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Cohen Says U.S. Troops Are America's Ambassadors

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, April 9, 1997 – One misdeed can destroy countless good works, U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told American troops stationed here.

"Wherever you are stationed, you are carrying the honor of the United States," Cohen said. "Be always aware you are an ambassador as well as a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine."

Cohen talked with airmen at Yokota Air Base and sailors at Naval Fleet Activities Yokosuka April 8 and with Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni April 9.

The defense secretary said the nation is indebted to its men and women in uniform for their service to the nation. "Many times you tend to forget how important the role is that each of you plays in our foreign and defense policies," he said. "You are a part of our strategy of engagement. By virtue of your presence, you are helping the United States carry out its role in stabilizing the entire region."

The United States is a global superpower, Cohen said, but even the United States can't go it alone. "We have to have great allies like Japan," he said. Some in Japan, however, oppose continuing U.S. presence on their land, he said.

Japanese support for U.S. forces in Japan took a severe blow last fall after two U.S. servicemen raped an Okinawan schoolgirl. The incident fueled the flames of other complaints against U.S. presence in Japan.

"Any time you have an incident involving a member of the military in a country in which we are guests, it does create domestic concern," he said. "That's understandable. The difficulty is, there's so much good being done by our military day in and day out. Overwhelming effort is being devoted to community affairs, helping the local community with public works projects -- but it can all be overshadowed and undercut by one bad incident." The public tends to focus upon that one negative aspect, as opposed to all the good being done on day to day, he said.

U.S. relations with Japan, however, have been and continue to be so strong they will not be unraveled by any one incident, Cohen said. While some object to the U.S. presence, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto has repeatedly assured U.S. officials he is committed to providing a stable, legal framework for continuing American forward-basing in Japan.

The Okinawa case sparked U.S. efforts to reduce the intrusive footprint of U.S. military forces and activities on local communities. U.S. officials took steps to reduce noise and traffic, returned about 20 percent of the land formerly used for training and are working to relocate helicopter activities to an offshore base.

Cohen asked U.S. troops to do their part in maintaining good relations by always being on their best behavior and acting responsibly. "Everything you do reflects upon our country wherever you're deployed," he said. "... On duty or off duty, you are having an impact and reflecting an image of who or what the United States is."

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