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Release No: 248-97
May 16, 1997

Remarks by Secretary William S. Cohen for Armed Forces Day - May 16, 1997

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Armed Forces Day Ceremonies

Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland

May 16, 1997

Men and women of the greatest Armed Forces in the world: To stand before you on Armed Forces Day is the greatest privilege of my position, and the greatest honor of my life.

It's also exciting to be here with Harrison Ford, and we are glad to be of help with his new movie. I've always been a big fan of Mr. Ford's movies, especially Star Wars. But whenever I start talking about Star Wars around the Pentagon, they want to start building a new missile defense system.

Actually, Mr. Ford and I have quite a few things in common. I'm a football fan from New England, so I always try to catch a few Patriot Games. Whenever I talk to the press, I sense a Clear and Present Danger. And when I don't talk to the press, they treat me like The Fugitive.

Most of all, whenever I meet with the men and women of the United States military, I am proud to know that the Force is with me.

I worked with another Ford some years ago. When he took the oath of office as President of the United States, he said, I'm a Ford not a Lincoln. Actually, Gerald Ford turned out to be a Cadillac. But while in office he demonstrated a generosity of spirit and heart that Abraham Lincoln captured when he spoke of the better angels of our nature.

America's strength has always been in following the better angels of liberty, of our passion for peace, of our ceaseless harboring of hope, of our colossal willingness of the heart. And today, the better angels of America are at large in the world. They are the best, bravest and brightest our nation has to offer, men and women who have learned well, trained hard and stand ready -- ready to bear what heaven sends, and wear what John F. Kennedy called the greenest garlands of courage. We send you -- the soldier, the sailor, the airman and the Marine, enlisted and officer. You -- who stand for the better angels of our nature. You -- who serve us as the better angels of America.

What does it mean in today's world to serve as our better angels? We must ask this question anew, for we have come to a pivot point in history. Today technology has miniaturized the globe, reducing vast oceans to mere ponds. Distant countries are now almost neighbors, as our bodies travel at the speed of sound and our voices at the speed of light. Today the world is not much bigger than a ball spinning on the finger of science.

To paraphrase Pasternak's Lieutenant Schmidt: We know that the stake where we will stand will be the border of two different eras of history, and we are glad to be chosen.

As we stand at this pivot point, we have to ask: What type of military must we choose for the 21st Century? We have been asking this question in the Quadrennial Defense Review. It is telling us how to reach the future we want.

The Spanish poet Antonio Machado once captured the challenge of reaching an uncertain destination: Traveler, there is no road, he said. You make the road as you go along. To make our road, we must choose our destination, and then chart a course that will take us from where we are today.

The destination we choose is a world where there is more democracy in more nations. More stability in more regions. And thus, fewer threats to American interests, and fewer risks to our forces.

Some may ask, what threats? The Berlin Wall is rubble. The Soviet empire dissolved. And the Cold War a distant memory. We're at peace now. So we are asked, Why maintain the best Armed Forces in the world?

Our response has to be very clear: Because America cannot simply zip itself into a continental cocoon and watch the world unfold on CNN. We must try to shape events so that they will favor the interests of the United States and those of our allies.

We have no intention -- and we cannot afford -- to become the world's policeman. By the same token, we cannot afford to become a prisoner of world events. We must and we will remain engaged in world affairs, to inspire, to impel and compel the better angels in our friends and foes alike.

This takes diplomacy. But it also takes military power. You cannot have one without the other. The military is the muscle behind America's will. And that is why we send you out into the world, forward deployed, out there, every single day and night. On the front lines, the flight lines and the supply lines. At sea, in the air and on foot. On the tip of the spear, providing the steel in the sword of freedom, offering comfort to allies and caution to antagonists. By your duty, your commitment and your sacrifice, you are ensuring that America remains the master of her destiny.

In times of tranquil freedom, we must never take for granted those who face the trials to guarantee the tranquillity. It is the weight on your shoulders, the miles you march, the sorties you fly, the leagues you sail and the time you spend away from home -- it is this service and sacrifice that permits our country to thrive and prosper in safety and security. I know that it takes a great deal of commitment on your part, a lot of sacrifice, not only for yourself, but your families.

So what I want to say to you today is simple, from the soul, and shared by millions of Americans: We need you. We thank you. And we are proud of you.

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