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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
May 27, 1997 1:30 PM EDT
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. It's nice to see this bright crowd here on a gray afternoon.

I'd first like to welcome a group of students from Exeter and Andover who are here on their Washington internship program. Welcome.

I'd also like to give you some details of the Secretary's trip for the rest of this week. He's leaving this afternoon, going out to Colorado Springs to deliver the commencement address tomorrow at the United States Air Force Academy. From there he will go on to the U.S. Space Command and the North American Air Defense Command tomorrow afternoon. On Thursday he'll go to Offutt Air Force Base to visit the Strategic Command. Thursday evening he will go to Los Angeles where he is speaking at a dinner honoring Bob Hope's receipt of the Freedom Award Thursday evening in Los Angeles. As you know, Bob Hope has been a tireless performer before, and supporter of, the U.S. military over the decades.

He will have a press conference in Colorado Springs tomorrow; he'll have one at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha on Thursday; and also one in Los Angeles Thursday afternoon or early evening when he arrives there. We can give you details on the time and place.

We do intend to pipe back the speech tomorrow as well as the press conference from Colorado Springs, and we hope also to pipe back the press conferences from Offutt and from Los Angeles, but details on those are still being worked out.

Q: Do you have a subject or title that he can talk about in advance of the commencement address?

A: His commencement address will talk about the need for high standards of conduct in the military.

Q: No QDR?

A: We know that your appetite remains unsated on the QDR so we will try to feed that appetite with every opportunity, but I think the Secretary has to be allowed to talk about other topics from time to time.

Q: When does he return to Washington?

A: He returns to Washington on Friday. He's also having a breakfast on Friday morning in Los Angeles with the Los Angeles area Chamber of Commerce. The topic of that breakfast, George, will be the Quadrennial Defense Review. And we do, as a matter of fact, plan to pipe back that speech. So if you're in the Pentagon at the right hour Friday morning, you'll be able to hear about the Quadrennial Defense Review - the California perspective.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Could you update us on any activity, military, in regards to Sierra Leone?

A: First, let me tell you that conditions are quiet in Sierra Leone, particularly in Freetown. We don't believe that the 400 Americans in the country, approximately 400 Americans in the country, are under any significant threat at this time. As you know, the State Department has condemned the coup which overthrew a democratically elected government, and we hope the democratically elected government can be restored to power.

Right now the situation is calm.

The [USS] Kearsarge left Simba Station off Zaire late Saturday and is steaming up towards Sierra Leone. It will be in position to perform any necessary actions in the next day or two. We have received no request from the State Department to evacuate any Americans. As I said, the situation there is calm. But the Kearsarge, with about 1,200 Marines on-board will be there in the next 24-48 hours, ready to...

Q: Did you receive a request to stand by in case you are needed from the State Department? Or is that just a decision from the Pentagon?

A: We are ready to conduct contingency operations if necessary, but we have not received any request to conduct an actual operation. Our hope is that the situation will remain calm in Freetown and that the threat to Americans or any other foreigners will go away and that the democratically elected government will return.

Q: Your plan is to stand by, not to just sail by and wave.

A: No, the Kearsarge is not planning to sail by and wave on its way to the Mediterranean. It's planning to stop probably 20 or so miles off the shore and wait and see what happens. While there, it will be prepared to provide any support we're asked to provide.

Q: Was there a request of some kind to move the ship closer just in case?

A: The ship was going to go to the Mediterranean anyway. We've been in discussion with the State Department about the need to provide support. As I said, so far there's been no request.

The Americans in the Freetown area are largely in two or three locations. They're not in the middle of downtown Freetown. They're safe, they appear to be safe where they are right now, and they don't seem to be the target of any military activity.

Q: This may be a distinction without meaning, Ken, but you have said twice now, there's been no request to evacuate Americans. Has there been a request from the State Department to be available should that be necessary? Or is this just a prudent move that the Pentagon is making on its own?

A: There has been a request for us to be available if necessary, but no request to do more than be available.

Q: Has anybody gone ashore to facilitate something that might be necessary?

A: No. In fact it's not close enough for anybody to go ashore yet, and unlike the situation in Zaire before it became the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have not set up a airport control element, a so-called [TALCE]. The geography of the situation is considerably different, and we don't really have to set up the same type of infrastructure in Freetown that we had to in Zaire or outside of Kinshasa, mainly in Brazzaville.

So we think if anything needs to be done, and we hope nothing needs to be done. But if anything needs to be done, it can be done off the Kearsarge.

Q: Are there other allied countries that have citizens who could be evacuated by us?

A: There are. And there's also a fairly substantial United Nations workforce in Freetown as well.

Q: Do you know the total number?

A: First of all, we have not received requests from anybody to evacuate. We have not received requests from the State Department, from the UN, or from any allied country to evacuate. But probably the total population of Westerners is under a thousand at this stage, including the UN people -- I include them in that total.

Q: The Kearsarge could get a hold of them if they had to.

A: Yeah. I don't want you to leap to conclusions that something's about to happen here. As you know, everybody thought something might happen in Zaire and it never had to happen. This may be a similar situation. But we just have to wait for the events to unfold before we can predict.

Q: Has the Pentagon yet figured out the bottom line of what Boris Yeltsin said today?

A: This is not primarily a Pentagon issue. As you know, President Yeltsin met with President Clinton after he made his remarks and there's been a briefing over there by the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and also by the National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger. We believe that President Yeltsin was talking about detargeting, which has already taken place, and perhaps an expansion of that detargeting. But the way detargeting operates is that basically a code card is taken out of the missile. So detargeting takes out some instructions, and without the instructions, it can't, if there were to be an accidental launch, the missile would not go anyplace in particular and could be destroyed after launch.

We don't think there's, at this point, a significant new initiative on his part.

Q: Do you think he extended it to the other members of NATO?

A: I think you should look at the briefing, which I've only glanced at, that Secretary Albright and Sandy Berger gave. They're on the scene. The President discussed this with President Yeltsin. They should speak to the details of this.

Q: Do you have that transcript?

A: I have it in the office, but it's also on the fed wire. I'm sure you can get it from the White House, as well. It was just beginning to run on the fed wire when I came in.

Q: Does the Department have a reaction to the deal that was made by the North and South Korean Red Cross agencies to deliver 50,000 tons of relief to the famine-stricken North? That's the first question.

A: Basically we applaud that agreement and we applaud efforts to relieve starvation in the Democratic Republic of Korea. We have, ourselves, made available... are in the process of making available $25 million worth of food aid. We've delivered $10 million worth, that's 27,000 metric tons, earlier this month. We've announced plans to deliver an additional $15 million worth. That will be delivered in June, and probably the second shipment in July. That's a two-shipment operation.

So we have been working with not only the North Koreans but with other countries to try to find a way to alleviate the starvation of the population in North Korea.

Q: On the delivery by the Galveston Bay, can you account a little bit for the distribution of that grain in the North? Is it going to the children as U.S. policy, or do you know?

A: This food is supposed to be distributed through international organizations, and it's supposed to be distributed in a way that gets it directly to the neediest people -- children, mothers, etc. But I do not have, I can't give you complete details on how that's taking place. You should probably talk to the UN or the Red Cross or some other organizations on that.

Q: What I'm asking is, is it satisfactory in its distribution so the U.S. can continue to deliver that next 15 million tons you were...

A: My understanding is yes, that it's being satisfactorily distributed.

Q: Can we ask you a little bit about the procedure that Kelly Flinn would go through here if she is going to somehow find herself not reinstated, but have her departure arrangement altered in the future? Is that something the Pentagon would like to see happen, or...

A: She has a right to appeal to something called the Air Force Discharge Review Board. Since you're a modern man, I'm sure you've read all about this on the Internet, where the Air Force has several pages of information about the composition of and functioning of the Discharge Review Board. But basically that's her right.

The chances of receiving an Honorable Discharge in a situation like this are quite slim. The percentage in recent years has been under ten percent of the applicants who have been able to upgrade their discharges. But there is a procedure. It goes to a Board. The Board generally takes anywhere from six to 18 months to rule on a request for an upgraded discharge.

I have read that she plans to do this. I am not aware that she has, in fact, filed such a request at this time.

Q: Do you have any idea how many people go through such a procedure? Ten, or a hundred, or a thousand?

A: I'm afraid I do not have those perfectly reasonable figures. I was not able to get them in time for the briefing.

Q: Fewer than 10 percent in recent years? Would that be the last two years, five years, ten years?

A: The most recent figures I have, and these figures are from the Internet, are for 1994 and in 1994, 7.2 percent of the petitions were granted. The year before that, 1993, 7.9 percent of the upgrade petitions were granted.

Q: Is that service-wide or just the Air Force?

A: This is just the Air Force. Every service has its own regulations dealing with the possible upgrades of discharges, and every service has its own Discharge Review Board -- I don't know if it has the same name, but it's a similar function.

Q: You said you got those numbers from the Internet, that's from the Air Force Internet page?

A: Exactly. It's on several sites, I found here. We are trying to get from the Air Force the figures we know exist somewhere in the bowels of the Air Force, but have not been, did not appear in time for this briefing. But we're working on that, and when we get them, we'll make them available to you.

Q: Kelly Flinn's lawyer indicated that they'd actually wait until Sheila Widnall leaves and try to petition with a new Air Force Secretary. Does that have any play in this at all?

A: I shouldn't think it would have. I'm not an expert on this regulation. The fact is, this is considered by a Board that's been set up to review such petitions. It doesn't go to the Secretary of the Air Force. In fact if there's an appeal from a Discharge Review Board proceeding, it goes to a federal court, not to the Secretary of the Air Force. There may be some subtlety in the regulation that I don't appreciate, but I'm not aware that the identity of the Secretary of the Air Force would have any impact on this.

Q: Have you had any indication from Secretary Widnall that she's interested in leaving? Or has she told Secretary Cohen anything of that...

A: I have not talked to her about what her plans are. I can't answer that question.

Q: What's the reaction of this Department to the firing of Mr. Rodionov and do you have anything to say about the hiring of Mr. Samsanov for the Defense Ministry?

A: I thought it was Sergeyev is the Defense Minister, isn't that right? Who was the head of the Strategic Rocket Forces prior to that? Let me just say that over the last couple of years, Secretary Perry and now Secretary Cohen have developed productive relationships with the Russian Ministry of Defense and these relationships are based on common goals and shared policy objectives, not on the personalities of who sits as Minister of Defense. We have every expectation that we will be able to work with the new Minister of Defense as productively as we've worked with the last two.

General Sergeyev has visited the United States on I believe more than one occasion as head of the Strategic Rocket Force. His counterpart, General Habinger, who is the head of the Strategic Command, has visited Moscow and met with the top leadership of the Russian Defense Ministry.

It's through our person-to-person contacts with the Russians and the Russian Defense Ministers in particular, that we were able to set up the participation of Russian troops in the IFOR, now SFOR in Bosnia. As you know, our troops are serving shoulder to shoulder in Bosnia and they have been for more than a year. We have also worked side by side with Russian Troops in Partnership for Peace exercises. We have had fairly meaningful discussions over the years with Russians about topics such as arms control, such as Russian military reform programs, and we've also set up exchange programs with the Russians. So I'm confident that we'll be able to work productively with the new Minister of Defense.

Q: This Air Force review panel is presumably made up of Air Force officers, and not civilians?

A: Yes. Air Force officers.

Q: A question on the Defense Reform Task Force. Is there anything you can tell us? Do they have an office? Have they gone to work?

A: The Defense Reform Task Force is beavering away in the building. They do have an office. They've met several times with John Hamre through whom they'll be reporting to the Secretary. They've also met with Secretary Cohen. They are receiving, I believe, all the support they need right now. They're still, obviously, in the early stages of their review, but they have a very tight deadline which is November 30th. So they have little time to lose. They are working diligently on their tasks. I've seen several of the members in the hallway last week, and I'm sure that on any given day at least several of them are here having meetings, reviewing information, etc.

In addition, there have been some directives sent out, or memos sent out by John Hamre, the Comptroller, asking various parts of the Department to review steps that can be taken to make the Department more efficient. If you want, I'm sure we can get you those memos.

Q: In the Congressional hearings on the QDR last week, both the Secretary and the Joint Chiefs were asked to submit recommendations for legislation to go in the FY98 authorization to implement various parts of the QDR. Has the Secretary assigned someone to put together such a list of recommendations?

A: First of all, Congress is in recess this week, as you know, but we are working on that list, and it is either completed or nearly completed. As soon as it's finished we can get you a copy of it, but yes, there are a number of legislative changes that have to be made. The most dramatic one, of course, is new authority for a base closure round, two base closure rounds, and we are working on that. As I say, it may actually be completed. It's been discussed fairly intensively in the Department over the last couple of days and we may have completed that already, but we'll get you the final word on it.

Thanks.

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