Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., at Rhein-Main in March, 1985.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., at Rhein-Main in March, 1985. (Red Grandy / ©Stars and Stripes)

RHEIN-MAIN AB, Germany — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said Thursday that he would fight any efforts to cut the pay of servicemembers and that he opposes the "meat ax" approach by David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, toward military pensions.

"It seems to me, if we want the best that we as a country can afford ... we can afford to provide for our servicemen and women the kind of pay which can ensure that they have an opportunity to realize some future for themselves and for their families," Kennedy said during a visit to Germany.

"We have to ensure our military personnel are not going to have a pay cut as a result of inflation. And it seems to me, if we are going to maintain the quality people that we need to ensure the security of our country, they're going to have to be adequately compensated," he said.

Taking advantage of a recess in the Geneva arms talks, where he's a congressional observer, Kennedy came to Germany for a quick visit of U.S. military installations and talks with soldiers.

Kennedy toured Hanau Wednesday, where he lunched with soldiers from Massachusetts at the dining facility named for his brother, President John F. Kennedy, who visited Fliegerhorst Casern in 1963. The senator also toured the Argonner family housing area.

Lt. Gen. Sam Wetzel, V Corps commander, hosted a dinner Wednesday for Kennedy.

Thursday morning, Kennedy visited Patriot and Hawk missile sites in Giessen and talked with soldiers of the 4th Bn, 3rd Air Defense Arty, and 2nd Bn, 2nd Air Defense Arty.

In a brief interview before returning to Geneva Thursday, Kennedy said he came to Germany to check on the quality of life of servicemembers. He had asked that reporters not be included on his tour.

"We have the capability in the Congress of the United States to have the best in terms of weapons systems. But our greatest weapon is the servicemen and women who are in the armed forces," Kennedy said.

He said he found well-motivated, well-trained and well-led soldiers. Although adequate pay and benefits were clearly an issue among the soldiers he spoke with, Kennedy said he was impressed by their dedication to their country and mission.

"I had more than a number of them say, 'Look, senator, we want to ensure that we have the kind of equipment and have the kind of national security policy (necessary) even if we need to tighten our belts in terms of pay,' " Kennedy reported.

Kennedy said in order to deal with the federal deficit in a responsible way, there has to be some belt-tightening in spending for domestic and military programs.

"And by saying that there has to be some belt-tightening, I am concerned about gold-plated weapon systems that are very, very costly and I don't believe provide any additional security for the United States or for our allies," Kennedy said. The MX missile system is one of the systems Kennedy criticized because it would not, he said, buy additional security for the United States.

Kennedy, the ranking Democrat on the Tactical Warfare Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he supports "a greater emphasis on our tactical capabilities" and on conventional forces.

"Too often in the past, belt-tightening has meant cutting back on our commitment to conventional forces, to readiness, to modernization of our forces and preparedness," Kennedy said. "I think that was ill-advised."

Although he pledged his commitment to ensuring that the military has the equipmeet and training it needs, "I want to be very, very frank about it — I'm not prepared to buy every gold-plated weapon system that comes down the pike."

Kennedy said the arms reduction talks in Geneva will be long and difficult. And he cautioned against having "a false sense of expectation."

"But I think its extremely important. And I think the arms race now is going out of sight, and I think we have some real responsibility to see if negotiation can be constructive," he said.

It's too early to know what impact the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will have on the progress of the talks, Kennedy said. But, he said, the fact that the Russians did not postpone the talks in light of the death of President Konstantin Chernenko was a sign of their seriousness.

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