Cohen Bids America's Armed Forces Farewell
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2001 The senator turned defense secretary bid farewell to his military constituents Jan. 17, 2001, hailing America's armed forces as "the finest force for freedom the world has ever known."
Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presents Defense Secretary William S. Cohen the Distinguished Public Service Award during a farewell review for the secretary at Fort Myer, Va. At the ceremony Jan. 17, 2001, Shelton also presented the Distinguished Public Service Award to Cohen's wife, Janet Langhart Cohen (right). Photo by Jim Garamone.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
William S. Cohen paid tribute to the nation's service members during a farewell ceremony at Fort Myer, Va. Prior to being sworn in as the nation's 20th defense secretary in January 1997, he served for nearly 25 years first as a congressman and then as a senator from Maine.
Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was host of the event. Also present were former defense secretaries Caspar W. Weinberger and William J. Perry, and a host of other senior defense officials. Shelton praised Cohen for his "deep love of country and strong devotion and respect for those who serve."
"For the past four years, America has successfully navigated the often dangerous waters of international security affairs with Secretary Cohen at the helm," Shelton said. "The department, and indeed the nation, have been well served having him in charge during the many storms we have weathered over these unpredictable years."
Throughout his tenure, the chairman said, Cohen has been a "player's coach" who cared deeply for service members, and a "visionary leader" who executed a winning game plan.
The chairman said he'd watched Cohen work tirelessly on behalf of the nation's military men and women, travel over 750,000 miles to foster world peace and stability and fight tough fights at home and abroad for what was best for both the nation and its armed forces.
"You are a person of absolute integrity and of tremendous vision," Shelton told the secretary.
The chairman also paid tribute to Cohen's wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, who has been a "great partner" at the secretary's side over the past four years. Her volunteer efforts led to DoD's first family forum, which gave senior Pentagon officials a firsthand opportunity to hear family members' concerns. She also initiated the Pentagon Pops, a musical tribute to the military, and four holiday tours, co-hosted by the secretary and the USO.
"On behalf of our men and women in uniform," Shelton said, "let me say a special thank you for your tireless efforts to improve the quality of life of our people in uniform and their families and for your efforts to reconnect the military to America.
"Those of us here today who have grown to know you so well, will miss you greatly. But, so too will the families of those who serve -- the very families that you have served so compassionately."
Shelton awarded both the secretary and Langhart Cohen Distinguished Public Service Awards. Cohen also received the Army Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the Air Force Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service and the Navy's Distinguished Public Service Award.
"We have loved this job, knowing that this day would one day have to come," Cohen said to the audience. "We have loved this opportunity to be in the presence of heroes, to walk to sail, to soar with eagles." Most of all, he said, he feels "an unqualified sense of awe" when in the presence of men and women and their families who serve and sacrifice for freedom.
"I have had the privilege of meeting with kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers and princes, sultans and emirs and yes, parliamentarians the world over," Cohen said. "But nothing has ever been more rewarding than to visit our troops in Bosnia, Kosovo, Korea, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia; to land on a carrier in the gulf, where temperatures can run 120, 130, 140 degrees; to see our sailors and Marines carrying out their duties in that heat; to watch our Air Force put steel on target or deliver humanitarian relief to helpless victims of hurricanes, earthquakes or other natural disasters; to witness our Coast Guardsmen protect our shores or rescue those caught up in those 'perfect storms.'
"I marvel at your raw courage," the secretary told the troops, "your willingness to constantly train and prepare to fight the wars that can't be prevented."
He then recalled a Christmas Eve encounter at Bosnia's Eagle Base three years ago that he said neither he nor his wife is likely to forget.
"As we have every holiday since, we joined hundreds of soldiers to share songs, and love, and levity and laughter, to bring just a touch of home to them," Cohen said. "As we left that night around midnight, we passed along the perimeter and we came across three young soldiers for whom Christmas Eve meant manning a security post fashioned from wood. They were out there in the mud and the cold and darkness, standing guard in the night.
"As we expressed our gratitude for their service and conveyed our sorrow they couldnt be home with their families, one of these soldiers looked at Janet and offered a response we will never forget -- so eloquent in its simplicity, so profound in its sincerity: 'Thats all right, Maam.' Somebody has to do it. And besides, I think were making a difference here.'"
"For the past four years, we've been blessed to serve with you as you stand guard in the night, as you continue to make an extraordinary difference the world over," he said. "Because of your patriotism, professionalism, because of your dedication, your daring, more people today sleep under the flag of freedom than at any time in history."
Cohen said he tried "to keep the faith of all who have gone before me and who will come after." He noted that his defense team had managed to add $227 billion to the defense budget for future years, secured the largest defense spending increase in 15 years and obtained the largest pay raise in a generation.
That team returned retirement benefits to 50 percent and began eliminating inequities for those who live in housing off base. It also overhauled the healthcare system to provide decent health care for active duty, retirees and their families -- "care that's worthy of this nation," he noted.
"And I want to mention one other thing," Cohen said. "We kept our promise to help reconnect America to its military and to remind the American people that we must take care of those who take care of us -- that freedom can be lost just as easily through indifference and neglect as it can through warfare."
Foreign leaders have asked him how they can make their military more like America's, he said. He turned to the troops present and said, "We have the finest military on earth because of you. We have the finest people on earth because we recruit and train the best America has to offer."