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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
May 16, 1997 12:00 PM EDT
[Also joining the Secretary at this photo opportunity is Senator Patrick Leahy and Maj. Gen. Martha T. Rainville, The Adjutant General, Vermont National Guard.]

Secretary Cohen: Welcome. I wanted to welcome my former colleague and still friend, Senator Leahy from Vermont. He has very special guests here today -- Adjutant General Rainville. She is the first woman Adjutant General in the country, in the history of 360 years, I believe, of our history, she is the first female to achieve this position. It is, I think, an extraordinary statement about the role of women in our military, and also speaks very well about our Guard and its continuing role as far as being citizen soldiers. It's a mission that, obviously, will continue. It's something I'm committed to seeing that they have vital and responsible roles to carry out in our military.

Also, we talked for a few moments about assigning some new missions for the Guard itself. I've talked about this in the past. We have to confront the potential threat of chemical and biological weapons being used against our population. I believe that's a role that the Guard can assume a greater responsibility for. So we're looking forward to working together in the future.

It's a pleasure for me to meet you and to congratulate you once again.

Q: Mr. Secretary, concerning the Lieutenant Flinn case, in your mind are there double standards between men and women on sexual misconduct in the military and how their cases are handled?


Secretary Cohen: It's impossible for me to even offer any comment at this time. Until the case is finally resolved, it would be inappropriate, so I have to refrain from responding.

Q: Taking off the gloves, how hard is it going to be? You mentioned the National Guard, you said you wanted to give it expanded missions, but you also want to take a big hunk out of the National Guard. How much of a fight is that going to be for you?

Secretary Cohen: What I'm going to articulate to the members of Congress is the way in which we have to shape our forces for the present and also for the future.

We have to absorb some reductions. I'm trying to minimize the reductions for the fighting force, the teeth, the combat element, and to try to spread some of that back into combat support, civilian, and reserve units, as such. So it's going to be a balanced approach that we achieve these reductions in a way to maximize our combat capability. We'll be working with the Guard, obviously, in the coming years, to make sure that we have the appropriate roles and missions for the Guard, that they are an integral part of our warfighting capability. We see that obviously the Air Force is fully integrated in terms of its role. We have many performing combat missions today. We hope to see a similar type of approach accomplished as far as the Army as well.

Senator Leahy: One of the things we all realize -- and I serve the Appropriations Committee where these issues will come and a great deal of the Senate -- we all know that there are going to be budgetary pressures in every area, whether it's the Pentagon, social programs, domestic programs, or anything else. The difficult thing is going to be to make sure that we can all work together to put it in the best places.

I think in the privacy of our offices, we know there are some programs that we have to cut. They're the ones that can be best cut. We also know there are programs that work very, very well. There are a lot of the Guard programs that work extremely well because of the training, the lower cost for that training, and the ability it has to have a real sense of citizen participation in this country. That will be the debate.

Nobody, whether it's in the Guard, the Reserves, the regular forces, expect a free ride. I think what they hope is the Administration and the Congress can work together to keep those parts that work the best. Because, after all, we are the world's only super power, the most powerful democracy history has ever known, and we have a certain responsibility to maintain that.

Press: Thank you very much.

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