Bush Reassures U.S. Troops

Monday, February 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) — President Bush was reassuring U.S. troops Monday that he intends to lift military morale, carrying to the field a promise of $5.7 billion in new spending to improve quality of life in the armed services.

Bush, touring this big Army base, was announcing $1.4 billion for pay increases, $3.9 billion to improve military health benefits and $400 million to upgrade housing, the White House said.

After his first flight as president aboard the Boeing 747 that most Americans identify as Air Force One, the new commander in chief was touring this installation outside Savannah.

Accompanying him was a delegation of top administration officials and lawmakers, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, five senators and six House members.

Among the senators was Zell Miller of Georgia, the first Democrat to back Bush's attorney general nominee, John Ashcroft, and who signed on as an original co-sponsor of Bush's tax cut plan.

Bush was reviewing the Army base's barracks and troops — his first such meeting with members of the military since he took office Jan. 20.

He repeated during his election campaign his contention that morale in the armed services is on the decline, and he promised to address the factors he said caused it: equipment shortages, poor housing and pay and unfocused, ``overextended'' missions.

Bush, devoting his fourth week in office to national security, began with a pledge to improve conditions for those who serve.

``They deserve the best training, the latest and best equipment, and long-overdue improvements in their pay, housing and standard of living,'' Bush said in his weekly radio address Saturday.

Bush dispatched Rumsfeld to the Sunday television news shows to spread the message in advance of Monday's trip. Rumsfeld is conducting a ``force structure review'' of the Pentagon, and the administration will rely on that examination as it sets defense spending priorities.

``I think the focus has to be on quality of life for the people,'' Rumsfeld said on ``Fox News Sunday.'' ``Without the men and women that we're able to attract and retain to man the forces, then we really don't have a national defense, so that has to be the first focus.''

Rumsfeld also told ABC's ``This Week'' that he remains convinced a defense budget increase is necessary.

Monday's visit to Georgia was the first of three trips Bush is making this week to military bases, and the kickoff for a series of events emphasizing his role as a world leader.

He and Rumsfeld head Tuesday to the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., a training hub. Bush will participate in an electronic battle exercise — part of an appearance emphasizing the need to modernize the military.

Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is expected to accompany the president and Rumsfeld to Norfolk, home port of the USS Cole, the target of last year's terrorist bombing in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. sailors.

On Wednesday, Bush travels to Yeager Field in Charleston, W.Va., an Air National Guard base. Bush, who served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, plans to salute those who serve in the military reserves.

On Thursday, Bush visits the State Department, turning his attention to the diplomatic corps. He caps the week with his first foreign trip, a meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox at Fox's ranch in central Mexico.