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Release No: 137-95
March 17, 1995

Remarks by Secretary of Defense William J. Perry

UNITED SHIELD Award Ceremony

March 17, 1995

The American essayist Logan Pearsall Smith wrote: "The indefatigable pursuit of an unattainable perfection...is what alone gives a meaning to our life."

We live in an imperfect world. And we can never make it perfect. But we can attain moments of perfection. Operation United Shield was such a moment.

On behalf of President Clinton and the Department of Defense, I want to thank General Shalikashvili and General Peay for their outstanding military leadership; and Walt Slocombe and his OSD Somalia Task Force, for their quick, efficient response in a tough policy-making environment. I also want to thank Admiral Bolognaro from the Italian Navy, a superb commander from a great and dependable ally.

But most of all, I want to thank the men and women in uniform who carried out this complicated and critical mission. Their indefatigable pursuit of perfection delivered 8,000 peace-keepers from danger, and sent them safely home.

Somalia is a place that has suffered too many of the world's imperfections. Before our troops landed there two years ago, the nation had been devastated by civil war, rampant famine and disease. More than one thousand Somali people were dying each day. In short order, American and U.N. forces helped to relieve the famine and disease, and helped to save tens of thousands of lives. Some paid with their own lives, the ultimate personal sacrifice.

Last month, we returned to Somalia to honor a commitment. When we asked the nations of Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan and India to send peacekeeping forces, we promised them our support, if and when it was needed. Many of these brave soldiers suffered casualties keeping the forces of chaos at bay. When the time came to close out military operations in Somalia, they called on America to honor its commitment. And we responded with a truly joint task force supported by all the U.S. Services and by the Italian Navy, and led by the U.S. Marines.

Protecting the peacekeepers was a dangerous mission. Armed militias with high-powered weapons attempted to intimidate and coerce the task force at every step of the way. And amphibious operations are always tricky. It is tough to land under the cover of darkness facing a very real threat of hostile fire. It can be even tougher to conduct a withdrawal under those conditions. You've got to keep the beachhead secure against hostile forces until the last serviceman has been withdrawn.

The Combined Task Force executed this mission flawlessly. With the help of soldiers, sailors, airmen and their Italian comrades in arms, the Marines built an island of order in a sea of disorder, and they brought out the peacekeepers without a single coalition casualty. There is an old saying in the Marine Corps: "The Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand." Well, they proved it once again, thanks to the critical support of the Army, Navy and Air Force. This is what we mean by "jointness."

What this operation accomplished goes well beyond one faraway nation in an imperfect world. It kept America's faith with our allies, and our faith in them. It showed that our forces are prepared to deploy with very short notice. And it proved, once again, that America has the best-trained, most professional and most effective forces in the world.

This mission also proved that America is grounded with outstanding military leadership at all levels. Leaders such as Vice Admiral Redd, who provided expert leadership and guidance for this mission from start to finish. And General Zinni, who exemplifies the Marine motto, "Semper Fidelis." He gave his forces and leaders in the field his supreme confidence; they gave him perfection in return. In the process, he showed himself to be the consummate Marine's Marine, who is always ready to back up his troops. In fact, as sunset turned to night on Green Beach and this perfect mission came to a close, the last Marine to hit the waves was General Zinni. Well done, General.

To all who served in United Shield, and in particular, those who we honor today for their exceptional service, skill, courage and creativity: I say you can be truly proud of your achievements. I can tell you, as Secretary of Defense, I am truly proud of you.

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