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San Antonio Chamber of Commerce
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Adams Mark Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, Thursday, March 02, 2000

Charlie [Amato, Chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce], thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, Congressman [Ciro] Rodriguez, Congressman [Charlie] Gonzalez. Thank you for being here today. It's an important day for many reasons in San Antonio and I'm delighted that you could travel with me to be here, and I want everyone here to know how much I appreciate their support on Capitol Hill.

We also have, of course, Congressman [Henry] Bonilla who is not here but who attended a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing yesterday and tried to squeeze an announcement out of me in advance, which I resisted.

[Chamber of Commerce] President Joe Krier, Mayor [Howard] Peak, General [Lloyd] Fig Newton [Commander, Air Education & Training Command], Mrs. Newton, glad to see that you could make it. Medal of Honor recipients who are here, and I'll speak to them in a moment. Military leaders, and members of the business community.

Thank you for what you have just done in signing this declaration [of employer support for the Guard and Reserve]. The fact that we have to turn, and want to turn, to our Guard and Reserves to serve in our armed forces as a Total Force is very important, and we need the unequivocal support of the business community. When these men and women go off to join our forces overseas, we need you to support them and their families and make sure they understand their job is not going to be lost, their opportunities for advancement will continue, and that you stand solidly behind them. So I want to thank the Chamber very much for what you have done.

As I mentioned to Charlie, you are no strangers to me because you used to come in legions to my office when I was a United States Senator, and John Tower saw to that, that I always opened my door to you, so I'm seeing a lot of friends here.

But when I think of strangers I'm always reminding myself of that story about Henry Ford, who after having made all of his millions in this country wanted to go back to his fatherland in County Cork, Ireland. His reputation for wealth had long preceded his arrival.

So when he finally got there, there were a group of local town officials, and they were waiting to get a contribution from him for the construction of a local hospital. Ford was quite accustomed to being touched in that fashion so he pulled out his checkbook and he made a check out for $5,000.

The next day in bold print, not the San Antonio press, but in bold print it said, "Ford contributes $50,000 for the construction of a local hospital."


The town officials came running back to him and they said, "Oh, Mr. Ford. We're terribly sorry. It was not our fault. It must have been a typographical error and we'll be happy to see to it that a retraction is printed in tomorrow's paper." [Laughter.]

He said, "Wait a minute. I think I've got a better idea." He said, "If you give me one wish, I'll give you the balance of $45,000." It's one of those offers they really couldn't refuse. They said, "Anything you want."

He said, "I want when the hospital is finally complete to have plaque over the entranceway with a quote taken from a source of my choice." They said, "It's done."

So he gave them the check for $45,000. The hospital is built. It's there today. It has a quote over the entranceway taken from the Book of Matthew. It says, "I came unto you as a stranger and you took me in." [Laughter and applause.]

I come a little bit unto you as a stranger. I hope you'll take me in today, but not quite in that fashion. [Laughter.]

There is another story that I always point to when I talk to an audience of business leaders. My oldest son graduated from Bowdoin College, followed me, but many years later. And he told me of his experience during his senior year.

He was going into an exam that was given by the most popular professor on campus. He happened to be a professor of religion. That's not the reason he was the most popular. He was the most popular because he always asked the same question every year on the final exam. It was always, "Discuss the wanderings of St. Paul." And the students loved him because they would just sit the night before and they would cram and gear up and they'd go in and ace the exam the next day. Until my son's last day of school.

When they all walked into the classroom they looked down at the exam and immediately flutters started to begin in their stomachs and they became nauseous. And within about five or ten minutes almost all of them left. Within a half hour they were all gone except for one student who sat there and wrote and wrote and wrote because the exam said, "Discuss the meaning of Christ's Sermon on the Mount."

He wrote for a full three hours. Finally, he walked up to his professor, he passed it in, he turned around, and he walked out with what Mark Twain would call "the calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces." [Laughter.]

The professor looked down on the exam and it said, "To the experts, I leave the meaning of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. As for me, I should like to discuss the wanderings of St. Paul." [Laughter.]

So I would like to discuss a few of my wanderings. And I couldn't help but appreciate your introduction to me. You touched upon two of my goals when I was a young man. I initially wanted to be a basketball player, a professional. A couple of things held me back. Then I wanted to be a professor of Latin. My Senate colleagues always used to say that I achieved both of my goals, that I spoke a dead language while dribbling. [Laughter.]

But let me talk about my wanderings, because I really would like to touch upon something that's important to this state and this community. I have wandered to 40 countries during my tenure as Secretary of Defense, 41 if we count Texas. [Laughter.]

Most recently my wife Janet and I were in South Africa. It was a memorable experience because we had the occasion to, while we were in Capetown, to go out to Robben’s Island and see the cell where Nelson Mandela lived for 18 years of his 27 years of imprisonment. It wasn't much bigger than a postage stamp, but it was a moving experience to be in that cell and to look out through those bars and to see what has happened in a relatively short period of time.

I know this is a day of anniversaries, and the Mayor was reminding me today that it's the what, 90th anniversary of the first pilot who took off in this country? But when I landed in Capetown, it was the 10th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison. What was astonishing to me in looking out at that society today which is now fully integrated, is that there was no hint of retribution. They talked about reconstruction. There was no talk of revenge, it was how do we rebuild, how do we reconcile.

You see a country today that is now labeled by some economists as one of those leading emerging markets. I know the University of Texas is now working with the South African government to build and construct one of the largest observatories in the Southern Hemisphere. That's going to inspire, as one of their leaders said, the imagination of South Africa's children.

We were recently in South America. Went to Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Those economies are really starting to come back and that will be of enormous benefit to this country, to our economy, and to our relationship with our South American friends. I met recently with General Enrique Cervantes, my counterpart in Mexico. Again, that relationship is very strong.

Last fall I was in Russia. I went there to talk about the National Missile Defense system, but I also went up to northern Russia to a shipyard, one of the giant shipyards, and talked about the Cooperative Threat Reduction program where we spend money investing in cutting up their old missiles. What I saw there was really quite astonishing. I saw them in the process of dismantling a Typhoon submarine. Even though he’s in the Air Force, General Newton can tell you about the size of a Typhoon submarine. It's nearly two football fields long. It is an incredible sight to see. Even Roger Staubach couldn't throw a pass that long from one end to the other. But to see them now cutting up those systems [was] consistent with our mutual interests in arms control and arms reduction.

I will be going to China again, probably this summer. We had something of a rocky moment last year. I was in the audience at the University of Maine witnessing my youngest son's graduation. He was giving the graduation speech. Halfway through his speech a note was passed to me that said, "We have just bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade." I sat there and I waited until his speech was finished, then I immediately got up and returned to Washington. So we've had a rocky time as a result of that accidental bombing.

But we're now getting that back on track, and that's important. It's important because you have a country of a billion plus people, and they are going to emerge as a power in this century. So it's important that we engage them constructively, that we talk to them, that we find out areas that we can cooperate and we find out areas that we have to in fact challenge their assertion. But we have to do that if we're going to help secure the peace and stability for this century. So China and Russia both are going to be critically important.

The Philippines. A few years ago we were asked to leave the Philippines. Just this past year the Philippine Senate ratified the visiting of forces agreement. They want our sailors and soldiers and airmen and others to come back. Now they are ratifying what the rules of behavior and jurisdiction are going to be.

Singapore is building one of the largest piers that I've ever seen. It's going to accommodate our aircraft carriers. They're saying, "Come often. We want you here as often as possible." They know that the American presence is critical to the stability of that entire region. And when we are present we are seen as a neutral force. We're not trying to grab any territory, we're not looking for more geography. We are there simply to promote peace, stability, and prosperity. Because when there's peace and stability, you as businessmen and women are going to want to look to invest in those areas. When you invest there's a chance to promote greater prosperity. That prosperity reinforces our own back here at home.

I will tell you, I'll be leaving next week. I'll be going off to Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, and other countries. But the most rewarding experience for me is always to go out and visit our troops. Wherever I go I meet with all the heads of state, I meet with Ministers of Defense, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, I meet with all of the leadership of the various countries, but the most important, rewarding part for me is going out and meeting with the men and women who serve us. It's the most exhilarating, most inspiring experience that one can have.

When you go out there and you see how good they are, then you understand why we're number one. Why people look to us always as the country they want to call upon in times of peace and in times of emergency. They call upon the United States because they look at those troops of ours and they see how professional they are and how patriotic they are and how disciplined, how well led, how educated. They say, "There's a country who's side I want to be on." Or if you have an adversary, they look at it and say, "There's a country who I don't want to challenge when I see what I'm up against."

So that's all part of our strategy. That's part of what we call shaping the environment. That's why we are forward deployed, why there are 100,000 in the Asia-Pacific region, why there's 100,000 in Europe, why we're present in the Gulf and we are containing Saddam Hussein, and thanks to our Air Force. The Air Force is doing a magnificent job in Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch [over Iraq], to make sure that Saddam Hussein is not able to pose a threat to his neighbors and try one of those incursions again. They are out there day in and day out, putting their lives at risk, and they're doing a fantastic job. So we owe a great deal to all of our forces. [Applause.]

[Today] marks the first time since the Korean War that the Guard and Reserves are going to be leading American forces overseas. We have 800 members of the Lone Star Division of the 49th Armored Division of the Texas National Guard, [who are] now going to be assuming responsibility for our forces in Bosnia. That hasn't happened since the Korean War.

That is a great testament in terms of what is taking place with the full integration of the Guard and Reserve into our active forces. We have one team. I would point out that half of our forces are Guard and Reserves. Fifty thousand Texans [are in the Guard and Reserve] and about 40,000 guardsmen and reservists have been in the Balkans. So this is something that is very important to our security. That's another reason why I wanted to be here today to express my thanks to all of you.

I particularly want to express thanks to the Brinkman Technology Company of Carrollton. Not only was this company willing to give up one of its key employees, but it provided video conference equipment so the entire unit could stay in touch with the families back home. That's the kind of support that you provide to our men and women which is so critical. So thank you to Brinkman Technologies.

Graham Greene, about 100 years ago, said that, "you have the sensation in San Antonio of the world being deliciously excluded." Now a lot has changed in 100 years, and I look at some of the numbers, and I look at all your trading partners. As far as Texas is concerned your trading partners are two key ones, Canada and Mexico. But there's $1 billion in trade in terms of Singapore. A billion dollars to Venezuela. A billion dollars to South Korea. A billion dollars to Saudi Arabia. The total is some $85 billion in trade coming into the Texas economy. So you no longer are "deliciously excluding the world," you have embraced the world. As a result, we and this country have benefited enormously.

I mentioned just a moment ago, and I take this occasion to do it again. I can't tell you how important it is to the people who are wearing our uniform to remind them how grateful we are. My wife and I have tried during the past three years to go out and say, "We've got to reconnect America to its military." We've got a smaller force, we've had more consolidations, as you are fully aware of that situation: a smaller force, more concentrated areas. Fewer people have a chance to see our military in action on a day-to-day basis. [They] have less of a chance to interact with them, to see how good they are, what kind of community leaders they are as well.

We've got to remind the American people of how good our military is, and if we're going to keep it that way we've got to do more. We've made a start. We have had the largest pay increase in nearly two decades. We passed that last year with the help of Congress. They actually increased the Administration's request. We've changed the compensation, we've changed what they call the pay table reform, targeting those pay raises to people who are really at the highest skill level that we want to keep, and we've changed the retirement benefits from 40 percent, put it back up to 50 percent. That's all been helpful.

But there are two other areas that we have to focus on. One happens to be housing, and that's another reason I'm here in the community today. Shortly I'll be traveling to turn over the keys to Tech Sergeant Gill Telles at Lackland Air Force Base. Here is a program involving a public- private partnership where we are able to leverage some $6 million and acquire $42 million worth of housing. That's the kind of partnership that we are promoting, and we want to see more of it.

There is a [Defense Reform Initiative that is] getting rid of some of the cumbersome procedures. We're going to a paperless society. We're using a purchase card instead of having 12 and 13 page contracts that have to be duplicated four or five times and stored in warehouses. We are changing the way in which we're doing business and we're saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

We're looking to the business community and asking, "What are you doing? How do you achieve this ‘just in time’ instead of ‘just in case’ so we can eliminate some of these storehouses that we have, these warehouses stacked with equipment that may never be used." We want to have the kind of system where we can get something that's needed to the field just in time -- the right place, the right time and the right equipment. We're doing that.

So all of this is taking place and no one Secretary of Defense, myself especially, can claim credit for making this a complete success. It's going to take my successor and my successor's successor before this whole revolution is complete.

But I want to say something about Kelley. I think you've been reading the papers and there may have been some misinformation there about some announcement I'm supposed to make today. But I want to say that Kelley is a great success story. It's not the death knell that people predicted, it's a starting bell. It's a starting bell. The Greater Kelley Redevelopment Authority has done a magnificent job [with 5,000 new jobs already created on base].

[Today, I am pleased to announce that we are acting to free up even more of the industry and ingenuity of this community. When the property at Kelly was originally turned over to the community, the Greater Kelly Redevelopment Authority was to pay $108 million to the federal government. We have now reached an agreement to return power and opportunity to the local level by restructuring that transfer to reduce that debt to just $5 million.] [Applause.]

The applause really shouldn't be for me, it should be for all of you who have really had to face up to a crisis situation. I've been through a couple of [Base Realignment and Closures] myself when I was the mayor of my own hometown, and when I was a Senator. I had two strategic bases, closed. They're not easy.

The whole process of redevelopment takes time and it can be very long in securing the kind of help from the federal government that's necessary, but this will get you on the way, and I believe that you will achieve the goal of generating some 20,000 jobs. I think that we'll look back at this time and say that it was tough but we overcame the obstacles, and now we are satisfied that we've got a real joint venture going, and we are producing more and more prosperity for the region.

So thanks go to you, not to me. I'm just the vehicle here to give you the good news, but you're the ones who really made it possible; you and your congressmen, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, [Senator] Phil Gramm. They've done a magnificent job in making this legislation, passing it and making it possible. So they deserve the credit. [Applause.]

I mentioned my wife's activities and mine in trying to reconnect America to its military. Something we did recently, we hosted the second annual Pentagon Pops. We put on an annual military celebration, so to speak. We want to celebrate the virtues and the values of our military and what they do for our country. It's a musical celebration, and we had it just about a week or two ago.

It was a wonderful experience. Tom Brokaw was the emcee. Of course you've been reading his books about the Greatest Generation. But we had Steve Ambrose, you've probably also read some of his books, talking about citizen soldiers and others. We had members of the Tuskegee Airmen, and what a great sight it was to see them walking up on that stage. We had heroes-turned-Senators -- Dan Inouye, John Glenn. We had more than 60 Medal of Honor recipients.

Today we are I think blessed to have in our presence Lucian Adams and Maria, his wife. And Louis Rocco, two Medal of Honor recipients. Ladies and gentlemen, if we took the time today to tell you their acts of heroism, the kind of bravery that they displayed in the flower of their youth -- being willing to give it all up for their fellow soldiers. Their acts of courage need to be recognized over and over again. They are our best, our brightest, our most courageous, and they are here today. So would you please stand up so we can pay tribute to you. [Applause.]

Let me just conclude with an observation. I think it was George Jessel who said that "if you don't strike oil within three minutes, stop boring." [Laughter.] I preferred Lord Bancroft who said that "A speech is like a love affair. Any fool can start one, but it takes considerable expertise to end it." [Laughter.]

I would like to end this with the words of one of my favorite authors, Alistair Cooke, who wrote a book called America. In that book he made the inevitable comparison between the United States and Rome. He said that we, like the Romans, were in danger of losing that which we profess to cherish most. He said, "Liberty is the luxury of self discipline." Liberty is the luxury of self discipline, and that those nations who have failed to impose discipline upon themselves have had it imposed by others historically. Then he said, "America is a country in which I see the most persistent idealism and the blandest of cynicism, and the race is on between its vitality and its decadence." He concluded with a paraphrase of Benjamin Franklin. He said, "We have a great country and we can keep it, but only if we care to keep it."

I am here today in this great community with the support that you provide to our great men and women in uniform and to our Medal of Honor recipients, to say that you represent the most persistent idealism, and we are going to keep this country great because you care to do so.

Thank you very much. [Applause.]