Ralston Assumes European Command; Clark Lauds His Troops
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
STUTTGART, Germany, May. 3, 2000 Pledging to maintain readiness and improve the quality of life of his troops and their families, Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston assumed command of U.S. European Command here May 2.
The military's newest combatant commander said he is honored to lead the warfighting command that has provided "swift and decisive power" whenever the nation has called.
"There is no other place I would rather be than right here, serving our nation at the tip of the spear," Ralston said. "I will do everything I can to ensure EUCOM continues to support the community of free, stable and prosperous nations."
Until his appointment to European Command, one of the nation's nine unified commands, Ralston was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nation's second highest-ranking military officer. He put aside plans to retire when Defense Secretary William S. Cohen asked him to take the lead in Europe.
Ralston entered the Air Force in 1965 through the ROTC program. A veteran of 147 combat missions over Laos and North Vietnam, he is a command pilot with more than 2,500 flying hours. He has commanded at squadron, wing, numbered air force and major command levels, and he has held a variety of staff and management positions at every level of the Air Force.
The EUCOM change of command was the first of two ceremonies in which Ralston would succeed Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark. He is to don a second hat May 3 in Mons, Belgium, as NATO's supreme allied commander Europe. Clark had served in the dual-hatted position since July 1997 and will retire in June after 34 years of military service.
Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opened the Stuttgart ceremony and presented European Command with the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the highest recognition awarded to a joint organization.
"Operation Allied Force is certainly the most well known of your accomplishments -- as well it should be," the chairman said. "Allied Force was the largest air campaign in Europe in over 50 years, the most precise bombing campaign in history. It set the conditions for a peace settlement."
Shelton also acknowledged a number of the command's other equally important operations in Bosnia, Turkey, Liberia. "Your ability to carry out the multitude of day-to-day activities, along with major operations, proves once again that you are equal to any task," the chairman said. "You are responsible for a very vital and dynamic area of the world. … You have never let us down, and I know that you never will."
Cohen saluted both generals in his address before EUCOM troops and guests. He said Ralston, who will guide the command in the dawn of the 21st century, possesses the same warrior strength and diplomatic skill of his predecessor.
"In Gen. Wes Clark," Cohen told the audience, "America found a scholar, a soldier and a statesman -- a scholar who understands the forces of history on our time, a soldier of unquestioned courage …, a statesman whose influence has been felt from the Americas where he helped to guide the fight against drug barons, to Dayton, where his counsel helped end the bloodletting in Bosnia."
Cohen praised Clark and the command for their part in NATO Operation Allied Force. He announced that he has proposed the creation of a Kosovo campaign medal. "No one should ever doubt either your service or your success," he said. "Faced with an adversary who manufactured a vicious, humanitarian nightmare, you responded with compassion and speed to relieve human suffering."
The secretary awarded Clark with his fifth award of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal. The award citation credited Clark with leading EUCOM through the entire spectrum of military operations from warfighting to peacekeeping to humanitarian relief.
Cohen also presented Clark's wife, Gertrude, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Award for Distinguished Public Service. The award cited her for more than 30 years of volunteer service to the men, women and family members of America's armed forces and those of the nation's allies.
In his farewell address, Clark called European Command the "glue which binds America's commitments across the Atlantic and provides the first means of military cooperation, support or, if necessary, action should the need arise." EUCOM contributed uniquely to winning the Cold War, he said, and of all the unified commands has been "the busiest and most stressed today in facing the challenges of the post-Cold War period."
Turning to the ongoing mission in Kosovo, Clark said that as he walked the streets of Pristina during his final visit May 1, he could see "the first budding signs" of the people's willingness to tolerate ethnic differences and cooperate. "This above all would not have been possible without the full, wholehearted and courageous commitment of the men and women of this command over the last year.
"We can take great pride together in what's been achieved thus far," he said. "And I think we should face the future in confidence that with determination and courage, in Kosovo and in the Balkans, we will find the means and the ways to help people there set right the historic wrongs of that beautiful but tragic region and to live together in peace."
He credited the command's success to "the incredible teamwork" at the command's top levels. He also honored the "incredible performance" of the command's soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians, "who have borne this unprecedented tempo with skill, determination and unfailingly high morale."
Two time-tested principles guided the command in all its engagements, Clark said. "Accomplish the mission and take care of the troops. And that's what we did."
Quoting the first supreme allied commander Europe, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clark said, "'If we think clearly enough, plan carefully enough and work tirelessly enough, we can both secure freedom and preserve peace.'
"Together," Clark said, "we have done all of that and more."