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Release No: 199-97
April 24, 1997

Remarks By Secretary Cohen Upon Acceptance of the Bull Simons Award

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Upon Acceptance of the Bull Simons Award from

United States Special Operations Command

Wednesday, April 16, 1997

MacDill AFB, Tampa, Fla.

General Shelton, Mrs. Shelton, General Peay and Mrs. Peay and General Steiner, Mrs. Steiner and so many other officers and gentlemen and ladies who are here today. I was told I should make very brief remarks. I guess my reputation as a former senator have long preceded my arrival here.

One time, I gave a speech and a lady came up to me afterwards and she said Senator Cohen, that was probably the finest speech that I have ever heard. And I could feel myself sort of puffing up with a narcissistic kind of pride. She said it was just superfluous. And I couldn't tell whether it was a slip of her tongue or a slip of a knife in my ribs. And I said well, thank you, ma'am. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of having it published posthumously. And she said oh, wonderful, son. The sooner the better. (Laughter.)

So with that in mind, let me try to be as brief as I can. And I see so many who are standing and I'll try not to keep you standing too long.

The poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, "Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past." Well today, I don't want to talk about poetry, but about operations, special operations, past, present and future.

As you've heard, until the mid '80s, Congress wasn't particularly interested in supporting special operations. The military was more than willing to renew its traditional focus on conventional warfare and nuclear deterrence, two areas that we could boast of unqualified success. And our nation, I think, paid dearly for this neglect with Desert One, the Beirut bombing, the Mayaguez, the Achille Lauro. And in each case the difference between failure and success was arguably a lack of special operations capability.

Many knew that change was needed. I was only one among them. But I didn't want to force change from the outside onto the military. Instead, I wanted to encourage change from inside through a combination of reasoned argument and political pressure that was carefully applied. But I quickly changed my mind after Grenada. Grenada was a valiant victory. But I must tell you I was troubled about the way in which we won, with patchwork organization and insufficient coordinated planning. And as I continued to study the Grenada case, many problems of an organizational and strategic nature came to light, but none were more glaring than the problems involving special operations. And after I had received a classified briefing with then-Major General Scholtes, who was commander of the special operations during the Grenada invasion, I was truly disturbed by the depth and the breadth of these problems.

The use of SOF was not part of the centralized planning at the CINC level. SOF from each services were not coordinated amongst themselves, nor with their own services conventional commanders. SOF operators were out of sync with tactical plan and often conducted with limited tactical information. The SOF units were often given missions by conventional force commanders that made little tactical sense. And despite all of this, there were still SOF successes. They were due in large measure to luck, to the grit and determination of the individual SOF operators and commanders. But overall, the SOF experience in Grenada was a wake up call.

Winston Churchill once said that men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. Grenada presented some truths that could not be ignored. And so I felt compelled to help draft legislation to create unified special operations command, working as you've heard with Senator Sam Nunn and, of course, Congressman Dan Daniels, for whom this building is named. And together, we got this legislation through by conducting our own special operation replete with PSYOPS to counter the spread of misinformation by our opponents, special reconnaissance to determine their arguments and actions that were designed to thwart our efforts, civil affairs to convince the public of our position, foreign internal defense to advise and assist other members of Congress on the merits of our position. And finally, direct action, taking the legislation to floor and getting it passed into law. And the operation was a success and on April 16 in 1987, this command came into being.

And what the legislation did, in effect, was to force the Defense establishment to become the proponents of a new CINC level command to which it had been completely opposed to. It was, as you can guess, a very rocky beginning. But slowly, SOCOM began to get the right people, the right resources and conduct the proper training. It worked hard to become part of the DoD team. And the services and the CINCs began to see a real benefit in SOCOM. The services increased their support, the CINCs increased their integration of SOCOM elements into their battle plans and I'm proud to say the results were exactly what we had hoped for.

During Just Cause, special forces proved themselves a vital asset to the conventional tactical commanders. They were indispensable in sustaining peace among the local population after the fighting was over. Special forces were an integral part of the entire operation in Desert Storm from reconnaissance to psychological ops to direct action against enemy targets. And especially with liaison with coalition members. And you've all heard about General Schwartzkopf's line that special forces were the glue that held the coalition together. These weren't just nice words. They had real meaning for victory then. And they have real meaning for peace today.

In Bosnia as special forces are critical in maintaining our alliance with some 32 nations and building inroads of friendship and cooperation with warring parties. In Eastern Europe, special forces are working to build bonds of friendship and cooperation with former enemies, training with these nations in PFP, Partnership for Peace exercises, and working with them to professionalize their militaries. Throughout Africa, they're conducting civil affairs operations to improve the living standards, bringing aide to the needy and helping safeguard innocent citizens of the United States and our allies as we saw in Liberia and now in Zaire.

And so throughout our hemisphere, they're a critical part of building new institutions for democracy and armed forces under civilian control. The presence of our forces in so many places engaged in so many different missions, I think, indeed is evidence of a brave new world. A world in which the Soviet threat has been replaced with a variety of smaller, yet also very dangerous threats. Ethnic rivalries, nuclear materials and technology for sale from the former Soviet Union, mass killings in central Africa, drug trafficking in the Americas, religious extremism leading to extreme violence in the Middle East and elsewhere. And of course, compounding all of these problems, we have the more traditional concerns of regional aggression by rogue regimes who threaten our interests in places such as the murky waters of the Persian Gulf and the cold, barren hills of the DMZ in Korea, where I was just a few days ago.

And so I think special forces are going to be more important today and in the future than ever before. Special forces are going to play a crucial role in the security of the United States.

We talked about today and tomorrow, but also I want to mention just one word about the past. Legend has it that the legacy of special forces began way back during the French and Indian War on our continent with an American unit called Roger's Rangers. In his book, Northwest Passage, Kenneth Roberts describes Major Rogers who led these rangers. He said, "The man had led us into hell, and through it and out of it. His determined soul was such that even had his body perished, his ghost would have continued to lead us. It would have threshed and fought its way to bring us to safety." Well today, the souls of all of those who have served our special forces are alive in our hearts and minds. They continue to lead us forward as we strive to ensure the security and safety of this nation. And I'm sure that Bull Simons' soul is among them. He would be proud of what each and every one of you has accomplished. I must tell you I am truly humbled to accept an award that's emblazoned with his name. But I'm also truly grateful to having had the opportunity to help create this command.

I want to quote from the Greek historian, Thucydides, who once wrote that the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, they go out to meet it. The men and women of the special operations command have always had a clear vision of what lay before them, of the glory and of the danger. And yet they always go out to meet every challenge. And so today, we can count on them to go out to meet the challenges of the 21st century, to protect our nation and its citizens and to help secure peace and liberty throughout the world. And for that, we remain eternally grateful.

Thank you very much. (Applause)

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