiefs, as a body, are extraordinarily comfortable, are -- they are happy with where we are on this. This -- they feel like this is appropriate -- again, not a metaphysical balance between what we ask these people to do and what we're trying to do here. This is a signal to them, when we ask them to go beyond those boundaries, that it's not mindless. It's we're thinking about you, we know it, we did it consciously, and we acknowledge your service through that. 
 
            Q     (Off mike.)] 
 
            MR. DOMINGUEZ: I got -- no, we haven't done modeling. And again, I think that goes back to the -- that wasn't the -- what it was going to cost and how much time people would accrue and stuff was not a determining factor. We're not worried about the expense.   
 
            Thanks very much. 
 
            Q     Thank you.
 
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