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DoD News Briefing: Media Availability, MCAGCC, Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.

Presenters: Media Availability, MCAGCC, Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.
June 16, 1997 12:45 PM EDT

Deputy Secretary of Defense John P. White

Captain Yeatts: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I want to welcome you to the Combat Center here at Twenty-Nine Palms. My name is Captain Yeatts. I'm the public affairs officer for the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center here.

During the last two days, it's been our pleasure to host the honorable Dr. John White, Deputy Secretary of Defense, on his visit here. During his time here, Dr. White has viewed a live fire training exercise. He's met with the commanders, talked to the Marines and toured the base.

With no further adieu, I'd like to introduce Dr. White. Sir.

Dr. White: Thank you, Captain Yeatts. Good afternoon.

First of all, I want to thank General Richard and all the people here for their hospitality because we've had, although too short, a really delightful visit coming in yesterday; and being able to see operations, being able to meet with senior NCOs last night and then today, to get out in the field and meet with a lot of great Marines. So it's really a pleasure to be here.

I've spent my life in the Pentagon. For the last six months, we've done a major review of all of our Defense policies, strategies and the future of plans that we have for the Defense Department. The one principle issue that comes out of that is that the fundamental backbone of our force is the quality of our people. And so every chance I get, I like to get out and experience the quality of our people, look at the training that' s provided to the people now and what the services have in terms of their visions for quality training for the future because everything is changing so quickly. So that's why I came here. It's been very satisfying and rewarding to me and my team to be able to see all that's going on, the innovation that's going on, the forward looking on the part of the commanding general and his staff and again, most importantly, the quality of the young Marines, men and women here that serve because they are in fact the Department of Defense.

With that, I would be happy to try to answer any questions you might have.

Yes, sir.

Q: Where does the Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center fit into the Defense Department's scheme of training with live fire?

A: We have made a point in terms of looking forward in the Quadrennial Defense Review of what we call "the next revolution in military affairs". That means where are we going. The Marine Corps, like the other services, represents the fact that they are going forward in a visionary way and Twenty-Nine Palms is in many ways, the center for that activity in the Marine Corps. So the fact that they're pushing the envelope on the kinds of training, the fact that it's realistic, the fact that it's live fire is critical to the whole concern that we have of what kind of a force we're going to have in the next century.

Q: Any danger of this base closing?

A: Well we have called for two rounds of base closing in the future. If that occurs, the Congress approves that, then there will be a very long process at which the services will decide which bases will be closed. But that's a long time in the future and I wouldn't have any idea at this stage whether or not that was an issue now or not.

Yes, sir.

Q: Obviously it was printed in the headlines, lately Dr. White, is sexual harassment charges and (inaudible)?

A: First of all, our force is a force -- all volunteer force. It has been and is now and has been for a long time, a force of both men and women. We have over 200,000 women represented in the force. They're very high quality. They go all the way up to three-star general. And they make a magnificent contribution. So that's a fact and that's going to continue.

The second issue has to do with how we conduct our training. That is an issue that we look to the services to decide and in our judgment, what the services are doing, and they all do it a little differently because they have different missions, we think they are doing it in generally the right way. There has been so much concern about this issue that the Secretary has created a special committee of outside citizens to look at training and make sure we're doing training in the right way and specifically at the issue of gender mixed training. And that committee will stand up very soon. Former Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker will be the chair of that committee and they will have a report in the next few months.

Q: Obviously, we've gone a long time without a war and the economy is doing very well. I know that one of the best things for an economy is a war because it puts so many people to work. Any chance of demilitarization because the economy is doing so well?

A: We think that the size military we have today is just about right for what we need given our obligations around the world. We have forces deployed all over the world, everything from Bosnia to Korea to Okinawa. We have Marines right now in Africa, in Brazzaville, in Kinshasa in Zaire protecting our American citizens. We reviewed this recently with the President again in the Oval Office. He's convinced that it's the right size military and I think you're going to see a steady, stable military into the future.

Q: This committee, what are they going to be looking at?

A: They're going to be looking at all elements of gender related training and how we do our training, men and women train together, what are the rules under which they do that training, how does that relate to the effectiveness of our overall force and then they will make a series of independent judgments and I'm sure recommendations to the Secretary if they see the need for some changes.

Yes, sir.

Q: General Ralston just bowed out of his bid for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because of an adulterous affair he had many, many years ago. Is the Secretary taking another look at how important that is to military qualifications of individuals?

A: Well first of all, let me speak to General Ralston. The Secretary and I think that General Ralston is eminently qualified to be considered to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Secretary obviously wouldn't have considered him. This evidence is very old, as you said, and from our point of view, that changed that judgment. General Ralston made a personal decision that he didn't want to go through what he thought he would have to go through and expose his family to in order to have this process continue. I respect him for that. General Ralston is one of the finest officers we have in the United States military and he will continue to serve in his current position.

Obviously these issues have been raised means that we have to look at them. And we are looking at them. Again, the secretary has made two other steps recently. One is he's asked me to stand up an internal review which looks at the relationship between how we treat individuals and good order and discipline. How do our rules work and are they fair and are they effective in terms of making sure that we have the best forces in the world. In addition to that, he's asked the general counsel of the Department of Defense to look at the way we describe and guide commanders with respect to issues around adultery. And that process is also continuing to make sure that what we're saying is clean -- clear and consistent across all the services.

Q: Kelly Flinn charged a double standard. Is there a double standard?

A: No, I don't think there is a double standard. We are very careful about what we do in this regard and we have very serious obligations. We have to make sure that the force at the end of the day, that we always have an effective fighting force, people are comporting themselves properly as it relates to the effectiveness of that force. And I think we're adhering to those standards.

Q: What specifically were you looking at here in Twenty-Nine Palms?

A: I was looking at the training and the very advanced training and training concepts that go on here because as I said, that's critical to building the current and the future force.

Thank you very much.