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Hamre Says U.S. Forces Essential in Gulf

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

KUWAIT CITY, Dec. 2, 1997 – U.S. forces are indispensable to maintaining peace in the Persian Gulf, John Hamre told U.S. service members during a three-day visit to the region.

"A kind word will get you a long ways, but a kind word and a gun will get you a lot further," the deputy defense secretary said. "We can have lots of diplomatic talk, but if it doesn't have a gun behind it, it doesn't amount to anything. You all are the most important part of our arsenal."

Hamre's whirlwind tour started Nov. 27 in Bosnia and moved on that night to the Middle East. Accompanied by his wife, Julia, and a small staff, Hamre visited American units in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait and several ships among the USS George Washington and USS Nimitz carrier battle groups in the gulf.

The couple spent one night in a tent at a remote Saudi Arabian base and a second night aboard the George Washington, where they watched Navy jet fighters catapult from the carrier deck into the night sky. At each stop, they saw the troops, ships, aircraft, vehicles and support elements now assembled in response to recent tension between the United Nations and Iraq.

Nearly 29,000 U.S. troops are now in the gulf region, along with 22 Navy ships and more than 250 aircraft. Some were already based in the region; others deployed after Saddam Hussein threw U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq and threatened to shoot down American U-2 reconnaissance planes flying U.N. missions.

President Clinton diverted the George Washington from its scheduled deployment in the Mediterranean to the Arabian Gulf Nov. 14 to augment the Nimitz. Six F-117 stealth fighters and an air expeditionary force with 36 aircraft, including two B-1 bombers, also deployed to augment air forces in the region.

Hamre stressed the importance of this U.S. military presence throughout his trip. He said unpredictable neighbors currently make the oil-producing region the most important and dangerous area in the world. Hussein's refusal to comply with U.N.-mandated weapons inspections spotlighted Iraq's continuing weapons of mass destruction program. Hamre told American troops the United States must maintain a robust military force in the region for the foreseeable future.

"You're standing out here on the ramparts of freedom on behalf of freedom-loving people everywhere," Hamre told about 500 sailors and 3,000 Marines aboard the USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship. "You are the ones who are going to keep stability, peace and freedom in this part of the world. We're counting on you. We know you can do it."

At Prince Bin Sultan Air Base, Hamre talked with Air Force pilots and crews who enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. The remote base houses the Air Force 4404th Wing (Provisional) as well as Army Patriot missile crews and an Army Black Hawk medical evacuation detachment.

Touring tent-based medical and support facilities, Hamre stopped briefly at a memorial dedicated to the 19 Americans who died in a 1995 terrorist attack in the Saudi city of Dhahran. U.S. military leaders later that year moved about 5,000 U.S. troops from the city to this more secure desert site. A plaque on a large boulder near the base exchange stands testament to the dire threat in the region.

In Kuwait, Hamre praised about 1,200 soldiers just completing Exercise Intrinsic Action 97-3. In Bahrain, he visited a site where U.S. military officials recently based an air expeditionary wing of F-15s, F-16s, B-1s and other combat and support aircraft.

At Al Jaber Air Base, a Kuwaiti facility that houses U.S. A-10s, air crews let the deputy secretary know their ground-attack aircraft, adorned with painted vicious teeth and eyes, were ready to go.

"Is there a tiger in the house?" they chanted as Hamre began to shake hands with airmen. "You bet your ass there is!" they replied.

At each site, Hamre praised the men and women in uniform for their personal sacrifice and commitment. He said today's troops serve as a role model for the future and set the military standard for the world.

"You've got a sense of purpose, direction and meaning," Hamre said. "Not many Americans are willing to carry the sacrifices of military life like you are." The American people owe a tremendous debt to the nation's service members for their willingness to place themselves on the front lines, he said.

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