Cohen campaigns for military raises, base closures

Cohen campaigns for military raises, base closures

letters@govexec.com

Defense Secretary William Cohen Thursday took his case for military pay raises and base closures to the heartland of America.

Speaking before the Illinois State Legislature, Cohen presented the Clinton administration's case for more defense spending and called on Americans to support men and women in uniform.

"I know it is somewhat unusual for a Secretary of Defense to address a state legislature," Cohen said. "When Americans think of national security and the military, they tend to think of the Pentagon, of Washington. But the military is an extension of the people. It is your military. These men and women in uniform need more than support from Washington. They need the support of their countrymen. That is why I am here today."

Cohen called the administration's military pay and benefits proposals for fiscal 2000 the largest boost to the military compensation package since the early 1980s. The administration has proposed a 4.4 percent pay raise for service members, additional raises for mid-range officers and a boost in pensions for many service members from 40 percent to 50 percent of base pay.

Cohen urged support for the proposals.

"What is a fair salary for someone who is on call 24 hours a day, who's prepared to lead troops into deadly combat, who is rigorously trained in highly lethal, cutting-edge technology, who is constantly relocated and restricted in lifestyle, who is called upon to manage complex political and ethnic divisions with the skills of a diplomat and warrior?," Cohen said. "What's that worth? We can never pay our men and women enough, but we can pay them more than we're paying them."

While he called for better pay for the military, Cohen also said more bases must be closed, because the Defense Department's infrastructure is larger than the military's needs. Members of Congress generally support better military pay, but Cohen faces opposition to his proposal for another round of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.

Cohen argued that money saved from base closures can be used to provide better training and equipment for U.S. troops.

"I know that BRAC is now seen as a four-letter word, but I must tell you that the vast sums of money we waste on unneeded facilities is robbing our men and women in uniform of needed training, modern weapons and a better quality of life," Cohen said.

Cohen contended that the experience of previous base closures shows that communities can adapt to life without a large military presence. Cohen used Illinois' Chanute Air Force Base as an example, saying that commercial and industrial tenants who have taken over military facilities now produce $1.2 million in annual revenue and have generated 1,400 new jobs.

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