Clinton Salutes U.S., Allied Troops
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 23, 1999 When war ruptured Bosnia, the world waited too long. When the same ethnic cleansing erupted in Kosovo, NATO allies took action, President Clinton told U.S. and NATO ground and air forces in Europe June 22.
"I hope to the day you die," Clinton said, "you will be proud of being part of a nation and a democratic alliance that believes people should not be killed, uprooted or destroyed because of their race, their ethnic background or the way they worship God."
Returning from the G-8 economic summit in Cologne, Germany, the commander in chief traveled to the Stenkovic refugee camp in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He then traveled to Skopje, where he spoke to ground forces now facing the task of securing peace in Kosovo, and to Aviano Air Base, Italy, where he addressed allied air forces who took part in Operation Allied Force.
The 7,000 U.S. and 43,000 international troops destined to take part in NATO Operation Joint Guardian have "a big, big job" ahead of them in Kosovo, Clinton told soldiers and Marines in Skopje. The security mission is not free of danger or difficulty, he stressed. "There will be some days you wish you were somewhere else."
Unlike the NATO air campaign that employed powerful, precise bombs to destroy, Clinton said, KFOR's success now rides "on your power to build -- to be safe while you're doing it -- and to protect the ethnic Kosovar Albanians and the ethnic Serbs alike," he said. "As long as they are innocent civilians doing nothing wrong, they're entitled to protection."
The United States is committed to helping people rebuild their lives and communities, "and then to helping Kosovo and all the countries of the region build a brighter, more prosperous future, based on respect for the human rights of all people," Clinton told refugees at Stenkovich.
Now that NATO has won the conflict, Clinton said at Aviano, the NATO allies must now win peace by employing the same qualities it took to win the air campaign -- determination, patience, discipline and precision. "No one thinks [peace] will take hold without difficulty," he said. "As more and more light is shed on those burned villages and even more mass graves than we dared to imagine, we become more and more appalled by the dark vision of Mr. Milosevic and more and more certain we were right to stop it."
At the Italian base, the president thanked the U.S. and NATO service members of Operation Allied Force "who fought for human dignity and won its cause in Kosovo." The 79-day air campaign proved that "a sustained air campaign under the right conditions can stop an army on the ground," Clinton said.
Allied forces flew more than 30,000 sorties, about 9,000 from Aviano, with no combat deaths, and only two planes downed, he noted. "In each case, the pilot [was] recovered; the first in six hours, the second in an hour and a half. That is a truly astonishing record," he said.
The president also recalled the two Army aviators who died in May during a training exercise in Albania -- Chief Warrant Officer David A Gibbs, 38, of Ohio, and Chief Warrant Officer Kevin L. Reichert, 28, of Wisconsin. Both soldiers were assigned to C Troop, 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment at Illesheim, German.
"I want the American people to know that we could have had many more losses but for your skill and courage," he told allied service members. "You have repeatedly put your lives on the line to save the lives of innocent civilians and turn back the tide of ethnic cleansing.
"I know this has been difficult for many of you," he said. "To sleep 10 to a tent, work 12-hour shifts, six days a week. It's hard for a young pilot to leave a wife and two children, going off into uncertain skies. Hard for some of you to spend Father's Day alone, waiting to hear your child's small voice a long way away on a telephone. I want you to know that I am absolutely certain that you are building a better world for your children.
Along with the air crews, Clinton thanked the maintenance crews, weaponeers, air traffic controllers and civilian employees who supported the operation. He cited the 31st Civil Engineers who built a tent city in four days to house more than 2,000 service members deployed to the base. "It's the envy of all the urban planners back home in America," Clinton joked. "There's no crime. Decent sanitation and extremely low unemployment."
So many deserve acknowledgment," the president said he wished he could name the American men and women deployed to Aviano from about 90 bases around America and Europe and the allied crews at the base from Spain, Canada, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
Confessing to getting an adrenaline high from hearing the troops cheer and applaud when he names their units, Clinton went on to thank "the Buzzards of the 510th Fighter Squadron; the Bushmasters of the 78th; the Black Panthers of the 494th; the Triple Nickle; the Star Warriors and Patriots and Yellowjackets from the Navy; Playboys and Seahawks from the Marines."