Cohen Says U.S. Forces Deserve the Best
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey, July 16, 1999 America's men and women in uniform make up the world's finest fighting force, and as such, they deserve the best quality of life the nation can offer, according to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.
Cohen voiced the nation's pride and gratitude in mid-July to service members while on a seven-day European trip. Speaking in sweltering humidity in Hungarian and Turkish aircraft hangars, on a scorching naval flight deck in the Aegean and at an indoor sports center in Bosnia, his message was simple and direct.
"You are the best," he told airmen in Turkey. "I want to take as good care of you as you have been taking care of the country." At each stop, Cohen thanked service members for their professionalism, dedication and sacrifice and called them vanguards of U.S. efforts to promote freedom throughout the world.
Cohen landed July 12 at Hungary's Taszar Air Base, where a U.S. joint logistics team runs a transportation and supply hub for U.S. troops in the Balkans. Along with their routine supply effort, the U.S. element also supported 24 Marine Corps fighters and other combat aircraft stationed there during Operation Allied Force.
He traveled the next day to Tuzla, Bosnia, where Eagle Base serves as headquarters for the 6,200 Americans who comprise one-fifth of NATO's stabilization forces in Bosnia. A senior defense official traveling with Cohen said NATO authorities are considering reducing the size of the force within a year, a decision that could shrink the U.S. contingent to about 4,000.
After an update on the Bosnia mission, Cohen addressed troops from the 1st Cavalry Division of Fort Hood, Texas. The Army unit is nearing the end of its six-month rotation in Bosnia. The 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., is next in line for the peacekeeping mission.
From Bosnia, Cohen traveled to Thessaloniki, Greece, to visit the 1,500 sailors and 2,000 Marines aboard the USS Kearsarge. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the amphibious assault ship was among the advance element that entered Kosovo.
The Marines are now pulling out and the Army's 1st Infantry Division is going in to serve with the NATO-led Kosovo security force known as KFOR. Allied troops and heavy equipment are passing through Thessaloniki in northern Greece. The port will serve as the center for international reconstruction efforts.
Arriving at Turkey's Incirlik Air Base July 14, Cohen met with officials from the U.S. Air Force 39th Wing, host unit at the base, and members of the 39th Air and Northern Watch, the eight-year-old allied effort to ensure Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions. It involves U.S., British and Turkish forces.
Cohen spoke to combat pilots and crews assembled in a base hangar just hours after U.S. F-15E and F-16C fighters struck northern Iraqi air defenses using precision-guided munitions. "We truly appreciate everything you do," he said. "We couldn't possibly be the force that we are without you."
The secretary commended the air crews for their performance in Operations Desert Fox, Northern Watch and Allied Force. He said precise execution of tens of thousands of sorties is unprecedented. While the nation's high-tech equipment has proven its worth, however, Cohen stressed, "it's all rather irrelevant if we don't have the best people to operate it. So at the top of the pyramid of our interests, we always have to put people."
Cohen said it's particularly important for him to visit the field as often as he can to put "real faces" on the deployment orders he signs each week. "You're real people with real challenges and real missions." The secretary said he especially wanted to visit service members throughout the region, lest they feel forgotten, since people's attention has been focused primarily on Kosovo.
Based on what he's learned during his field visits, Cohen said, Pentagon leaders have focused on people issues and have asked Congress for more money. "We can never pay you enough, but we can pay you more than we're paying," he said.
"I could not be more proud of the performance that you carry out day in and day out. Everyone in the Pentagon takes notice of it, everyone in the White House, in the Congress and ultimately in the country," Cohen said. "When the crisis erupts and you have to respond, they see what we're capable of doing. What they don't see is that you're doing it every day."