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Cohen Upholds Military Code

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 30, 1997 – Serving as a guardian of the nation is an "awesome responsibility," said William S. Cohen.

Speaking at the Air Force Academy graduation in Colorado Springs May 28, the defense secretary hailed America's men and women in uniform as the best, the bravest and the brightest the nation has to offer. They represent the nation's values and virtues, he said.

Accordingly, service members "must uphold the highest standards of conduct in the world -- character, integrity, excellence, service, teamwork," Cohen said.

"You must take care of people and their families. You must think and act and lead in the face of danger. You must treat every man and woman with dignity and respect -- every man and every woman.

"You will be held to these standards because the eyes of the nation and the world will be upon you," Cohen told the graduating officers. "You must live with these values every day, in every aspect of life in the military, on duty and off."

Service members are more than "warriors and skywalkers," Cohen said. They are ambassadors, spreading American values and virtues wherever duty takes them.

Sometimes people fall short of the military's standards, Cohen said. "While harassment, abuse and misconduct have occurred in the ranks, these breaches of faith are the exception rather than the rule, and they do not paint the true picture of service in the armed forces," he said.

"We've worked hard to build a military force based upon the values of mutual respect and dignity and cooperation," Cohen said. "Not because we're social engineers, or determined to be politically correct, but because these values are essential for the teamwork that is central to the military effectiveness of our country."

Military standards will remain high regardless of critics calling for a more modern moral code, Cohen said. "There are some who now suggest that the military is preaching Victorian values in the age of Aquarius, that our standards are unrealistic or even undesirable when contrasted with contemporary mores," he said. "I disagree. I believe the reason that our military is the best in the world is because we refuse to accept the least."

American troops shape the world for the better, Cohen said, working with military forces of foreign countries, spreading democracy, building stability and reducing the threats to the American people and to U.S. interests. "You will also serve as a steady force for peace in the world, standing fast and firm in distant regions of vital interest, ready to deploy every single day and night," he said.

American troops are on the front lines, flight lines and supply lines -- "on the tip of the spear, providing the steel in the sword of freedom, offering comfort to allies and caution to antagonists," he said.

"You will be trained and ready to respond quickly and decisively to a range of calls, from rescuing civilians to resolving small-scale crises to containing war to defeating major aggression," Cohen said. "By your duty, your commitment and your sacrifice, you will ensure America remains the master of her destiny. ...

"We demand far more of you than any others in our society," Cohen told the graduating class. "That has been the history of America's military, and that must be your legacy as well."

Cohen cited what he called "the simple but sage advice" of philosophy of Vernon Baker as a model for service members. The World War II hero was denied recognition of his courage for nearly 50 years because he was African-American, Cohen said.

When President Clinton awarded Baker the Medal of Honor in February, Baker, 77, explained his approach to life: "Give respect, before you expect it. Treat people the way you would want to be treated. Remember the mission. Set the example and keep going."

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