Secretary Caldera visits School of Americas

by Sgt. Alberto Betancourt

FORT BENNING, Ga.(Army News Service, Sept. 25, 1998)--Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera visited Fort Benning Tuesday, promising to fight for soldiers' Quality of Life and urging continued support for the U.S. Army School of the Americas.

"It would be grievously wrong," said Caldera, "for our country to disengage from the leadership role in our nation, and not have an institution like the U.S. Army School of the Americas that challenges the militaries of other countries to be even stronger and better democracies than they are today."

After a brief welcome at the U.S. Army Infantry Center, Caldera spent most of his visit at USARSA, where he was briefed on the school's history, mission, curriculum, training, and human rights' program. He also toured the facilities, observed classroom and field training, and spoke with students, staff and faculty.

Caldera said the United States has the responsibility to provide leadership in the world. This included the U. S. and the countries of Latin and South America, working together on fighting drug trafficking.

"It is important for us to be engaged right here in our hemisphere and the USARSA is doing a tremendous job in that respect," he said.

Caldera said the school allows a Latin American student to experience such American attributes as a high standard of living, a multi-cultural society; the quality of opportunity, respect for human rights and to see how the civilian control of the military works.

"This school has made tremendous efforts to make sure human rights are part of every course of instruction," said Caldera. "It should be that way because it is an important principal for our nation. It is a principal we seek to share with the nations throughout the world, not just Latin and South America."

Caldera made it clear that if human rights abuses exists "it's in spite of what's gone on here--but not because of what goes on here."

The Secretary said he was pleased to see that more people were supportive of USARSA during the recent vote in Congress.

"We're going to continue to talk to members of Congress to make sure they know how important this school is, especially with respect to fighting drugs, which is such a tremendous menace to our own country and to the governments of Latin and South America," Caldera said.

Aside from the USARSA, the Secretary spoke about readiness and the soldier's quality of life.

"We're taking a very hard look at readiness," he said, "and readiness comes as much more than just the amount of training and number of force structures in the field and the high op-tempo (operational tempo)."

He said it also included quality of life, "how we're taking care of our soldiers."

He said the last 13 years have been very difficult because the Army's budget has constantly been declining. Because of this, he said there has been a very careful process of balancing the needs for current readiness, modernization -- which is our future readiness and investment in the future -- and keeping the contract with soldiers regarding Quality of life.

"I think we're at a point where we need to stop and digest some of the changes in the past," Caldera said. "Everyone is looking very hard at that--the president, secretary of defense, the joint chiefs, service secretaries. We're all working very hard right now to look at that because it is clear that we are showing a little bit of strain from all of the cuts that we've taken over the last 13 years."

However, Caldera reassured that the Army can fulfill its mission today under the current military strategy. But, under the Balanced Budget Agreement, he said the Army would be in a declining buying power position through the year 2002.

"It is difficult to see how we could do that and still meet all of our obligations," he said.

Caldera was confident that the Defense Appropriation Bill has a chance of getting passed before Congress adjourns.

"If it doesn't, they will typically go into a continuing resolution type scenario--passing stop-gap-pay measures until there was a final budget," Caldera said. "So, we don't think it will disrupt our operations here at Fort Benning or anywhere else in the world."

Caldera was accompanied by Gen. John N. Abrams, commanding

general, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and retired Lt. Gen. Claude Kicklighter, deputy under secretary of the Army for International Affairs.

(Editor's note: Betancourt is with the Public Affairs Office for the U.S. Army School of the Americas)