SMF COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF: RUSSIA'S STRATEGIC MISSILE FORCES TO BE MANNED 85-86% IN 2004

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MOSCOW, June 19 (RIA Novosti) - The 2004 graduates of the Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) Academy will help to bring the SMF manning level to only 85-86% of the required strength, SMF Commander-in-Chief Nikolai Solovtsov told journalists in Moscow after the graduation ceremony held at the Academy headquarters on Saturday.

"The military missile personnel will be in high demand in the years to come. All the graduates have been attached to SMF units and services, with each getting a pre-assigned position," Solovtsov said.

According to him, "you cannot find a SMF unit without the Academy's graduates on the personnel roster".

Nikolai Solovtsov himself also graduated from the SMF Academy and harking back to his experiences as a young captain he said: "A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, but every time that I attend the graduation ceremony at the Academy I feel the powerful strength of this establishment whose history dates back to 1820".

All in all, 450 graduates are leaving the Academy this year. On completion of the gala ceremony, some commanders of the SMF units were granted housing certificates along with advance in rank traditionally conferred upon graduation.

Solovtsov stressed that the housing problem continues to be one of the most vital in the Strategic Missile Forces, with about 14,000 SMF officers lacking proper housing facilities. He expressed hope that the policy currently pursued by the state in this area will let each Academy graduate get his own apartment in the near future.

"Still, the SMF will provide lodgings for all 2004 graduates; none of them will be left without accommodation," the SMF Commander underlined.

In 2004 the Academy has let out highly qualified military officers for the 173rd time in its long history. The graduation ceremony was attended by Russia's first Marshal, former Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev who had graduated from the Academy himself. In his greeting address at the ceremony the Marshal expressed deep gratitude to the Academy's senior commanders and teaching staff.

"Only high level of combat readiness can preserve peace in the world," Sergeyev said.

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