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Allied Force Appreciation Day
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Wednesday, September 15, 1999

Secretary [of the Air Force, Whitten] Peters, thank you very much for your gracious words and for your leadership of the Air Force. And for those of you who are not aware of this, as Secretary Peters was recently sworn in as Secretary, he dedicated and revealed that the "F" in his initial "F. Whit Peters" actually stands for F-22. [Laughter and applause.]

General [Michael] Ryan, let me express our great gratitude to you and to Mrs. Ryan for the leadership you provide and the vision you have serving in the remarkable position that you have. The Ryan family is well known to the Air Force. Indeed, you are carrying on a legacy of your own that is held in the very highest regards. So I want to thank you, on behalf of all of us, for the leadership, again the vision, you provide to the finest Air Force in the world. [Applause.]

Members of Congress, if any are here today; let me also say that there are members, I believe, of the diplomatic community; distinguished guests, including General John Jumper [Commander, Allied Air Forces Central Command], General Mike Short [Commander, 16th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force]; Janet [Cohen]; Mrs. Ryan; Mrs. Peters; members of the finest Armed Forces in the world; men and women of Operation Allied Force; ladies and gentlemen. It is my special honor to be here today to welcome all of you to this celebration of excellence and devotion to duty.

It was in the wake of another battle, that another generation of Americans gathered in a moment of proud tribute. And it was at the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument that Daniel Webster spoke these words. He said, "Let us indulge in what our country has produced, and is likely to produce, on human freedom and happiness. Let us endeavor to comprehend in all its magnitude, and to feel in all its importance, the part assigned to us in the great drama of human affairs."

This spring, as we have so many times previously, the United States faced a choice. We could stand by on the sidelines of history while a dictator threatened our interests and our values and an entire people with execution and expulsion. Or we could stand up. We could stand up for freedom and play the part assigned to us in the great drama of human affairs.

And so when the people of Kosovo called upon the United States and upon NATO, we turned to you. We turned to our soldiers, to stand vigilant in neighboring countries and lands to prevent a wider war; to our sailors and Marines, to serve on ships and submarines in the Adriatic and to catapult off flight decks into those Balkan skies. And we turned to so many of you, the men and women of the United States Air Force, to wage an air campaign against an entrenched adversary armed with one of the most lethal air defenses in the world.

We all knew that your mission would not be easy and not be quick. But we knew that your perseverance would prevail. It would prevail despite the waves of anti-aircraft fire from Serbian defenses and in spite of the waves of predictions to the contrary from the skeptics and the cynics. As some of you may recall, they said, "Since the dawn of air power, never, not once, has air power alone won a war." "Bombing alone will never work." And when those days turned to weeks, they grew even more certain. "Air power will never be sufficient to triumph over Slobodan Milosevic." And when the weeks turned to months, the doubters turned to defeatists, saying that failure was "obvious from the outset." And one observer said, "There never was much chance that an air campaign would force Milosevic to take his troops out of Kosovo."

Men and women of Operation Allied Force, for 78 days you believed – as General Ryan believed and said to all America – that your success was going to be "inevitable." Inevitable. For 78 days you stayed the course. And in the end, you did, in fact, triumph over Milosevic. And in the process you made history. The most complex military operation in the history of the NATO Alliance. The most intense air operation in Europe since the Berlin Airlift. The largest military operation of any kind in Europe since the end of the Second World War. The most precise large-scale campaign in the history of airpower. The first air campaign in the history of warfare to compel a ground force to capitulate. You made history. [Applause.]

 

And if someone should one day ask, "Who wrote this stunning chapter of history?" They will need only turn back to the pages that will report this day's events, because the secret of our success really isn't much of a secret. It's in our revolutionary weapons to be sure. But even more, it's in you, the remarkable warriors behind them.

 

The revolutionary weapons and technology that have been on brilliant display today, even here in this chamber, they really have changed the campaigns of tomorrow, all the way from the way sensors find targets to how our shooters hit those targets. All of us witnessed the unmanned aerial vehicles – the Hunter, the Predator, they're here today – feeding live, bird’s-eye views of Serb forces to military planners. We witnessed how the lightening speed of our intelligence and information came flowing down from satellites overhead to the analysts in America, then to combatants in Europe, to fighters and bombers who re-adjusted their targets in midair, all within minutes.

We witnessed the amazing performance of the first-ever combat mission of one of those bombers -- the B-2 and its crews who are with us today, taking off from Missouri, flying non-stop across the Atlantic, refueling twice in midair, hitting 16 targets with 16 bombs, all within a few feet, and then returning to base, all with a crew of just two.

 

We witnessed the remarkable precision of those bombs and missiles after they're launched: hitting any target, any time, day or night, in any weather; striking a radio transmitter in downtown Belgrade – as you did on one mission -- with little, if any, damage to any of the surrounding buildings; shutting down an entire airfield with but a few strategically placed bombs. In short, of the 23,000 munitions that you delivered in the course of the conflict, all but a handful hit their intended target. And everyone here, and everyone in America, and everyone throughout Europe should be very proud of what you have accomplished. We thank you very much. [Applause.]

Of course, we all know that no technology is ever going to fully lift the fog of war. And we'll always rely first and foremost on the talent of the warriors behind those weapons. Your path of duty led you into the very heart of darkness where the very core of your character was tested. Faced with an adversary who manufactured a viscious humanitarian nightmare, you responded with compassion and speed to relieve that human suffering. Faced with an adversary who tried to maximize civilian misery and death, you did everything in your power to minimize the infliction of harm upon innocent people. All of which speaks volumes about the values of those of you who are wearing America’s uniform, your honor and your humanity.

Now it's been said that, "the paradox of courage is that a man must be willing to lose his life in order to keep it." 38,000 sorties. Not a single combat casualty. But no American should ever mistake the astounding absence of casualties as an absence of danger or courage in this campaign. The pilots and crews who are here today displayed a heroic willingness to lose their lives, finding dug-in targets in treacherous mountains and terrible weather, braving hundreds of surface-to-air missiles and constant antiaircraft fire, and engaging – and downing -- Serbia’s finest MIG fighters.

They were pilots such as the Silver Star heroes that I met just a moment ago and who we honor today. Captain Adam Kavlick, who risked all against those screaming missiles and artillery fire so he could direct the complex search-and-rescue mission of his downed wingman from behind enemy lines. Captain Sonny Blinkinsop, who turned his fighter into the path of missile sights -- not once, but twice – shutting them down and enabling his entire formation to return safely to base. Captain James Cardoso, who led the daring night-time rescue mission in those critical first days, speeding over treetops and maneuvering past telephone poles to recover our downed airman just 25 miles from Milosevic’s doorstep. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a remarkable accomplishment by remarkable people and we are proud to honor you today. [Applause.]

Today, Milosevic’s army is out of Kosovo, the refugees are back home and we are now working in peace on the great task of rebuilding a Europe that will be free and whole. And for that, our nation salutes you.

Let me say that decades after the guns had cooled, the Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain -- who just happens to come from Brewer, Maine, right next to my hometown -- he returned to Gettysburg and with great eloquence he spoke of the eternal bonds that are forged in the service of high causes. He said, "A great and free country is not merely defense and protection. For every earnest spirit, it is opportunity and inspiration. The inspiration of a noble cause involving human interests wide and far enables men to do things they did not dream themselves capable of doing. This consciousness of belonging, it greatens the heart to the limits of the soul’s ideal, and it builds out the supreme of character."

As I look out into this audience today, I see the same earnest, shining spirit. Forever, all of you will belong to Operation Allied Force. So for your service and your sacrifice in a noble cause that carried you wide and far, for your supreme character and courage that has greatened the hearts of an entire people, let me say that your nation is eternally grateful. [Applause.]