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NATO Appoints Ralston Next European Commander

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 1999 – The North Atlantic Treaty Organization announced Nov. 3 U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston will be its next supreme allied commander Europe.

Ralston, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the nation's No. 2 military officer. He will succeed Army Gen. Wesley Clark when his NATO appointment becomes effective in May 2000. Ralston will also assume command of U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. The Senate confirmed this appointment Oct. 29.

Ralston told the Senate Armed Services Committee during Oct. 27 confirmation hearings that military challenges in Europe include bolstering NATO's defenses. He said he would encourage the allies to increase defense budgets and spend on the "right things to increase NATO's combat capability."

During Operation Allied Force, Ralston noted, the allies' lack of secure communications equipment forced all to "drop back to the lowest common denominator and operate on an unsecured net." As a result, the Serbs could intercept communications and the risk to NATO air crews increased.

"We need to keep the NATO alliance focused on what the threats are and have them adequately prepare for those threats," he said.

Russia, which still has many nuclear warheads, remains a concern to the general: "I believe we ought to do everything we can to ensure that Russia does not become a failed state."

"On the U.S. side," Ralston said, "we've got to maintain our readiness." The United States must be cognizant of its operations and personnel tempos and must focus on improving members' and their families' quality of life in the European theater, he stressed.

"That has been neglected somewhat in the past. We need to do a better job of making sure that we give them the quality of life that they deserve," he said.

Born in Kentucky and raised in Ohio, Ralston entered the Air Force in 1965 through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. His career includes commands at squadron, wing, numbered air force and major command levels as well as a variety of staff and management assignments. He also has held a variety of positions related to planning and acquisition.

Prior to becoming vice chairman in March 1996, Ralston served as commander of the Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va. A command pilot with more than 2,500 flying hours, including 147 combat missions during the Vietnam War, he holds a master's degree in personnel management from Central Michigan University.

Clark headed U.S. Southern Command for a year before taking the helm of European Command in July 1997 and becoming supreme allied commander Europe. He was due to leave the position in July 2000 after serving an initial two-year term and a one-year extension.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen elected to cut Clark's extension short by a few months, to retain Ralston, who was slated to retire Feb. 29. By regulation, Ralston could only be kept on active duty for 60 days without assuming another command.

President Clinton wrote to NATO Secretary-General George Robertson requesting Clark's release from the NATO assignment. The alliance agreed "with great regret" to release Clark, according to a Nov. 3 NATO press release. Members of NATO's Defense Planning Committee, on behalf of the 19 allied nations' governments, expressed gratitude for Clark's distinguished service.

Cohen praised Clark for his skilled and dedicated service to NATO and country. "His leadership was central to the success of Operation Allied Force, which stopped the killing in Kosovo, and he has been instrumental in bringing stability to Bosnia," Cohen stated in a Nov. 3 DoD press release.

"NATO is stronger and Europe is more secure because of General Clark's leadership," the secretary said.

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