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Defense Authorization Bill Signing Ceremony
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, The Pentagon, Washington, DC, Tuesday, October 05, 1999

General [Hugh] Shelton [Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], thank you very much for your gracious words and also for the outstanding leadership that you have continued to provide America’s Armed Forces. And especially let me say congratulations for the great job you did during the recent months in the conflict over Kosovo. It was an outstanding job on your part and all of your leadership.

President Clinton; Senator Warner and Senator Levin; Congressman [Floyd] Spence, Congressman [Ike] Skelton; Senator [Charles] Robb, Senator [Strom] Thurmond; my former colleagues in the House, let me say that we owe a great deal of gratitude to all of you who are both on the stage and in the audience today, who have been fighting the battle in the legislative trenches. Without you, this day would not have been possible. So I wanted to extend my personal thanks and gratitude to all of you for the fine work that you have done on behalf of this country. Distinguished guests.

Two days ago, I returned from Southeast Asia on a trip that included a visit to the Australian port of Darwin. And I was visiting the forces there who were supporting the international peacekeeping effort now under way in East Timor. Those men and women in uniform remind us that the United States military is shaping and responding to world events all across the globe: whether they are forward-deployed in Asia, in Europe or the Middle East, whether they are establishing cooperative relationships with other militaries, whether they are encouraging peace and discouraging instability and violence, whether helping to rescue and rebuild in the wake of hurricanes in Central America and right here at home, or degrading Saddam Hussein's ability to deploy weapons of mass destruction and threaten his neighbors, or forcing Slobodan Milosevic and his army out of Kosovo, allowing the refugees back home and peacekeepers to come in.

We have, as the chairman has just indicated, the most skilled, the best trained, the best equipped people in the world. It's also clear to us that we have to recruit and retain the best people and provide them with a sound quality of life if we're going to remain a dominant force for good for the future.

Now, in recent years we've invested in our warriors and in our weapons. We have reversed a 13-year decline in procurement. We're increasing the pay, as the chairman has pointed out. We can never pay you enough. We've said this before. But we can pay you more. And that's precisely what this bill is going to do.

Thanks to the tremendous help from members of Congress, Senate and House members, we are going to see a 4.8 percent increase in pay, and that's the largest increase in military pay in a generation. We're going to change the pay table reform. We're going to, as the chairman indicated, increase the retirement benefits from 40 to 50 percent.

We're going to renew our commitment to give our warriors the weapons they need. All of you are aware that we are well on the way to redressing our readiness requirements. We're putting money into operation and maintenance. We're adding 400 million [dollars] for the integration of the active and reserve forces.

We are also renewing our commitment to tomorrow's readiness in terms of modernization. We are climbing up that scale now by buying and building the new weapons and

technologies that the forces are going to need for future battles. So we will spend roughly $53 billion. We are on our way to, by the year 2001, to achieving that $60 billion mark. Again, my thanks to the members of Congress who have supported us in this effort. We are going to transform our forces in a way that will keep us a generation or two ahead of all potential adversaries.

No one appreciates the need to fight for those who wear America's uniform more than the leader who joins us today. And I would say that for the past nearly three years I have stood

and worked with our Commander-in-Chief. In private meetings he has weighed the most wrenching decisions that any president can have. In public decisions and public visits to bases abroad and here at home he has stood with our forces and he has stood with our families, comforting them in the time of their need. And I can tell you with complete confidence that this president knows that our nation's security must always transcend every consideration of party label and party ideology.

President Clinton's priority has been to preserve America's security through victory during times of conflict, when the battle lines are drawn and the challenges are clear, and also through a steadfast vision during times of relative peace. He's a leader who has the courage to stand up to fight for what's right, as he did in the Balkans. And he has the commitment to give

you and your families the support you need, as he is doing today.

I can tell you it's been my honor to serve by his side. It's now my privilege to introduce to you the Commander-in-Chief of the United States, President Bill Clinton. [Applause.]