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Ribbon-Cutting of the Navy Information Technology Center
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , New Orleans, Louisiana , Monday, May 17, 1999

Let me say that I know it's a warm day, and we have been instructed to be brief. I always remember that Shakespeare, in one of his plays, said that "brevity is the soul of wit." So I will try to express my soul and my wit as briefly as possible so that we will not delay the cutting ceremony too long. But I wanted to say just a couple of things to all of you.

It has been, no doubt in my mind, the most distinguished honor I could ever have to be the Secretary of Defense of this great country. There is no other nation in the world that is as powerful. There is no other nation in the world that holds up our ideals throughout the world, that torch of liberty that we hold up to all of the world which says that we stand behind democracy, free markets, free people, and liberty. That's exactly what we have been fighting for throughout history and what we continue to fight for today.

We have paid tribute, appropriately, to all the members [of Congress] who are up on this podium. Bob Livingston, whom I served with in the House and then when I was in the Senate, has been truly an outstanding leader on your behalf. I have enjoyed working with him. I enjoyed working with Senator [John] Breaux, and Senator [Mary] Landrieu now, and your entire delegation, Congressman Livingston and others.

There is another gentleman in the audience with whom I served back in the early seventies, and that is [former Congressman] Dave Treen. Dave, it is great to see you. It has been a long time. It's great to be back here to be with you. [Applause.]

I wanted to say just a few words about our men and women in uniform. As Senator Landrieu has indicated, we just came from Fort Polk. We saw young people who are now preparing to ship off soon to go to Bosnia. You should be enormously proud of them. [Applause.]

We have the finest fighting force in the world. They are the best-led people. They are the best trained. They are the best educated. They are the best equipped. They carry themselves not only as warriors and, indeed, peacekeepers, but also as great diplomats. When we send our men and women forth -- and you are seeing some of them here today in uniform -- to other countries and when other countries take a look at them and see how proud they are, how they carry themselves, how patriotic and professional and competent and capable they are, they make a judgment about us. They say, "There's a country on whose side I want to be on." And our potential adversaries say, "There's a country that I don't want to contest."

So when we send these young people forward, we should be eternally grateful for the sacrifices that they make. And I know that you're all aware of this because Louisiana has a proud history of supporting our military over the years. You have, in addition to Fort Polk, in addition to Barksdale [Air Force Base], where we were just a few weeks ago, in addition to Avondale [Shipyards], you have the tremendous support of all of the people of Louisiana. And that really reflects what you're doing behind me now, in terms of this new information technology.

It is frequently said that we are always willing to fight the last war. That's no longer the case. As you see, every day that goes by we are changing the way in which we do business from a military point of view. We have what we call a Revolution in Military Affairs. We are now doing more and more experimenting, integrating high technology into the way in which we conduct our military operations. You're seeing just a part of that take place over Kosovo today.

While critics are quick to point out the mistakes that we make -- and we do make them from time to time -- I'd have you know that we've flown some 19,000 sorties to date and that we have lost only two aircraft out of those 19,000 sorties. [Applause.]

Of all the munitions that have been dropped in order to destroy and decimate and downgrade Milosevic's military capability, we have taken great care, and will always take great care, to make sure that we do not harm innocent civilians. We're not always perfect, but we go to extraordinary lengths, like no other country, like no other group of democracies, in order to minimize harm to innocent people.

So we should be grateful for the men and women who are serving us. They serve. They sacrifice. They go without. Their families suffer, as well, in terms of the loss of their companionship, the deprivation that takes place. But they do so willingly. [I see this when] I travel out to the Persian Gulf, where the temperatures can get up to about 150 degrees, with the combined heat and humidity, much like it is getting up here right now.

Think about it. On the decks of some of our aircraft carriers during the hottest months in the Gulf, the combined temperature is 150 degrees, when you have all of those aircraft taking off with all those afterburners, these kids are out there and they are happy and doing what they're doing because they know they're there to promote and to protect peace and stability throughout the world, of which we are the beneficiaries. So we owe each and every one here a great hand of gratitude. [Applause.]

Let me conclude with some observations about the new world into which we're entering. I think it was in Peanuts where it was said, "How do I do new math with an old math mind?" That's what we have to do. But we have to do the new math with new math minds.

These two buildings behind me represent our dedication to having a Revolution in Business Affairs, in information technology. We know that information is power, and that the country that is able to acquire, develop, collate, and integrate information in the most efficient manner is going to remain the superior power. We are the superior power in the world today. We are the world's superpower today. It is because of not only our weaponry, it is not only because of our technology behind us that we will have, but also, and primarily, because of the people.

So now we are integrating the people, the technology and this new information age to continue making us the superpower that will be the beacon of hope for so many millions, and indeed billions, of people throughout the world.

One of the most memorable events that took place while I was in the Senate was when [Czech] President Vaclav Havel came to speak to a joint session of Congress. He said, "things are happening so rapidly that we have little time to be astonished." All of us are living in this Tofflerian age of Future Shock, where time is speeded up by events and everything is being shaken by the hurricane winds of change.

These two buildings represent our commitment to adapt, to be flexible, to integrate, to acquire the most modern technology in a way that not only serves our taxpayers but serves our military, to make sure that we remain the superior power on the face of the Earth.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let me thank you. Without you, this would not have been possible. Without your support for your congressional delegation, without your commitment to a strong national security, none of this would have been possible. That's the reason I wanted to come here today to engage in this symbolic cutting of the ribbon; not only to dedicate two new buildings, but to commit us to the dedication of new ideas that will serve all of us for the 21st century.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for all of your contributions. [Applause.]