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Swearing-in Ceremony for Secretary of the Air Force Whit Peters
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, September 08, 1999

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome, at last, Secretary Whit Peters, ending for him what Alec Guinness once called the "happy agony of acting." [Laughter.] Monni and Mary Peters, Deputy Secretary [John] Hamre who is not here, Mr. Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs, General Hugh Shelton], Secretaries [of the Army, Luis] Caldera and [of the Navy, Richard] Danzig, General [Michael] Ryan [Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force], Admiral [Jay] Johnson [Chief of Naval Operations], General [Jim] Jones [Commandant, U.S. Marines] is going to be here as well, General [John] Keene [Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army] distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

For 78 days this spring, the world stood in awe of America's Air Force. Of air crews working without pause and without complaint on tarmacs from Aviano to Incirlik. Of pilots who braved hundreds of surface-to-air missiles. Of thousands more -- Active, Guard and Reserve -- providing the critical satellites, support and supplies they needed. Of the over 26,000 bombs and missiles hitting nearly all their targets with astonishing accuracy. Of over 37,000 sorties, with all but two planes returning safely and not a single combat casualty. Indeed, I think we look to the performance and precision of our warriors and weapons in the Balkans as being unprecedented in the history of warfare.

For this extraordinary achievement America owes a deep debt of gratitude to the dedicated military men and women who risk life and limb for all of us, and to their determined leaders who guide them with the greatest skill and care. Leaders such as General Mike Ryan whose abiding confidence in our forces reassured America that our military success in Kosovo would "take time, but was inevitable." Leaders such as the 19th Secretary of the Air Force.

I think all who know him know that the desk of Whit Peters is adorned with a very prized possession, a fragment of Manganese. And it may be unfamiliar to some, but nothing could be more fitting for the man that we honor today. Found only at the depths of the ocean, Manganese is among the most rare of minerals. It is forged under the greatest of pressures. When raised to the surface by those are fortunate enough to find it, it can be invaluable for a wide variety and range of military applications. [Laughter.]

In Whit Peters we are fortunate to have found a most rare man, forged by the pressures of the Navy as a young sailor, the Supreme Court as a clerk, private practice as a litigator and the Pentagon as a legal counsel. Whit has indeed proven invaluable for a wide range of military applications [laughter] -- Under Secretary Peters, Acting Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Peters, Acting Secretary Peters. [Laughter.] Indeed, I think it is fair to say that in the history of the Defense Department there are few individuals, if any, who have served in so many positions for so long and performed them so well [laughter], and it's a remarkable testament to Whit's integrity and ability.

Whit, as you continue to serve those who are serving America in the Air Force, your success, and, by extension, so much of their success, is going to rest on your proven strengths. Winston Churchill was once described as being gifted with a "zig zag streak of lightning in the brain." Whit, we will look to your intellect, with which you have mastered everything from the intricacies of jet engines to geo-strategic imperatives. We will look to your industry, the insatiable appetite that you have for information and a willingness to listen to the staff sergeants and the captains which has earned you the respect and admiration of airmen at every rank.

Your challenge, along with that of General Ryan, is as familiar as it is formidable: Of ensuring today's readiness; of finding creative solutions to keep pilots in the cockpit and building all our forces -- the Active, Guard and Reserve - into a truly Total Air Force. Of ensuring tomorrow's readiness; recruiting and retaining the next generation of pilots and crews, and realizing an Aerospace Expeditionary Force that is going to provide our forces and their families the predictability and stability that they deserve and empowering them with the advanced tools and technologies that they need, such as the Tiltrotor aircraft. [Laughter.] For those of you who don't know this, Whit remarked about the noise which is going to cause considerable anxiety within the environmental community. I also want to note with great pleasure F. Whitten Peters' selfless decision to have the "F" stand for F-22. [Laughter and applause.]

I would say, as many of you know, there are no lengths to which he will not go on behalf of our airmen and women. Whether enduring the blistering cold of a North Dakota winter to join a B-2 crew or joining the blazing heat of the Saudi desert to join our airmen for their annual 5K, whether submitting himself to the perils of an -- Mr. Chairman -- 8,000-foot free fall as he did over Georgia last month [laughter], or submitting himself to the arguably greater perils of body surfing over a crowd of cadets, as he did at last year's Air Force-Navy game [laughter], Whit's first concern is what he calls his "second family." And along with his first family here today, they will form a powerful partnership.

It has been said that, "Aviation is proof that, given the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible." From Kitty Hawk to Kosovo, Americans in the air have always reached for and achieved the impossible. Fueled by the will and the wisdom of leaders such as Whit, we can rest confident that they will continue to do so into the future. Thank you.