Clinton, Cohen, Clark Warn Milosevic, Salute Troops
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 2, 1999 "President Milosevic should make no mistake," President Clinton warned April 1. "The United States takes care of our own."
The "dictator of Serbia" will be held accountable for the safety and well-being of three American soldiers seized by Serb forces March 31, Clinton told military members and families at Norfolk Naval Air Station, Va.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, who accompanied the commander in chief, said the United States would spare no effort to obtain the trio's release.
Army officials identified the soldiers as: Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, 24, from Los Angeles, Calif.; Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone, 25, from Smiths Creek, Mich.; and Spec. Steven M. Gonzales, 21, from Huntsville, Texas. All three are cavalry scouts assigned to B Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Div., headquartered in Schweinfurt, Germany.
The three cavalry scouts were carrying out a peaceful mission in Macedonia, protecting that country from violence in neighboring Kosovo, Clinton said. "There was absolutely no basis for them to be taken," he said. "There is no basis for them to be held. There is certainly no basis for them to be tried. All Americans are concerned about their welfare."
Earlier that day in Brussels, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's Operation Allied Force commander, responded to photos of the badly beaten soldiers aired on Belgrade television. "We've all seen their pictures," he said. "We don't like it. We don't like the way they are [being] treated, and we have a long memory about these kinds of things."
U.S. and NATO air and ground forces "have performed with dedication, tenacity and remarkable courage," Clark said. "Those of us in command can only stand in awe of the magnificent way in which they're executing our orders."
Clark noted that people who have grown up in liberal democracies may have a hard time understanding what's happening in Kosovo. He said "a grim combination of terror and ethnic cleansing against defenseless civilians" is being perpetrated by what he called "the last vestige of a hard-core communist dictatorship in Europe."
"Man does not do this to his fellow man," the general said. All who wear military uniforms are "outraged at the sight of this," he said. "This is not something uniformed military soldiers do to civilians."
Cohen also paid tribute to the nation's military before introducing the commander-in-chief at Norfolk Naval Air Station. "This past week reminds the entire nation that the flag of America is woven from a fabric of selfless sons and daughters in uniform who day in and day out, around the clock and around the world, risk life and limb for the benefit of all of us," Cohen said.
"They are the sailors, the Marines who are today aboard ships and submarines in the Adriatic," he said. "They are the pilots who are braving the Balkan skies and the soldiers who are standing vigilant in the neighboring lands preventing Serbian forces from widening their war."
Clinton told the Norfolk military community he wanted to thank two groups of people -- service members and their families. "I want America to know that the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform are fully mirrored by their families back home," he said. "America should be very grateful to all of you."
Clinton gave a special thanks to family members of uniformed men and women taking part in Operation Allied Force. Achieving the air campaign's objectives, he noted, will require determination and patience.
Clinton said he had spoken earlier with members of the Air Force 510th Fighter Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy, who had conveyed immense pride and determination in the on- going mission. "Our pilots have performed bravely and well in the face of dangerous conditions and often abysmal weather," the president remarked.
America is asking more and more of its service members after downsizing the military and increasing the number of operations around the world, Clinton acknowledged. The new defense budget contains a substantial pay raise, plus increased funding to keep readiness "razor sharp," he said.
"We know that the more we ask of you the greater our responsibilities to you," Clinton said. "We know we owe you the support, the training, the equipment you need to get the job done. We owe you fair pay, decent housing and other support. It is our solemn obligation to those of you who accept the dangers and hardships of our common security."
Now the nation is asking its service members to stand with NATO allies against the "unspeakable brutality" in Kosovo, Clinton said. This is not an easy challenge, he said, but a dangerous mission. "Danger is something the brave men and women of our country's armed forces understand because you live with it every day, even in routine training exercises."
The president said he has talked to the American people about why the United States is involved in Kosovo, the mission's risks and why they are justified. "It's especially important that I speak to you, and through you, to all men and women in uniform about these matters," he told the Norfolk military community.
Milosevic's policies are at the root of the Kosovo conflict, Clinton explained. For more than 10 years the Serb leader has used ethnic and religious hatred to attain personal power and justify ethnic cleansing, he said. The United States and NATO tried every "conceivable peaceful alternative" to end the crisis.
In February, Kosovar Albanian leaders signed a peace agreement, but Milosevic refused to accept the peace terms. Instead, he sent 40,000 troops and hundreds of tanks on a "rampage" through Kosovo, Clinton said. As a last resort, NATO launched air strikes against Serb military forces March 24 and every day since.
"Think how you would feel," Clinton advised service and family members, "if people came to your house and your village, and said, 'Pack up your belongings and go. We're going to burn your property records. We're going to burn your identity records. And if your husband or your son is of military service age, we might take them out behind the barn and shoot them dead -- just because you have a different religion.'"
NATO's military action is designed to "restore the Kosovars to their homes with security and self-government," Clinton said. "Had we not acted, the Serbian offensive would have been carried out with impunity. We are determined that it will carry a very high price, indeed."
The United States is not acting alone, but with its NATO allies, Clinton said. "They're up there in the air, too. If there's a peace agreement, they've agreed to provide 85 percent of the troops on the ground to help to monitor the peace agreement and protect all the ethnic groups, including the Serbs."
Milosevic's atrocities are happening at NATO's doorstep, Clinton stressed. "They are happening to people who embrace peace and promise to lay down their own arms," he said. "They put their trust in us, and we can't let them down."