Defense Leaders Commentary: You Are the Pride of America and the Envy of the World
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2001 (Full farewell statement by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen broadcast to U.S. forces from Washington, D.C., Jan. 16, 2001. A shorter version was also released and can be viewed at www.defenselink.mil/specials/farewell/)
Four years ago, I was granted the highest honor any American can ever hope for: to stand and serve with those of you who wear this nation's uniform. So as I near the end of my tenure, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the changes and challenges of recent years and to reaffirm America's enduring commitment to you and your families.
Over the past four years, we have been inspired by your service and awed by your example. When Slobodan Milosevic unleashed a reign of terror against Kosovo, you reversed that aggression by leading a historic air campaign in which every American in combat returned safely. And thanks to your peacekeeping since, the people of that region now have an opportunity to bury old hatreds and build new lives.
When Saddam Hussein persisted in his deadly weapons programs in violation of U.N. resolutions, you responded with the strikes of Desert Fox and have continued enforcing the no-fly zones over Iraq, degrading his ability to threaten his neighbors and our interests.
When the terrorist Osama bin Laden attacked our embassies in Africa and planned more attacks, you answered with strikes that sent a clear message to the world: America stands firm in the face of terror.
When civil unrest in West Africa and Albania threatened U.S. citizens, you responded with rapid evacuations that saved countless American lives.
And when natural disasters grew into national disasters, you helped our Central American neighbors rebuild their homes after devastating storms. And you helped your fellow American neighbors save their homes against deadly firestorms in the West. Indeed, you are not only great warriors, you are great humanitarians and ambassadors who embody all the values and virtues of our nation.
Because you have taken care of America, we have worked to ensure America takes care of you. My wife, Janet, and I have visited you world over. We hosted forums to hear the unique quality of life concerns of you and your families.
You told us pay was too low. So the administration proposed the largest increase in military pay in nearly two decades.
You told us the retirement system was causing too many people to hang up their uniform. So we restored benefits -- after 20 years of service you can once again retire at 50 percent of your basic pay.
You told us that housing and health care were continuing concerns. So we increased the basic allowance for housing and plan to eliminate out-of-pocket housing expenses entirely by 2005. And we worked to lower TRICARE costs and expand access to health care for you and your families.
Finally, you said you were struggling to stay ready today and prepare for tomorrow. So to maintain current readiness, we increased funding for training and operations and maintenance. And we dramatically increased funding for the advanced tools and technologies you will need to prevail on the battlefields of the future.
Indeed, while challenges will always remain, there is no doubt: You remain the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped force the world has ever known.
In an era when fewer Americans have a family member or friend like you in uniform, Janet and I have also devoted ourselves to another mission: Ensuring this nation understands and appreciates the tremendous sacrifices you and your families make every day.
You -- the United States Armed Forces -- are the most respected institution in the nation. And we have worked to ensure you indeed remain the pride of America and the envy of the world.
A great man once wrote:
"We cannot live our dreams.
"We are lucky enough if we can give a sample of our best;
"And if in our hearts feel that it is nobly done."
For the past four years I have lived an experience beyond my dreams. I have had the honor of standing and serving with you. And in that time, your work for peace and freedom has indeed been nobly done.
God bless each and every one of you, and God bless America.
William S. Cohen