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Distinguished Civilian Service Awards
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, The Pentagon, Washington, DC, Thursday, November 04, 1999

Thank you very much, Doc [Cooke; Director, Administration and Management]. Under Secretary [for Policy, Walter] Slocombe, Under Secretary [Comptroller, William] Lynn, Under Secretary [of the Navy, Jerry] Hultin, [Army Vice Chief of Staff] General [Jack] Keane and [Vice Chief of Naval Operations] Admiral [Donald] Pilling, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Being a Republican serving in a Democratic administration, it is incumbent on me to quote Thomas Jefferson at least during the course of a day. [Laughter.] Jefferson once said, "A nation that rests on the will of the people must also depend on individuals to support its institutions in order to flourish. Persons who are qualified for public service should feel some obligation to make that contribution."

I would like to say to Doc, this institution has depended on your support for many, many years and your deep sense of obligation has been an inspiration to all of us. I think everyone in this room understands the kind of challenges that you have had to measure up to over the years and certainly the most recent one in your life. I want to say again that you are an inspiration to all of us. We appreciate all you have given to us.

Today, we are recognizing nine other inspiring individuals who are, as Jefferson, of course, might say, highly qualified for public service and whose collective contributions have allowed the Department of Defense – and, indeed, the nation -- to flourish.

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately. I can’t see all of you out there because of these bright lights, but I can tell you that I’ve been on something of a marathon march across the globe. A week ago, I stood on the shores of Egypt and I watched an Italian ship offload a troop transport that was, I think, British-owned, which disgorged tens of Egyptian soldiers, who joined Greek, British, Dutch and Jordanian soldiers in a mock invasion of a Mediterranean beach, all under the cover of American fighter aircraft.

Now to see that, 11 nations -- many of whom perhaps had pointed their weapons at each other [not long ago] -- conducting a military exercise called Bright Star, to me was a great beacon. It was a beacon of the promise of peace in the future because these nations were standing together, instead of shouting at each other or shooting at each other. But I also thought it was emblematic of the perils we will face tomorrow.

In recent months, I have traveled from Egypt to Asia to Russia, and I have been bearing witness to rather seismic shifts in global affairs. From a once-secret Russian shipyard, where they used to construct Typhoon submarines. I don’t know how many of you have seen the Typhoon submarine or a picture of it, but it’s quite awesome to stand next to one. It’s nearly two football fields in length and seemed to be almost as wide. And yet as a result of these seismic changes that are taking place, I have a little sample. This is what some of those Typhoon submarines have been reduced to. This is a cut up portion of some of the cable running through that long two football fields of length of hardware. So they are in the process of cutting up the rest of the submarines by virtue of what’s taking place.

I also went to a bombed-out residential building in the heart of Moscow. I saw the resurgent Asian economy in the thriving streets of Bangkok and then I saw some of the reeling confusion and violence of downtown Jakarta.

So indeed, today, we are seeing a brave new world, full of new opportunities. But we are also seeing what I call a grave new world, full of dangers -- of nationalistic, ethnic, and religious conflicts. We can see those embers of instability and smoldering hatreds that can suddenly ignite into violence, running all the way from Serbia to Asia to Africa. We are also seeing some new foes, terrorists and tyrants, like Usama bin Laden and Slobodan Milosevic, who seek conventional, indeed unconventional and asymmetric means to strike at any target they can reach. So we’re also seeing that. We’re seeing new foes, we’re seeing new fears. And we are frequently called upon to point out that some 25 nations are experimenting with or developing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

So in this new world, we really can’t afford to stand still or to stay astonished. We have to adapt and respond with a 21st Century Defense Department ready for 21st Century threats and missions.

Supporting this institution through such a profound change is rather significant in terms of the magnitude of the challenge. The nine individuals that we are paying tribute to today are not only up to the challenge, they are actually leading the charge.

They are framing our response to the startling shifts in global affairs through the policy insights and skilled intelligence work that we need to shape the international environment and prepare our forces for the full range of contingencies.

They are fueling the Revolution in Military Affairs with ground-breaking research and development that will give us the tools we need to fight those battles of the future.

They are fomenting the Revolution in Business Affairs by streamlining our operations, maintenance and budget process to give us the practices we need to make the most efficient use of our limited resources.

And I would say that indeed, all of you who are in the audience today are, without exaggeration, you are the force behind the force. We have the most admired military in the world, and I take pains to point that out wherever I go. We have the most admired military in the world. We have the most respected institution in the world right here at home. But our military men and women are able to do all that they do because of the support you give them. They have to rely upon the superb skill, talent and technology you provide.

And so today even though we are honoring these nine individuals, I want you to know, that by extension, we are honoring all public servants because of the every-day contributions they make. We acknowledge the profound debt of gratitude all Americans owe to those who you who have chosen to devote you working lives to help this nation flourish.

Since I began with Jefferson, I guess I’ll end with Jefferson. He said of public servants, "The first of all our considerations is that of having faithfully fulfilled our duties. The next, the approbation and good will of those who have witnessed it."

For the past three years, it has been my privilege to serve with you and also to serve as a witness as you have faithfully fulfilled your duties. Today it is my extreme pleasure to offer you the approbation and good will you so richly deserve and I want to present each of you with the Department’s highest honorary award for career service, the Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award.

Again, it is my pleasure to be here to express my gratitude to the nine who we are honoring today, but also to everybody here who works so hard for this Department. It is an extraordinary honor for me to be able to work with you. [Applause.]