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Clinton Lauds Military's Equal Opportunity

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 5, 1999 – Regardless of race or gender, the military gives people the maximum opportunity to live up to their abilities, President Clinton said in an Armed Forces Radio and Television "Special Assignment" interview slated to be broadcast later this month.

Operation Desert Fox demonstrated the military's successful integration of women into its ranks, Clinton said. Without a lot of fanfare, women pilots flew combat missions over Iraq during the four-day air campaign in mid-December. They worked, trained and waited a long time, and when their chance came, "they did their job without making a big deal of it, and they did it very, very well," he said.

Clinton told "Special Assignment" host Janet Langhart Cohen that the military has opened about 250,000 duty positions to women since he took office. "The military has dealt with gender differences in the same way it dealt over time with racial differences -- to open up a maximum number of roles and give people the maximum opportunity to live up to their own ability," he said.

Clinton pointed out that he recently awarded a posthumous pardon to Henry Flipper, the first African American West Point graduate, whom he hailed as a "remarkable engineer, good soldier, unfairly discharged."

Flipper was dishonorably discharged more than 100 years ago for conduct unbecoming an officer, but the Army exonerated him in 1976, changed his discharge to honorable and reburied him with full honors. "But one thing remained to be done," Clinton had said at a Feb. 19 White House ceremony. He then granted a full pardon to Army Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper.

The president also noted that he'd recently awarded a fourth star to retired Air Force Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., commander of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the nation's first all-black fighter squadron, then fighter group. The combat unit fought the Axis over North Africa and southern Europe during World War II.

Davis' father, Benjamin O. Davis Sr., became the nation's first African American general when the Army presented him his first star in 1940. During a White House promotion ceremony last December, Clinton praised the younger Davis as "a hero in war, a leader in peace, a pioneer for freedom, opportunity and basic human dignity."

Looking back on these military pioneers is a way of "ensuring you'll continue to move forward," Clinton told AFRTS. "There will always be controversies, rules to be worked out, and difficulties to be dealt with, but when you give patriotic Americans who want to serve, and who can serve well, the chance to do it, you win."

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Transcript of Interview of the President by Janet Langhart Cohen for Armed Forces Television

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