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Cohen Praises Special Operations Forces

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 21, 1997 – U.S. special operations forces help bind the allied coalition in Bosnia and play other vital roles in military operations throughout the world, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said April 16.

Cohen was at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., to mark U.S. Special Operations Command's 10th anniversary. Quoting Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Cohen said U.S. special forces were the glue that held the coalition together during Desert Storm.

"These weren't just nice words," Cohen said. "They had real meaning for victory then, and they have real meaning for peace today." He said special operations forces in Bosnia bond the 32-nation alliance and developing cooperation among the former warring parties. In Eastern Europe, they help former Warsaw Pact members professionalize their militaries and join Partnership for Peace exercises. In Africa, their civil affairs projects improve people's living standards. Special operations forces also help safeguard U.S. citizens and allies in troubled places like Liberia and Zaire, he said.

"Throughout our hemisphere, they're a critical part of building new institutions for democracy and armed forces under civilian control," Cohen said. Because of world threats such as terrorism, rogue regimes and regional conflicts due to ethnic rivalries and religious extremism, special operations forces are important today and will be even more so in the future, he said.

Army Gen. H. Hugh Shelton, Special Operations Command commander, presented Cohen with the Bull Simons Award. The annual award, named in honor of Col. Arthur D. "Bull" Simons, is given to those embodying the spirit, values and skills of the legendary special forces operator. It was Simons who led a U.S. raid on North Vietnam's Son Tay POW camp in 1970. Although prisoners there had already been moved, the raid was credited with forcing North Vietnamese officials to give POWs better care.

Cohen shared this year's award with retired Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, who received the award at an earlier ceremony. Nunn and Cohen, as a Republican senator from Maine, served together on the Senate Armed Services Committee and sponsored legislation establishing Special Operations Command in the mid-1980s.

Prior to that time, Cohen recalled, the use of military special operations forces was not coordinated during centralized planning at the commander-in-chief level. Operations in Grenada in 1983, for instance, "presented some truths that could not be ignored," he said. "Special operations were out of sync with tactical plans and often conducted with limited tactical information. "At that time, the services' special operations forces coordinated neither among themselves nor with their own service's conventional commanders, he said.

Conventional force commanders gave special operations units missions that made little tactical sense, he said. "Despite all of this, there were still special operations forces successes," Cohen said. "They were due to luck, to the grit and determination of the special operations force operators and commanders."

The Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the 1987 DoD Authorization Act passed April 16, 1987, and U.S. Special Operations Command was born. Since then, the command has worked hard to become part of the DoD team, Cohen said.

"The services and the CinCs [commanders in chief] began to see a real benefit in Special Operations Command. The services increased their support. The CinCs increased their integration of SOCOM elements into their battle plans, and I'm proud to say, the results were exactly what we had hoped for."

"We can count on [the men and women of Special Operations Command] to go out to meet the challenges of the 21st century, to protect our nation and its citizens and to help secure peace and liberty throughout the world," Cohen said. "For that, we remain eternally grateful."

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