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Acquisition and Logistics Reform Week Kick-Off
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, The Pentagon, Washington DC , Tuesday, June 08, 1999

General [Hugh] Shelton [Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], thank you for your kind words, but also for your extraordinary leadership. I should indicate to all who are here today that it has been a distinct privilege for me to serve as Secretary of Defense, but there could be no greater pleasure for me than to serve with General Shelton, someone who towers above all of us in the leadership qualities of service, in intellect and in integrity. It’s truly an honor to be able to serve beside you and to lead this great country. Thank you, General Shelton, for your leadership.

Secretary [of the Army, Louis] Caldera; Under Secretary [for Acquisition and Technology, Jacques] Gansler; Deputy Under Secretaries [for Acquisition and Technology, Dave] Oliver; [for Acquisition Reform, Stan] Soloway and [for Logistics, Roger] Kallock; Flag officers who are here; Distinguished guests.

The Chairman said he wanted to be brief and I’m looking at the standing ovation that I am receiving [laughter] by those of you who are standing outside of the tent in the heat. I recall that not long ago I was visiting Denmark and I went to that famous castle where Shakespeare created Hamlet’s scene and Polonius said that "brevity is the soul of wit." I will try to be as brief as my wit will allow here today and your patience and understanding will permit

But let me say to you and the countless thousands who are watching and participating across the nation, for the first time ever, both by cyberspace and also by satellite: For the past eleven weeks, Americans have been dazzled by the astonishing capabilities of our warriors and weapons in the Balkans. Of over 33,000 sorties that have been flown, only two have not returned safely. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles glide over Kosovo, providing a bird’s-eye view of Serb forces. In their first combat missions ever, B-2 combat crews have taken off from middle America, they have flown non-stop across the Atlantic, they have hit their targets within twenty feet and returned to their base in Missouri.

Whereas in the past it took multiple aircraft to destroy a single target, it now takes a single aircraft destroys multiple targets. Satellite-guided precision missiles lock on and they hit targets such as a radio transmitter in the heart of Belgrade with minor, if any, damage to surrounding buildings. Indeed, we all recognize that we will never truly lift the fog of war, but our technology has made this the most precise campaign in the history of warfare.

We should be proud of the fact that we have the technology, the crews, the airmen and all who are involved in this to say this is the most precise campaign in the history of warfare. We should understand and take great credit for that.

The help and hope provided in our humanitarian mission has been equally astonishing. Our forces have transformed muddy airfields into modern airports through which have poured Mega-tons of supplies, over a hundred thousand blankets, millions of meals and the supplies to build camps for sixty thousand refugees, complete with proper shelter, sanitation and schools.


Of course, this stunning array of technology and talent, this so-called Revolution in Military Affairs, did not come to us by chance or luck. It came to us by choice and by leadership; by the determination of leaders like Jack Gansler and Dave Oliver, and so many who are sitting in this audience today; by the dedication of men and women over many years who conceived, created, tested and fielded the most advanced tools and technologies the world has ever seen; by men and women such as you who are with us today. You are the force behind the force, and the success of America’s Armed Forces over there is a representation of your success back here. And for that you all have the thanks of a truly grateful nation. Thank you. [Applause.]

It is clear that our Armed Forces simply could not excel at their missions without you excelling at yours, to be able to peer into that opaque window of the future and prepare for the next battle. General Shelton was talking about some of the misguided prophecies of the past and another comes to mind. "The engines of war have long since reached their limits, and I see no further hope of any improvement in the art." That was a declaration by the Roman engineer Frontinus. It’s like oxtail soup. You go back to a moment in history in the first year A.D and it is like oxtail soup, going too far back to get a good thing. [Laughter.]

Frontinus’ fallacy. Sometimes we seemed to fall victim to Frontinus’ fallacy when we failed to make all the improvements and investments necessary for our high-tech military to keep pace with our high-tech world. Last year, we finally reversed a 13-year decline in procurement spending. Today, we are working with Congress to begin the first long-term, sustained increase in military spending in some fifteen years, to include an increase in next year’s procurement budget to $53 billion. And we are on track, by the year 2001, to hit that $60 billion procurement mark.

Yet this new spending must never be an excuse to adhere to old or outdated practices. So we are forging ahead. We are fundamentally altering and changing how we do business with our so-called Defense Reform Initiative. We are consolidating and we are streamlining organizations. We are competing more functions with the private sector than ever before. We are cutting excess infrastructure, such as destroying some 8,000 excess buildings. And we are adopting the best business practices in everything we do.

And so we look to you, the proven professionals, to dedicate yourselves anew: to continue to build acquisition and logistic communities that are as flexible and agile as the forces you are supporting; to continue to put into the hands of our military the latest technologies at the greatest speed and the lowest cost; to continue to build a workforce trained and educated to embrace the change and challenges of a world that is rushing at us with astonishing velocity.

I am always reminded of the when Vaclav Havel came to Congress. He said, "Things are happening so fast, so rapidly that we have no time to be astonished." We are proceeding into the future with astonishing velocity, so we have to continue tearing down archaic barriers and burdens, and harness the full potential of private industry, and to continue to answer enduring challenges with novel solutions. That’s really the spirit behind defense and acquisition reform, something the Chairman talked about just a moment ago. That is the spirit behind this week of celebrating and showcasing who you are and what you do. And that is the spirit we ask you to continue to infuse in your every endeavor.

There should be no doubt of our overriding expectation. Embrace the lessons of today’s Packard Award winners. We want you to look beyond and between the lines of your job descriptions. We want you to imagine. We want you to innovate. We want you to create. We want you to experiment. We want you to know that nothing new ever came from simply holding on to complacency or comfort with the old ways; that as you take risks in the name of cutting red tape, the one risk you won’t have to take is the cut of a pink slip. We want you to be bold and innovative and imaginative and not worry about whether that is going to cost you your job. At every level in every area, we have to pursue worthwhile experiments, rather than punish well-meaning errors.


There was a masterful biography of Winston Churchill written by William Manchester and I would like to quote just one small portion. He said that, "among the perceptive observations and the shrewd conclusions of leaders such as Churchill were the clutters of other reports and forecasts completely at odds with them. All of it, the prescient and the cock-eyed, always arrives in a rush. And most men in power sorting through it believe what they want to believe, accepting whatever justifies their policies and their convictions while taking out insurance, whenever possible, against the truth that may in fact line their wastebaskets."

Ladies and gentlemen, we can never know the future. We cannot predict with any kind of certainty the profile of our next adversary. We cannot prophesize with precision the order of the next battle. But we do know this: the best way for preserving the peace [inaudible] that when the decisive moment arrives, our men and women in uniform expect, and deserve, to have a decisive edge.

This week, as I said before, we celebrate who you are and celebrate what you do, sustaining and sharpening that decisive edge on behalf of the safety of our military men and women and on behalf of the security of our nation. I can’t emphasize this enough. The Chairman and I and all of us who serve in our respective capacities are serving our nation in the cause of promoting peace and helping to strengthen democracy and preventing the kind of tyranny and the kind of horror that we have witnessed in places like Kosovo. We have the men and women in uniform, we have you behind them, and we need to continue this great effort as we rush toward the 21st Century with the kind of innovation represented by the winners of today’s awards. Thank you very much for all you do for our people. [Applause.]