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Cohen Salutes "Warrior Diplomats" During Indy Sendoff

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan, Feb. 2, 1998 – "You are our warriors, and you are our great diplomats," Defense Secretary William Cohen told the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Independence during a stop here Jan. 21. The ship and its battle group had just been given sailing orders to the Persian Gulf.

Cohen spoke to about 1,000 ship members assembled on the flight deck. He called them the key element in shaping an environment friendly to the United States and its allies.

"You are what we call the steel and the sword of freedom, and you are at the very tip of that sword," he said.

The Independence, the only Navy carrier based overseas, left Japan Jan. 23 on its fourth and final deployment to the gulf. Cohen had confirmed the Independence's assignment during a morning press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. The secretary told Independence crew members their reassignment is important to U.S. objectives in the region.

"As all of you know, we have had our differences with Saddam Hussein, who is ... determined to evade and circumvent" full compliance with U.N. resolutions, the secretary said. "He is required to open up his country to make sure that he is no longer continuing to develop nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons. We know from his past behavior that he has lied about his country's participation in those activities."

Cohen said the United States is determined to ensure Iraq does not hide its arsenal or threaten its neighbors. The only way to ensure eventual compliance, he said, is to have adequate military forces present in the gulf.

While Iraq continues to stall U.N. weapons inspections, Cohen said, the U.S. military presence in the gulf sends a strong signal that "this is the power of the United States [and] that we are determined to make sure that those oil lines and lanes, and sea lanes of communication, remain open."

Scheduled to relieve the USS Nimitz carrier battle group, the diesel-powered Independence will reach the gulf in early February, according to a naval officer aboard the vessel. The Nimitz is slated to sail for Virginia in March.

The departure of the Independence leaves the Western Pacific without a carrier in operation. However, Army Gen. John Tilelli, commander of the U.N. Command in Korea, said Jan. 22 the carrier's absence won't reduce U.S. readiness and that another carrier is tethered and available should the need arise.

The Independence battle group includes the guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, the destroyers USS John S. McCain and USS O'Brien and the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Charlotte, according to a U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman.

The Independence is the Navy's oldest active ship and is scheduled to be decommissioned in August. Its arrival will boost U.S. carrier presence in the gulf to three, the USS John Stennis being the third. The USS Kitty Hawk is slated to arrive at Yokosuka in August.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary William Cohen congratulates USS Independence sailors after officiating their re-enlistment at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. After the Jan. 21 ceremony, Cohen told ship crew members assembled on the flight deck they are key players in America's policy toward Iraq. The Independence left Japan Jan. 23 for the Persian Gulf, where it will replace the USS Nimitz. Douglas J. Gillert  
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