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
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
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has been withdrawn.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.