Cohen Salutes Triumph Over Tyranny
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, June 21, 1999 The horror in Kosovo is "a story that has not yet been fully told," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told sailors and Marines here June 20. "When it is, people all over the world will understand why it was that America believed it had to take action."
Cohen stopped here briefly on his way home from a five-day European trip to meet Russian officials in Finland and visit U.S. troops in Italy, Macedonia and Kosovo. At each stop, he praised American service members for their role in NATO's Operation Allied Force and warned of the dangers ahead as U.S. and NATO troops deploy to secure peace in Kosovo.
At Italy's Aviano Air Base June 19, Cohen thanked U.S. air crews for conducting the greatest, most precise display of air power "anywhere, anytime in the history of this entire globe." Think about the enormity of it, he advised the troops. "More than 34,000 sorties flown. Two aircraft lost. No pilots lost. That says a lot about your patriotism and it says a lot about your professionalism."
Cohen reminded airmen why NATO had to combat Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the dictator who took the world to the "heart of darkness." He said each day new horrors are being exposed -- torture chambers, evidence of disfigurement, executions and mass graves. "All of that is going to remind people why we were involved in the first place," Cohen said. "If there's anything that's come out of this mission in Kosovo, it's that we have seen the triumph over tyranny."
The next morning, an MH-53 helicopter carried the secretary and his party from Palma, Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, to the USS Theodore Roosevelt's. He met with battle group commanders aboard the aircraft carrier before speaking to about 400 sailors and Marines assembled on the hanger deck.
Describing his visit to Urosevac, Kosovo, Cohen told the troops the people there expressed "gratitude, joy, and passion" after being "liberated from one of the greatest horrors since the end of World War II." After flying over a mass grave near Kacanik, Cohen said he saw what ethnic cleansing really means.
Milosevic was engaged in mass execution, the secretary said. "It doesn't take a lot of courage to take heavy armor and start pounding people who are unarmed," he said. "His idea of justice [was to put you] on your knees and put a bullet in the back of your head and dump you in a mass grave."
The United States and its NATO allies could not stand by and let Milosevic's brutality go unchecked, Cohen said. "This was the fourth war Milosevic had started in less than a decade," he said. "So we finally said enough. We are not going to sit by and be indifferent to what you have done and what you are doing to so many people."
We could not claim to be part of a civilized community, Cohen said, if we were willing to see a tyrant like Milosevic kill hundreds and thousands of people because of their ethnicity. "So we stood up for what was right and we prevailed," he said.
As a result, tyrants around the world have now seen what happens to those who threaten U.S. security interests, Cohen concluded. America's air and sea forces carried out the air campaign with precision and dedication, he said, making "an absolutely heroic contribution" to the mission's success.
Noting that naval aviators aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt flew nearly 3,100 sorties over Yugoslavia, Cohen exclaimed, "What an incredible job you have done. We would not be able to claim that we had carried out a successful mission without the performance of all of you."
Cohen said the administration will do whatever it can to ensure America's service members get the proper recognition, compensation and quality of life they deserve. He praised service members and their families for their sacrifice and service. "You've made a major contribution that will be recognized. We are fully aware of everything you have done. America owes you a great deal of gratitude."