Joint Chiefs Chairman Retires
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
FORT MYER, Va., Oct. 1, 1997 "In the years to come, no matter what I do, no matter where I go, no matter what I will become, in my heart I will always remain one of you -- a soldier."
With those parting words, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili stepped down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Sept. 30 and left the Army after more than 39 years of service.
In a ceremony here, Shalikashvili was honored by President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Defense Secretary William Cohen and a host of other military and civilian dignitaries, including Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former Defense Secretary William Perry.
Although he touched on several aspects of his long career during his remarks, the chairman repeatedly returned to the importance of service members, just as he had throughout his military service.
"Other militaries might envy us and our high-technology equipment. But they stand in awe of our young men and women in uniform, and the sergeants and the petty officers who lead them," he said. "Our men and women in uniform were always, are now and forever will be the key to our operational excellence. No technology is about to change that. We must never forget their sacrifice. We must never underestimate their importance. And we must never cut back on our support for them or their families."
Clinton presented Shalikashvili with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He praised the general as "a shining symbol of what America is all about," and said he will greatly miss Shalikashvili's advice as the senior military policy adviser and member of the national security team.
"In every conversation we ever had, he never minced words, he never postured or pulled punches," Clinton said. "He never shied away from tough issues or tough calls. And most importantly, he never shied away from doing what he believed was the right thing. He always told me exactly what he thought the truth was. No president could ever ask for more."
Known affectionately among service members as "General Shali," he is the son of Polish immigrants who fled Poland after it was taken over by Nazi Germany during World War II. As a 16-year-old in Peoria, Ill., Shalikashvili honed his English skills by watching John Wayne movies. He joined the Army in 1957 as a private and within two years became a second lieutenant after graduating from Officer Candidate School.
During his career, Shalikashvili saw service in Vietnam, Korea, Germany, Italy and Iraq, as well as in the United States. Along the way, he was involved in such historic events as the downsizing and restructuring of American forces in Europe, establishing new military ties with Russia and the former Soviet republics, and working to establish the Partnership for Peace Program. As chairman, he was the guiding force for current operations in Bosnia, as well as overseeing missions in the Persian Gulf, Rwanda, and Haiti.
Earlier this year, he helped create a blueprint for the military of the future through the Quadrennial Defense Review. Shalikashvili also witnessed his native Poland not only become a free nation once again, but become a welcome member of NATO earlier this year -- a fact Cohen referred to in his remarks at the ceremony.
"The boy who fled his home of Poland for freedom is helping to welcome Poland back home into the family of free nations," Cohen said. He presented Shalikashvili with the Distinguished Service Medal and characterized the general as a man of "bravery and boldness" ... -- a leader with a "firm hand with a human touch" and one "with the touch and toughness of a warrior-diplomat."
Comparing the outgoing chairman to the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Omar Bradley, Cohen called Shalikashvili a man of "firmness, not harshness -- understanding, not meanness ... humanness, not intolerance ... generosity, not selfishness ... and pride, but not egotism."
In what was an emotional ceremony for the entire Shalikashvili family, the general's wife, Joan, also was honored, receiving the DoD Distinguished Public Service Award for her work with military families, communities, the American Red Cross and a host of other agencies and charities. Bands and aircraft from all services paid tribute to the general with his favorite military music and a flyover.
Shalikashvili, who had served as chairman since 1993, is retiring to Tacoma, Wash., near Fort Lewis. He has a fondness for the area , having served several tours of duty there -- one as commander of the 9th Infantry Division and the post.