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European Command Change of Command Ceremony
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, European Command Headquarters, Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany, Tuesday, May 02, 2000

[Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] General [Hugh Shelton] and Carolyn Shelton; [Outgoing Commander in Chief, European Command] General [Wes Clark] and Gert Clark; [Incoming Commander in Chief, European Command] General [Joe Ralston] and Dede Ralston; [Deputy Commander in Chief, European Command] Admiral [Steve Abbott] and Marjorie Abbot; [Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps] General [Jim Jones] and Diane Jones; [Commander in Chief, Transportation Command] General [Charles] Robertson; leaders and men and women of U.S. European Command; distinguished guests, including [Baden-Wurttemberg] State Parliament President [Peter] Straub; [Baden-Wurttemberg Interior] Minister [Thomas] Schauble; and all our German allies and friends; Janet [Cohen]; ladies and gentlemen.

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to join you on this day of celebration and transition. I should confess to you up front that during the briefing by Sergeant Major Young I indicated that it looked as if the ceremony were going to last at least two hours. He said that that depended on how long the speeches are. With that, let me try to be as brief as possible.

I’d like to begin by sharing the following passage: "Mankind has progressed in enlightenment and in humanity to a point where the old might peacefully be preserved and absorbed into the new. There is hope for perpetual peace and progress. Modern ideas are triumphing everywhere. There is no doubt that a new world is being made."

These sentiments might well describe the dawn of the 21st Century. In fact, it was how one scholar described the dawn of the twentieth, a century in which two world wars reminded us that the future we want will come to us only when we embrace the cause of peace, progress and freedom.

One month from now, America and her allies will pause to remember a defining moment in that enduring cause. The dedication of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans will recall that day when young soldiers plunged into the crashing surf at Normandy and braved a hail of hot steel to free this continent. Leaders and men and women of European Command, you are the heirs of those who braved those beaches. And for a half century since, through a bitter Cold War, you stood strong. For the half century since, from the Berlin airlift to the Bosnian airlift, you risked all to preserve freedom and to bring its blessings to others.

 

To help preserve that freedom at the end of the century, America turned to the leader that we honor today. In General Wes Clark, America found a scholar, a soldier and a statesman: a scholar who understands the forces of history on our time; a soldier of unquestioned courage – a Bronze and Silver Star hero – who, despite grievous wounds, inspired his unit to survival in the jungles of Vietnam, and as soldier of insight who returned home to train those who prevailed in Desert Storm. He is a statesman, whose influence has been felt from the Americas, where he helped to guide the fight against drug barons, to Dayton, where his counsel helped end the bloodletting of Bosnia.

 

Now, it has been said that, "without passion, man is a mere latent force and possibility, like the flint which awaits the shock of the iron before it can give forth its spark." Future historians will recount how the passionate leadership of Wes Clark and the dedicated men and women of this command combined to spark new possibilities across this continent, forging new bonds in a great Partnership for Peace and serving alongside soldiers from some 38 nations to bring peace to Bosnia and Kosovo.

 

And I would add that the service of General Clark in Bosnia has actually come full circle. He was there on that muddy mountain road five summers ago when three of America’s best gave their lives trying to end that war. And he has been there so many times since, turning the plan he helped to craft at Dayton into what we hope will be a durable peace.

 

General Shelton has reminded us of the historic accomplishments further to the south. Indeed, while it may be tempting to view darkly the challenges of the moment in Kosovo, I would say to all who are here today that no one, no one, should ever doubt either your service or your success. Faced with an adversary who manufactured a vicious humanitarian nightmare, you responded with compassion and speed to relieve human suffering. Faced with an adversary who tried to maximize civilian death and misery, you responded by minimizing the suffering of the innocent.

Just a year ago today, Serbian forces were on a rampage and nearly a million Kosovar Albanians had fled, threatening to overwhelm their neighbors. But you responded, and today, Milosevic’s thugs are out of Kosovo, the vast majority of refugees have returned, and neighboring nations are joining in the effort to rebuild that ravaged land.

So, General Clark, men and women of EUCOM, we thank you again for your outstanding leadership and for reminding us that behind the greatest alliance in history stands the finest military in history. And it is for this and other reasons that I am recommending the creation of the Kosovo Campaign Medal, which I hope will be awarded to all who participated in that great effort.

Of course, as we just heard a moment ago, behind the military leader to whom we pay tribute today, stands a pillar of strength in her own right. Gert, through some 33 years of marriage, and, I think, almost as many moves, you too have served this country with great distinction, raising your voice on behalf of our forces and their families. Gert, thank you for your service to America and to this alliance. [Applause.]

The same warrior strength, the same diplomatic skill, that we see in General Wes Clark, we also see in General Joe Ralston. As Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he helped guide America’s forces in the sunset of the 20th Century. As Commander in Chief, European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, he is going to guide America’s forces on this continent in the dawn of the 21st. So Joe and Dede, we congratulate and we welcome you both to this great command. [Applause.]

Several months after Operation Allied Force, I attended a celebration of that mission, and the men and women behind it, at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. And I recalled the words of the Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain when he returned to Gettysburg. Chamberlain 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 possible they were capable of doing. This consciousness of belonging greatens the heart to the limits of the soul’s ideal and it builds out the supreme of character."

General Clark, thank you for your service in a most noble cause, and thank you for your courage, your character and your commitment, which has greatened the hearts of American people and the people of Europe. We are truly indebted to you, forever in your debt. [Applause.]