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Welcoming Ceremony of U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Fort Myer, Virginia , Tuesday, June 22, 1999

General Shinseki, Patty [Shinseki], distinguished Senators, Members of the House, Secretary [of the Army, Louis] Caldera, thank you for your very, very eloquent statement about the new Chief of Staff. Secretary [of the Navy, Richard] Danzig, General and Mrs. [Hugh] Shelton [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], General [Joseph] Ralston [Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], Janet [Cohen], distinguished guests.

You've left me very little to say, Secretary Caldera, but I will labor very hard to add more than just a footnote to your comments about the heroic service that Ric Shinseki has dedicated to this country.

In the waning hours of the Cold War, Vaclav Havel, who went from being playwright to president of the Czech Republic, came to Washington and he spoke to Congress. He said; "The world is changing so rapidly that we have no time to be astonished." Well, in recent days, we, too, scarcely have had time to be astonished at the scenes that have come rushing at us. Of the ethnic cleansing in the heart of Europe that calls to mind some of the darkest chapters of the 20th Century. Of the greatest military alliance in history responding with the most precise air campaign in history. And of America's Army taking up positions in Kosovo to guarantee the peace that NATO's military has secured.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are truly remarkable times. And if we hope to create a lasting peace for Europe and beyond, we'll need remarkable individuals: soldiers with courage that is forged in the crucible of battle; strategists with clear and innovative vision; and leaders with the finest sense of character and integrity. We had such an individual in Denny Reimer, to whom we bid farewell yesterday. And we have such a person in the new Chief of Staff that we welcome here today.

Ric Shinseki is first and always a soldier. The medals and ribbons on his chest tell of his bravery and boldness during those two tours of Vietnam, as Secretary Caldera mentioned. But even the shining decorations cannot tell the full story of his courage and commitment, of his determination in recovering from grievous wounds. Indeed, through those endless months of rehabilitation, Ric Shinseki kept his spirits up and he remained true to the Army. At a time when many chose to leave, he fought to stay. From his hospital bed, he petitioned to remain in the service despite deep and devastating scars.

There is a portrait that hangs over the entrance to my office. It's a portrait of Joshua Chamberlain. I have it there to remind all who enter of a story of uncommon courage and dedication. Chamberlain, after suffering wounds that most thought were mortal, against all argument, against all odds, decided to return to battle. He wrote to his entreating parents who asked him not to go. He said; "I am not scared or hurt enough to be willing to face the rear when other men are marching to the front. It is true my incomplete recovery from my wounds would make a quiet life desirable. And when I think of my young and dependent family, the whole strength of that motive to make the most of my life comes over me. But there is no promise of life in peace and there is no degree of death in war. And I am so confident of the sincerity of my motives that I can trust my own life and the welfare of my family in the hands of providence." General Shinseki, you embody Chamberlain's fighting faith.

I mentioned yesterday that I had occasion to visit with our forces in the Balkans over the weekend. Our soldiers are relentlessly keeping the calm in Bosnia. They are relieving the suffering of refugees in Albania. They are now restoring peace in Kosovo. And every American should be truly proud of our soldiers. No one more so than Ric Shinseki. He helped to ensure that our forces would be prepared for the Balkans when he served on the Army staff. He then deployed with them as Commander of the Stabilization Force in Bosnia. Indeed, the peace that General Shinseki helped to make possible in that part of the Balkans instructs us today as we work to bring peace to the rest of the region.

General Shinseki, we're going to need all of your accumulated wisdom and experience to carry us through the turbulence of the present to secure our future. And you're going to have a great teammate with General [Dan] Keane as your Vice Chief and together with Secretary Caldera. You're going to build a more agile Total Army that harnesses the full potential of all of its members -- Active, Guard and Reserve. And you will complete their transformation into information-age warriors ready to dominate a digitized battlefield and ensure that all stay well-trained and well-equipped and well-prepared for any mission that fortune or fate might demand of them.

Patty Shinseki, the Army and the nation also look to you. We look to your commitment and to your compassion to help us serve the families who sacrifice so much alongside of our forces. And so, we welcome you here today, knowing that the families are going to be in strong, confident, life-enhancing hands.

There's another aspect of Ric Shinseki's story which I think bears telling. Ric was born in a small town in Hawaii in 1942. Due to the hysteria of the time, the law stated that all persons of Japanese ancestry, whether citizen or not, be designated as enemy aliens. Ric's grandfather was a laborer in Hiroshima who arrived in Hawaii in the late 1800's, and he raised his children and grandchildren to love America. Yet on the day that he was born, Ric Shinseki was considered an enemy of the state.

Today, we have the privilege to present Ric as the 34th Army Chief of Staff. Our country has matured and grown from the early 1940's when some shameful decisions were made in the heat of wartime. Ric Shinseki is a soldier, not a symbol, but his presence here and the changes in the past 50 years say some great things about him and about America, about our capacity for growth and our capacity for decency.

I also need to say a special word about one of our guests here today, Senator Dan Inouye. Dan was 17 and living in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He, too, was soon classified as an enemy alien and was denied the chance to serve his country. The Army eventually decided to form an all-Japanese unit, the 442nd Regimental Command Combat Team. Before World War II ended, the 442nd and its units would become the most heavily decorated combat unit in Army history. Senator Inouye, who served so heroically in the 442nd with a number of Ric Shinseki's uncles, was so inspiring that Ric decided to make his own career in the Army. Senator Inouye, you are one of our national treasures. I know this is a great day for you to see Ric take office. It's also a special moment for all of us to see one of the greatest members of the greatest generation in our presence still carrying on the battle for our fighting forces. We applaud you. [Applause.]

 

I spoke of Chamberlain just a few moments ago, but let me close with thoughts on character and spirit. He said; "We know not of the future and we cannot plan for it much. But we can hold our spirits and our bodies so pure and high we may cherish such thoughts and such ideals and dream such dreams of lofty purpose that we can determine and know what manner of men we will be whenever and where ever the hour strikes that calls us to noble action."

General Shinseki, whenever the hour has struck, you've answered America's call with noble action. Today, the hour strikes again and the Army is indeed fortunate to have you at the helm. We celebrate your past, we celebrate your promise, confident that the men and women of America's Army, following your example, will always be there as well. [Applause.]