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National Women’s Law Center 1999 Annual Dinner
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Washington Hilton, Washington, DC, Wednesday, November 03, 1999

Marcia [Greenberger; National Women’s Law Center Co-President] thank you very much for that glowing and, I must say, overly generous introduction. As I was listening out in the back room to the length and the breath of the introduction, I thought that there are several ways one can respond to an introduction of that magnitude.

There is the Harvard way that was typified by A. Lawrence Lowell. He said that flattery is like nicotine, it’s not harmful unless deeply inhaled. [Laughter]

There is the Yale way, typified by Robert Maynard Hutchinson, who said, following a similar introduction, "that was the most thoroughly researched, the most eloquently delivered, and the most richly deserved introduction that I’ve ever had. [Laughter]

And then, of course, there is my wife Janet’s way, who you paid tribute to here just a moment ago. On one occasion when we were in Washington I saw one of those old machines where you walk in, put a coin in, and you get a card back. It gives you your weight and your fortune. And I put the coin in, got a card back and I looked at it, and I could feel myself sort of preening with a narcissistic pride. It said, "You are one of the earth’s anointed people. You are a born leader of men. You are irresistible to the opposite sex. And you are bound to succeed in whatever endeavor you choose." And so I handed it over to Janet, she looked at it for a second, she turned it over and said, "Yep, and they’ve got your weight wrong, too." [Laughter] So she manages to keep me in perspective.

But Marcia I will tell you that if Mark Twain was right, "that a person can live for a month on a compliment," then you have assured my immortality. And you have guaranteed either your ascent to heaven for your generosity, or possibly in the other direction for your exaggeration. But I want you to know that I truly appreciate what you said a few moments ago.

I also want to thank Nancy Campbell [NWLC Co-President], who is a veteran of what we call the JCOC, which is the Defense Department’s Joint Civilian Orientation Course. In the course, what we do is we take the very best and brightest of the civilian world, and we introduce them to the best and brightest in our military. And I want to thank Nancy for having briefly joined our ranks and for bringing her own experience and also for serving as a witness to exactly the kind of service and sacrifice that the women and the men make in our armed forces.

I can’t see you Judy, but I suspect that you’re out there. I would like to pay tribute this evening to Judy Miller. [Applause.] I will have a lot more to say about Judy tomorrow. Tomorrow will be basically her last day at the Defense Department where she has served as General Counsel. But she is the first person who urged me to come to this meeting. And, of course, being my General Counsel I couldn’t turn her down, but I wanted to be here in any event.

But I wanted to say tonight how truly rewarded we have been having her service in the Department of Defense. She is an outstanding attorney, and more importantly, she is an outstanding person and is someone that we are going to miss deeply when she returns to the practice of law. But I did just want to take a few moments, Judy, to thank you on behalf of all of us in the Defense Department for the outstanding work you have done for all of us. We are truly indebted.

I am delighted to be here this evening to celebrate General Claudia Kennedy, and to support the National Women’s Law Center. I know that you have been a very strong and a sustained voice for women’s opportunity for nearly three decades now. And with respect to the military, you have been what the author John Garnder once called a "loving critic." You’ve been supporting us when we’ve done things right. And you’ve been helping us when you felt, now how can I put it, that we should be redirected.

And I want thank you both for your advocacy, and the opportunity to share just a few moments with you this evening. And I also want to express my apologies for staying here only for a few brief moments. I have to join Secretary of State Albright at the State Department momentarily to complete a full day of meetings with our Australian counterparts. We have an annual, what they call AUSMIN [Australian-United States Ministerial]. Last year we had it in Australia, and this year we held it all day at the State Department. And tonight we have a concluding dinner. Among the issues we have been discussing all day is the Australian-led peacekeeping effort and mission to East Timor. This is really an important effort to help the people there regain a sense of security and stability, and to have put a stop to an incredible humanitarian catastrophe.

And I think this effort in East Timor is emblematic of a new type of mission. It’s one that will likely take much of our energy and effort in the years to come. And I would venture to say that ethnic strife and peacekeeping – as well as terrorism, chemical and biological warfare, and information warfare – these are all part of what I would call a Grave New World.

I believe these new dangers will hasten the already accelerated integration of women into the central mission of the armed forces. So while there is still legitimate discussion about further expanding the roles for women in the military, this is going to continue. But I think it is worth noting that the progress that is now occurring is a result, not only of changing rules, but also of changing realities; realities that are going to help define our world, and our military, for decades to come.

And I’ll have you consider just a couple of things. Consider Operation Desert Fox, that we conducted over Iraq last winter. Consider Operation Allied Force in Kosovo this spring. These were battles fought by combat aircraft and ships. Because of the new opportunities that have been opened up since 1993, these were the very first conflicts in American history where essentially all of the combatant positions were open to women. Women did fly fighter aircraft and did serve on combatant ships in those campaigns, risking their lives to turn back the brutality being inflicted by Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.

As the definition of the battlefield becomes less traditional, male-only military traditions are going to become less prevalent, and women will become increasingly integrated into the total warfighting force. And let me say that I believe that the leading-edge soldier of tomorrow is as likely to be in the desert, as at her keyboard in the midst of a cyberwar. She is as likely to be a pilot in an F-15 aircraft, as a civil affairs officer bringing stability to a scene of ethnic conflict. She may be commanding a ship that is launching cruise missiles, or, like General Kennedy, she may be commanding all of Army intelligence.

Back in 1969, when Claudia Kennedy joined the ranks, the Army was an institution where, if I could paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., women were "conscious of their powers but they were denied their chance." Now despite nearly two centuries of service, women were still severely restricted in the opportunity to prove their powers; to prove that they could be the best that they can be; denied that chance to rise to the height of their own powers and ability.

Now back at that time, Claudia has said that her ultimate goal was to be a battalion commander. But, as Margaret Chase Smith, one of my predecessors in the United States Senate, said one time, "When people keep telling you that you can’t do something, you kind of like to try it." And so today we have Lieutenant General Kennedy, an officer who has made a career of defying barriers, from running that battalion she originally coveted, back in Germany to commanding a military intelligence brigade in Hawaii.

The United States Armed Forces have given women a greater role in the military because it is good for us, it’s for good for America and it’s good for our armed forces. They serve with dedication and great distinction. They serve as patriots. Indeed, I think that General Kennedy probably put it best when she said, "I joined the Army first to be an equal citizen. And I believe than means you’ve got to bear equal responsibility." So General, let me say, thank you for your outstanding service to America, both as citizen and soldier.

And I think that you picked up on what General [Wilma] Vaught [U.S. Air Force, Ret.] once said when she was asked as a young girl "what do you want to be". And she said very quickly, "I want to be in charge." [Laughter.] You are in charge.

So I wanted to take this occasion to thank the National Women’s Law Center for recognizing this fine officer. Thank you for giving me just a few moments to add a word of praise to her; well-deserved praise. And I want to thank you all for the continued support of our men and women in uniform. They perform an outstanding service to our country. I think most people are not fully aware of how much sacrifice they make and the deprivations that they and their families suffer. And Janet and I have tried to bring their cause to the attention of the American people by reconnecting the American people to their military. And this distinction, this award your are extending tonight, is another example of how the people are responding. So thank you very much on behalf of all of us.