Clinton, DoD Commemorate 50 Years of Chairmen
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORT MYER, Va., Aug. 10, 1999 President Clinton thanked the 14 men who have served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at an Aug. 9 armed forces tribute ceremony here.
The ceremony marked the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the chairmanship. Five former chairmen joined current Chairman Army Gen. Henry Shelton at the ceremony.
Clinton asked the audience to remember what the world was like when General of the Army Omar Bradley became the first chairman in 1949.
"It was a new job," Clinton said. "It was clearly overwhelmingly preoccupied with the onset of the Cold War and the need to defend Europe. But soon after ... Bradley was summoned to assume the job, war broke out in Korea. So he had not only to defend Europe, but also to defend freedom in South Korea, and fulfill the job description to coordinate the services and also to coordinate with the State Department and the White House."
Clinton said the job was tough, but Bradley and his 13 successors have found a way to perform the duties and provide wise and honest counsel to the secretary of defense and president. He said there comes a time in the service of every president when that advice is crucial.
"Very often it is the last thing in the world you want to hear, because he will either tell you that you really can't achieve the objective you want to achieve for the price you're willing to pay, or that you have to do something that you'd rather go to the dentist without Novocain than do," Clinton said. "I can tell you that, without exception, every time a chairman of the Joint Chiefs has had to do that to me, he has done it. He has served our country well; he has served the president well; he has served the military and the men and women in uniform well.
"This institution has worked because the people who are part of it did what they were required to do in times of crisis. And our country should be very grateful to all of them."
Clinton used the occasion to call on the Senate to hold hearings on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The treaty bans all nuclear weapons tests. He said four former chairmen, as well as Shelton, have called for ratification.
"This will strengthen national security not only of the United States, but of people around the world," he said. "[The treaty] will help the new chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the future not only prepare for war, but to avoid it."
The chairman advises the civilian leadership and, as the most senior uniformed military person, represents the interests of service members. The caliber of U.S. military personnel has never been higher, Clinton said.
"As we approach a new century, we can be proud, indeed never prouder, of our men and women in uniform," he said. He pointed to the stellar record of those who fought in Operation Allied Force. He called that campaign remarkable, but cautioned Americans not to indulge in the illusion that U.S. airmen could ever again fly more than 30,000 sorties without combat casualties.
"We know that not every conflict will be like Kosovo. Not every battle can be won from the air," he said.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen thanked all the men who served as chairman. He called the chairman's position the "hinge" upon which two of America's most sacred principles survive: "A military that understands and abides by the will of the citizens it is sworn to serve, and a citizenry that understands and appreciates the insights and sacrifices of its military," Cohen said.
He said every chairman is "part soldier, part statesman, part symbol."
Since Congress amended the National Security Act and established the chairmanship, more than 150 campaign streamers, representing military actions U.S. service members participated in, have been added to the service flags. Service members at the ceremony gave a concrete example of this with a streamer ceremony.
As a narrator gave the history of the 14 chairmen and their contributions, service members dressed in period uniforms added the streamers to the flags of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The U.S. Army Band played songs from the various eras during the ceremony. In the finale, the band played the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as the costumed service members retired the flags.
The former chairmen in attendance at the ceremony were Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, Air Force Gen. David C. Jones, Army Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., Adm. William J. Crowe Jr. and Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili. All were accompanied by their wives. Alma Powell represented her husband, Army Gen. Colin L. Powell.
Shelton welcomed his predecessors in office and quoted from the Bible, "'Where there is no vision, the people perish,'" he said. "I'm proud to walk in the footsteps of these men."