Seal of the Department of Defense U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
On the Web:
Media contact: +1 (703) 697-5131/697-5132
Public contact:
or +1 (703) 571-3343

Remarks to Barksdale Air Force Base Personnel
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Shreveport, Louisiana , Monday, April 12, 1999

Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. Let me say what a privilege it's been for me to be able to work on a daily basis with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Hugh Shelton. He stands tall, he stands tough, and he's always at the ready to lead our men and women in uniform. It has been my honor to be able to work with him day in and day out on your behalf and on behalf of all of America. So thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

President Clinton, members of Congress, [Acting Air Force] Secretary [Whit] Peters, [Air Forces Chief of Staff] General [Michael] Ryan and General [Ronald] Marcotte [Commander, 8th Air Force], members and families of the Armed Forces, and ladies and gentlemen.

Three weeks ago, the United States and the NATO alliance had a choice. We could either stand by as the hand of terror was lifted against a whole people, as those who have committed some of the worst crimes of this century moved with impunity towards their next victims. Or we could stand up for what is right and what is just. NATO decided not to sit on the sidelines while Milosevic's hooded thugs carried out their reign of terror. A mechanized evil was loose in the heart of Europe and it had to be confronted.

President Clinton knew, all of us knew, that this struggle was not going to be quick or easy or neat. But we understood that we were going to prevail because we have what Milosevic will never have. We have the resolve of our men and women in the military who will fight for a just cause. We have the power that is derived from the collective will of free peoples. And we have the United States Air Force. [Applause.]

As it did through the long Cold War, and in all of the years since, our Air Force carries this nation on its steady wing. And last week the chairman and I both had the opportunity to visit our troops at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany and Aviano in Italy. We had the honor of looking into the eyes of our pilots and watching our brave and dedicated airmen at work.

With little rest and great skill, our men and women in blue are working without pause and without complaint. From their able hands, we've sent wave after wave into very dangerous skies, taking this battle to those who have perpetrated unspeakable crimes against innocent and unarmed people. One young airman, working as part of this humanitarian rescue mission at Ramstein, spoke for all of us when she offered her reaction to the scenes of those suffering refugees. She said, "It makes me glad that I'm doing this job because I am helping them."

Brave airmen like her, like you, serve America every day. You sacrifice a life of comfort and ease, risking life itself so that others may enjoy the blessings of freedom. These airmen come from the heart of America. They come from Barksdale. Your comrades in arms who put our mighty B-52s in the skies provide the muscle that is NATO's might, and indeed, the power of that great warhorse is the heart of our determined campaign. As Captain John Roth of the 20th Bomb Squadron recently said, "When they call us in, they mean business." He's right, we do. And we're going to persist until this mission is successfully completed.

Of course, behind every air crew, behind every ground crew, behind every pilot, every mission, stands a mother, a father, a sister, a brother or a child, a family member bearing the quiet burden for which all of America is truly and gratefully proud. So on behalf of the nation that you serve, on behalf of the millions in the distant land who may live to see their families and their homes again because you have sent a part of your family far from home, let me offer our nation's deepest thanks.

Any great conflict always tests us. It tests our troops, it tests our nation, it tests our alliance. And it tests our leaders. I am proud to say that each one has measured up to that test. Our troops are performing magnificently, our nation understands the necessity of action, our alliance has remained strong and determined and united. And our leader, our president, has guided our country and our Armed Forces with great skill and resolve and determination. He has placed our nation on the right side of history, and he has given our men and women in uniform, and their commanders, every support that they could possibly request. He has given unqualified support to the men and women who are now serving us. He truly has been a leader in this effort.

It was exactly 50 years ago, as the chairman mentioned, that this nation was engaged in another airborne struggle, the struggle to save a stranded Berlin. And the gravity of that moment, and of ours, calls to mind the words of President Kennedy, who some years later, on his trip to Berlin, said, "Unless you have borne the burdens of the presidency, you cannot realize how heavy and constant those burdens are."

Ladies and gentlemen, we are fortunate indeed to have a president who bears those burdens with quiet strength and steely resolve, for the ideals of our nation, for peace throughout the world.