President Reagan told a West Point graduating class May 27 -- and by implication the US armed forces -- that his administration plans to provide them with better pay, conditions, and equipment.
"You may have heard rumors to the effect that increasing government spending is not something I'm prone to do," he told his audience at the US Military Academy after being introduced by its superintendent, Lt. Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster. "And to tell the truth there is a certain substance to those rumors. At the same time, however, I accept without question the words of George Washington, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.'"
The President, the 10th commander-in-chief to address a graduating class at West Point, told his audience that "you are the prime ingredient that keeps us free, that protects all we cherish and hold dear."
He avoided mentioning the nation's foremost antagonist by name but did observe that while the US was repairing "the war-ravaged lands of erstwhile enemies as well as friends" at the end of World War II, "another great power was marching to a different drum beat, creating a society in which everything that isn't compulsory is prohibited."
Maintaining the harsh criticism of the USSR that has characterized his earlier pronouncements, the President declared that Soviet citizens "have little more to say about government than a prison inmate has to say about prison administration."
Asserting that in past years the US government had neglected national security for social experimentation, Mr. Reagan repeated his opposition to the draft, observing that "I believe there is another way, one more in keeping with our system of rewarding those who work and serve, on a scale commensurate with what we ask of them."
Expressing doubt that an exact price could be put "on the sacrifice we ask of those who guarantee our safety," a remark of considerable poignancy in the wake of the disastrous accident aboard the aircraft carrier Nimitz the previous night , Reagan insisted that they "deserve better than a bare subsistence level."
The President, looking tanned after four days at his California ranch, announced that he has asked Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to form a defense manpower task force to review the entire military manpower question and make proposals to increase the effectiveness of the active and reserve all-volunteer forces.
Reagan, who spoke in the academy's Michie Stadium under tight security measures that included military policemen and metal detectors, described last year's pay raise of 11.7 percent and the overall increase in pay and benefits of 16.2 as "a step in the right direction."
"We seek to channel pay increases and bonuses to those in the most-needed skill areas," declared the chief executive. "We are studying proposals for a merit pay system and increased flexibility in personnel practices."
Reagan told the 906-member graduating class, which included 58 women, that "enlistments are up, so are re-enlistments and . . . many who have left the service are coming back." He contended that "something other than pay and benefits is contributing to this," asserting that "the era of self-doubt is over" and that "we've stopped looking at our warts and rediscovered how much there is to love in this blessed land." He added that the manpower task force will be studying ways to make enlistment more attractive.