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Powell Issues Reassurances, Encouragement During S.D. Visit : Military: General tours San Diego-area military facilities with NATO defense chiefs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gen. Colin Powell said Monday that San Diego will continue to play an important role in the nation’s defense plans for the Pacific, despite plans to reduce the active-duty rosters of the Navy and other U.S. armed forces by 25%.

Speaking before the City Club of San Diego, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also praised San Diego’s traditional support for the military. However, the four-star general offered no specifics on how planned ship and personnel reductions will affect San Diego County.

“Citizens of San Diego know how to stand foursquare behind their armed forces,” Powell said. " . . . When people were kicking us and saying we weren’t up to snuff . . . San Diego never failed to support our men and women in uniform.”

Powell, the first black to hold the nation’s highest military post was on a tour of San Diego and some local military bases with several NATO defense chiefs. The group is scheduled to depart today.

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During his three-day stay in San Diego, Powell also toured American Legion Post 310, situated in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Southeast San Diego. The general arrived at the post, at 47th and Market streets, about 11 a.m. Monday and visited with 200 people for about 20 minutes.

He offered encouragement to the audience, most of whom live in an area that is infested with drug dealing and gang activity. Powell used the multiethnic makeup of the troops who served in the Persian Gulf War as an example of how young people from varying backgrounds can be made to feel part of a family when brought together for a common purpose.

“He put a lot of emphasis on the family. He explained how Operation Desert Storm, with all the different races fighting together as a single family, showed that all people can work together,” said Otis Childs, Post 310’s judge advocate. “He emphasized that we have to put the idea of family into our youths to save them from drugs and crime.”

Childs said that Powell accepted an invitation from the post’s more than 500 members to drop in for a visit while he was in town.

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The general also made a surprise visit to downtown military recruiting offices in the afternoon, where he chatted with recruiters from each of the armed services and potential recruits.

In between visits to the American Legion Post and the recruiting offices, Powell spoke to almost 900 people at the City Club of San Diego at a luncheon. During his 30-minute speech, Powell repeated plans previously announced by the Bush Administration to trim the U.S. armed forces as the Soviet military threat diminishes.

He said the Pentagon plans a restructuring of the nation’s armed forces to fit with the dramatic changes in the Soviet Union. These plans include the eventual withdrawal of 150,000 U.S. troops from Europe.

By 1997 the Pentagon will also have in place a “base force” that will be put together after drastic cuts have been made in the Pentagon’s manpower rolls. The base force will be about 25% smaller than the present active duty rolls of the nation’s armed services. The plan calls for 33% reduction in the Army, 25% reductions in the Navy and Air Force and a 20% reduction in the Marine Corps.

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“This is a peace dividend, and we are paying it now,” Powell said.

The planned reductions will transfer some current Pentagon spending to domestic programs, he added.

Although U.S. defense spending will be cut drastically in the future, Powell said that it will still be necessary for the United States to maintain a military presence in Europe to protect its political, economic and military interests. He said that NATO defense chiefs have told him that the United States will have “to stay engaged” in European affairs.

“Our new role is quite similar to the old role . . . to provide stability,” Powell said. " . . . We (still) have significant interests across the Atlantic.”

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