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Perry Tells Troops Mission is Historic Achievement

By Master Sgt. Gary Pomeroy, USAF
American Forces Press Service

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy, Jan. 3, 1996 – Though cautious of what the future may hold in the Balkans, Defense Secretary William J. Perry lauded the role air power played in setting the stage for peace in the region.

Many of the Operation Deny Flight sorties originated at this northern Italian base. Deny Flight enforced the no-fly zone over Bosnia. Perry said to base airmen Jan. 2, "This is a great historic achievement. NATO can be proud of what it's achieved. You can be proud of what you've achieved.

Perry said although media attention currently focuses on ground operations in Bosnia, "the achievement in Bosnia in the first instance was the achievement of NATO air.

He recalled his first trip to Aviano in early 1994. Then, he and other NATO defense ministers worked to set policy regarding the exclusion zone around Sarajevo. NATO air power enforced that zone, Perry said.

Perry said Operation Deliberate Force in the fall of 1995 was absolutely crucial in bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table in Dayton, Ohio, and leading to the peace agreement.

"So NATO air power has brought us to a peace accord and now NATO air power and ground power will be responsible for ensuring compliance with that agreement," he said.

He emphasized, however, much work remains. It will be a difficult year ahead. None of us can be certain that the peace agreement will work. But one thing is certain -- that without NATO, without our commitment to this agreement, the war will start up again and the human tragedies of the post four years will be repeated.

"Your work is crucial to making this year count," he said. There will be risks both in the air and on the ground. But we have sent a clear message to the warring parties: This is your chance for peace. Don't blow it.

He also mentioned another message to the former warring parties, "Do not mess with American or NATO troops."

Perry re-emphasized his concern regarding complacency. "Whatever your job is, whether you work here on the ground at Aviano or fly the skies over Bosnia, stay ready, stay focused and stay alert.

"It could mean saving a life -- your own or the life of someone who is depending on you."

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