Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
Upon Acceptance of the Bull Simons Award from
United States Special Operations Command
Wednesday, April 16, 1997
MacDill AFB, Tampa, Fla.
General Shelton, Mrs. Shelton, General Peay and Mrs. Peay
and General Steiner, Mrs. Steiner and so many other officers and
gentlemen and ladies who are here today.
I was told I should
make very brief remarks. I guess my reputation as a former
senator have long preceded my arrival here.
One time, I gave a speech and a lady came up to me
afterwards and she said Senator Cohen, that was probably the
finest speech that I have ever heard.
And I could feel myself
sort of puffing up with a narcissistic kind of pride.
it was just superfluous.
And I couldn't tell whether it was a
slip of her tongue or a slip of a knife in my ribs.
And I said
well, thank you, ma'am.
As a matter of fact, I was thinking of
having it published posthumously.
And she said oh, wonderful,
The sooner the better.
So with that in mind, let me try to be as brief as I can.
And I see so many who are standing and I'll try not to keep you
standing too long.
The poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, "Time present and time past
are both perhaps present in time future, and time future
contained in time past." Well today, I don't want to talk about
poetry, but about operations, special operations, past, present
As you've heard, until the mid '80s, Congress wasn't
particularly interested in supporting special operations.
military was more than willing to renew its traditional focus on
conventional warfare and nuclear deterrence, two areas that we
could boast of unqualified success.
And our nation, I think,
paid dearly for this neglect with Desert One, the Beirut bombing,
the Mayaguez, the Achille Lauro.
And in each case the difference
between failure and success was arguably a lack of special
Many knew that change was needed.
I was only one among
But I didn't want to force change from the outside onto
Instead, I wanted to encourage change from inside
through a combination of reasoned argument and political pressure
that was carefully applied.
But I quickly changed my mind after
Grenada was a valiant victory.
But I must tell you I
was troubled about the way in which we won, with patchwork
organization and insufficient coordinated planning.
And as I
continued to study the Grenada case, many problems of an
organizational and strategic nature came to light, but none were
more glaring than the problems involving special operations.
after I had received a classified briefing with then-Major
General Scholtes, who was commander of the special operations
during the Grenada invasion, I was truly disturbed by the depth
and the breadth of these problems.
The use of SOF was not part of the centralized planning at
the CINC level.
SOF from each services were not coordinated
amongst themselves, nor with their own services conventional
SOF operators were out of sync with tactical plan
and often conducted with limited tactical information.
units were often given missions by conventional force commanders
that made little tactical sense.
And despite all of this, there
were still SOF successes.
They were due in large measure to
luck, to the grit and determination of the individual SOF
operators and commanders.
But overall, the SOF experience in
Grenada was a wake up call.
Winston Churchill once said that men occasionally stumble
over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if
nothing had happened.
Grenada presented some truths that could
not be ignored.
And so I felt compelled to help draft
legislation to create unified special operations command, working
as you've heard with Senator Sam Nunn and, of course, Congressman
Dan Daniels, for whom this building is named.
And together, we
got this legislation through by conducting our own special
operation replete with PSYOPS to counter the spread of
misinformation by our opponents, special reconnaissance to
determine their arguments and actions that were designed to
thwart our efforts, civil affairs to convince the public of our
position, foreign internal defense to advise and assist other
members of Congress on the merits of our position.
direct action, taking the legislation to floor and getting it
passed into law.
And the operation was a success and on April 16
in 1987, this command came into being.
And what the legislation did, in effect, was to force the
Defense establishment to become the proponents of a new CINC
level command to which it had been completely opposed to.
was, as you can guess, a very rocky beginning.
But slowly, SOCOM
began to get the right people, the right resources and conduct
the proper training.
It worked hard to become part of the DoD
And the services and the CINCs began to see a real benefit
The services increased their support, the CINCs
increased their integration of SOCOM elements into their battle
plans and I'm proud to say the results were exactly what we had
During Just Cause, special forces proved themselves a vital
asset to the conventional tactical commanders.
indispensable in sustaining peace among the local population
after the fighting was over.
Special forces were an integral
part of the entire operation in Desert Storm from reconnaissance
to psychological ops to direct action against enemy targets.
especially with liaison with coalition members.
And you've all
heard about General Schwartzkopf's line that special forces were
the glue that held the coalition together.
These weren't just
They had real meaning for victory then.
have real meaning for peace today.
In Bosnia as special forces are critical in maintaining our
alliance with some 32 nations and building inroads of friendship
and cooperation with warring parties.
In Eastern Europe, special
forces are working to build bonds of friendship and cooperation
with former enemies, training with these nations in PFP,
Partnership for Peace exercises, and working with them to
professionalize their militaries.
Throughout Africa, they're
conducting civil affairs operations to improve the living
standards, bringing aide to the needy and helping safeguard
innocent citizens of the United States and our allies as we saw
in Liberia and now in Zaire.
And so throughout our hemisphere, they're a critical part of
building new institutions for democracy and armed forces under
The presence of our forces in so many places
engaged in so many different missions, I think, indeed is
evidence of a brave new world.
A world in which the Soviet
threat has been replaced with a variety of smaller, yet also very
Ethnic rivalries, nuclear materials and
technology for sale from the former Soviet Union, mass killings
in central Africa, drug trafficking in the Americas, religious
extremism leading to extreme violence in the Middle East and
elsewhere. And of course, compounding all of these problems, we
have the more traditional concerns of regional aggression by
rogue regimes who threaten our interests in places such as the
murky waters of the Persian Gulf and the cold, barren hills of
the DMZ in Korea, where I was just a few days ago.
And so I think special forces are going to be more important
today and in the future than ever before.
Special forces are
going to play a crucial role in the security of the United
We talked about today and tomorrow, but also I want to
mention just one word about the past.
Legend has it that the
legacy of special forces began way back during the French and
Indian War on our continent with an American unit called Roger's
In his book, Northwest Passage, Kenneth Roberts
describes Major Rogers who led these rangers.
He said, "The man
had led us into hell, and through it and out of it.
determined soul was such that even had his body perished, his
ghost would have continued to lead us.
It would have threshed
and fought its way to bring us to safety." Well today, the souls
of all of those who have served our special forces are alive in
our hearts and minds.
They continue to lead us forward as we
strive to ensure the security and safety of this nation. And I'm
sure that Bull Simons' soul is among them.
He would be proud of
what each and every one of you has accomplished.
I must tell you
I am truly humbled to accept an award that's emblazoned with his
But I'm also truly grateful to having had the opportunity
to help create this command.
I want to quote from the Greek historian, Thucydides, who
once wrote that the bravest are surely those who have the
clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike,
and yet notwithstanding, they go out to meet it. The men and
women of the special operations command have always had a clear
vision of what lay before them, of the glory and of the danger.
And yet they always go out to meet every challenge.
today, we can count on them to go out to meet the challenges of
the 21st century, to protect our nation and its citizens and to
help secure peace and liberty throughout the world.
that, we remain eternally grateful.
Thank you very much.