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Perry Says Spirits Are High Despite Problems

By Linda Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

TUZLA, BOSNIA, Jan. 3, 1996 – Despite a mine casualty, Sava River flooding and the Serb detainment of 16 civilians in Sarajevo, Defense Secretary William J. Perry said the operation is going better than expected.

The problems have been more than counterbalanced, he said, by a very successful and very effective two weeks. "We have made far more progress than any of us thought possible, and it's gone more smoothly than any of us had dared to hope."

Perry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John M. Shalikashvili traveled to Sarajevo and Tuzla during a seven-day trip that began with visits to support forces in Italy and Hungary. While in the Balkans, they met with U.S., NATO, and local officials.

According to Perry, the NATO operation's success is due to the fact that the former warring parties are complying with the peace agreement and the competence, dedication and professionalism of U.S. and NATO forces.

NATO forces have been warmly received by all parties, Perry said. "It makes me believe that the parties here are sick of war, sick of killing, ready to put the hatred behind them and ready to build a future for their children and grandchildren."

Perry met with U.S. troops at Aviano Air Base, Italy, staging areas in Hungary and Task Force Eagle headquarters here during his two days in the region. He deemed the men and women true professionals with true grit.

"They've demonstrated their competence, skill and amazing energy," he said. "This I fully expected, but what caught me by surprise was the spirit with which they're undertaking the job under very difficult conditions. What most of us see as problems, they see as challenges."

In Kaposvar, Hungary, where 800 trainloads of supplies and equipment have arrived in the last few weeks, Perry said, a chief warrant officer calls the work "the railhead challenge." At the Sava River bridge site, Perry said, troops talk about the "flood challenge."

Perry traveled by helicopter from the U.S. forces' headquarters to see the bridge watched by the world. Side by side with implementation force commander U.S. Army Gen. George Joulwan, U.S. forces commander Army Maj. Gen. William Nash and Shalikashvili, Perry walked across the 500-yard floating bridge that, due to once-in-a-century flooding, is almost twice the width Army engineers originally planned.

While on the muddy, pontoon bridge in the midst of the fierce current, the secretary and generals took time out to re-enlist Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles Kidwell, a 10-year Army veteran from Springfield, Ky., for another four years.

"The operation at the Sava River is a tribute to the indomitable spirit of the American soldiers who overcame formidable problems to get that bridge built and to get tanks flowing across it," Perry said.

Returning to Task Force Eagle headquarters in Tuzla, the defense chiefs toured the bustling camp. They stopped briefly to watch Air Force rapid deployment engineers put up tents. They also met with the unit providing force protection, 3rd Battalion, 325 Infantry (Airborne), from Vicenza, Italy.

"Coming over here in this cold, miserable weather, setting up camp, taking up all kinds of odds -- you're doing a great job here, and you're doing it with great spirit," Perry told the soldiers. "You're bringing peace to this tragic land. You're doing the work of the Lord and I want to thank you for it. I'm proud of you and all Americans are proud of what you're doing."

Shalikashvili also spoke to the troops. "The most important thing is that you get your job done and ... I know that you take care of each other," he said. "Make sure that each and every one of you comes home. Thanks a million for what you're doing. Now get out of the cold, and do what you do so well, and that's soldiering."

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