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Clinton Praises Today's Airlifters

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del., May 19, 1998 – President Clinton praised today's military airlifters, likening their dedication and achievements to those of U.S. aviators who saved Berlin after World War II.

"You are responsible for a full 25 percent of America's strategic airlift -- a strategic airlift capacity [that] is crucial to our strategy of global engagement," Clinton told members of the 436th Military Airlift Wing and the 512th Reserve Wing here May 8. He stopped on his way to ceremonies in Germany marking the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

The president hailed those who fly and maintain today's military cargo planes and air transport systems. He saluted the service members who provide supplies for deployed troops, deliver humanitarian aid, transport the nation's civilian leaders and move hazardous materials.

"You supply our troops in the Persian Gulf, and Saddam Hussein knows we're serious because our diplomacy is backed by the finest military in the world," Clinton told Air Force personnel. "We could not send them there and keep them there if you couldn't supply them."

Airlift units also supply American troops in Bosnia, Clinton noted. "They couldn't be there without you, and you should be very, very proud of helping to end the bloodiest conflict in Europe since the end of World War II."

U.S. Air Forces "lead the way" in providing humanitarian relief at home, in the former Soviet Union and other world crisis spots, he said. "When a ferocious typhoon struck Guam, you brought water and blankets and electricity to people there. When flooding destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the homes around Grand Forks, North Dakota, you brought relief and comfort to the victims there. For all that, for the many sacrifices you make, I want to say a profound thank you."

Air Force personnel also help prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, Clinton said. Three weeks ago, C-5s and crews out of Dover Air Force Base secured dangerous nuclear material in the Republic of Georgia and transported it for safekeeping to the United Kingdom.

"The material could have posed a tremendous risk if it had come into the wrong hands," Clinton said. "You made sure that it didn't and now you know it's someplace safe and we're all more secure because of it."

Clinton cited the mission philosophy of former Air Force air transport chief Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner: "We can carry anything, anywhere, anytime." Tunner commanded "Operation Vittles" -- Berlin Airlift -- during which U.S. and allied crews delivered food and fuel in 227,000 sorties to the besieged city.

Tunner flew men and supplies over the Himalayan "Hump" between India and China during World War II. As head of the Combat Cargo Command during the Korean War, he engaged his crews in critical supply airdrops to U.S. troops trapped in North Korea.

On a more personal note, the president said that in the past few weeks he traveled to Africa where American soldiers are establishing new African-led peacekeeping units. He also traveled to South America where trade is growing and freedom has taken hold. In both cases, he told Dover personnel, "You provided the transportation; you provided the helicopters, and you provided the communications. I thank you."

In closing, Clinton said, "when your joints ache from muscling pallets, when you've stared at one load plan too many, when you fly all night through turbulent skies, when you're too far from home and you wonder sometimes what you are doing it for, please remember, in ways large and small you are making a huge difference in making the world a better place. ... You are essential to America's security. You make this a better country, and you make us all very proud."

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