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DoD News Briefing: Secretary Cohen

Presenter: Secretary Cohen
December 30, 1997

Secretary Cohen: In addition to all of the published guests that we have, we do have some other guests who are over here in the corner, and they are celebrating their Christmas with us as well, and they have been deprived by the war that has taken place over here from their own families; so I hope that you'll express your warm welcome to these lovely children who are over here who are celebrating perhaps their first Christmas here with us.

(Applause)

I was telling some of the soldiers, sailors and Marines that we met with earlier today, that I was reading a new book by Steven Ambrose, and it's called "Citizen Soldier". He describes the horrors of World War II and the citizen soldiers who were drafted, went to the war, volunteered and fought against seemingly overwhelming odds.

At the very conclusion of the book he states that, "At the core, the citizen soldier of the United States knew the difference between right and wrong, and he was unwilling to live in a world where wrong triumphed. So he fought and won, and all of us in this day, and those who are yet to be born are eternally grateful."

That has been the mission of our soldiers over the years. It's the same mission that you are fulfilling today -- not only American soldiers, but as General Ellis has pointed out, we have a multinational force here.

President Clinton was just here a day or two ago, and I'm sure that he told you the very same thing that I am going to tell you. That you have done an incredible job in helping to sustain the peace in this war-torn country.

(Applause)

I was here about two and a half years ago, and I can't tell you the difference that I have seen, the transformation that has taken place by virtue of your presence and your sacrifice and the things that you're giving up by being with your own families at home. You are, in fact, the saviors of this country -- multinational, multiethnic. I was thinking as General Ellis was talking, that at one time many years ago, I think it was President Ford who wanted to send me off as an ambassador of good will to Israel. Then he found out that I was half Irish and half Jewish, and he quickly concluded I was the only person he could put on the Israeli border who would get shot at from both sides. (Laughter)

But he didn't, so here I am, and I must tell you what an incredible experience it's been for me.

I talked to some of you when I was here, Janet and I were here in October. How proud we are to be able to say that we are representing you because you in fact are representing the United States of America wherever you go.

You're not only soldiers. You're not only the seal and the sword of freedom. You're also great diplomats. People look to you and look at you as great diplomats on behalf of our country. You carry yourself with that sense of pride and honor and distinguished service.

So it's always something to keep in mind, that the rest of the world, whatever you read in the press from time to time, they look up to the United States of America because we stand for freedom, individual liberty, the right to worship whatever God we have and whatever cause, whether it's male, it could be female... Hoowah. But what a country we have and what we represent to the entire world. And no matter where I go all over the world, whether it's the Moslem religion, whether it's Orthodox, Christian, whatever the religion, they look to the United States as holding that beacon of freedom because we have the right and we hope that other peoples will enjoy the same right that we have to exercise our thoughts, our speech, our religion freely -- without any government suppressing it, without anybody trying to oppress us. And what a great experience that is.

It's made possible not by words from people like me who have served in politics, but by deeds from people like you. You are the best that our country has to offer. You come from the soil of the United States of America -- in addition to all the other countries that are here, and I keep pointing this out. Isn't it remarkable that we have Russian soldiers standing next to us now? Ten years ago when I was serving in the United States Senate at the height of the Cold War, I never thought I would see the day that we would have soldiers from the former Soviet Union standing side by side, keeping the peace in a country such as Bosnia/Herzegovina. It is a remarkable transformation that's taken place the world over, and everybody -- be it in Russia, be it in China, be it all over the Asia Pacific region, be it in Korea where we're also facing great tension -- everywhere they look to us as really the country that provides for their security and their safety and their freedom as well.

So Janet and I wanted to come and spend this special night with you because you're away from your families. We wanted to come and say that we think of you often, we care about you deeply. We are, more than I can express, so deeply indebted to your selflessness, your sacrifice, your commitment, your patriotism and your love of country.

So we wanted to take our time of being home, away from our families to be with you because you've become our family as well.

I don't want to take a great deal of time, because you don't get the entertainment until I stop talking. And you are in for a real treat this evening. We've got a brilliant singer/songwriter whom Janet is going to introduce to you as soon as I sit down.

But again, on behalf of all of us... (Applause) ...There she goes, stepping on my lines again.

But I know from the last time that she was here, that she had more joy in her heart that she expressed and felt from all of you. When I said we're going back to Bosnia she didn't hesitate a moment, said, "When can I get a ticket?"

As a matter of fact, she celebrated her birthday just a day ago. She is 38. (Laughter)

I was asked by the American press. They said, "What are you going to give your wife for her birthday?" I said, "A trip to Bosnia." (Applause)

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