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Armed Forces Day, Joint Services Open House
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Friday, May 19, 2000

President Clinton, Secretary [of Transportation, Rodney] Slater, Senator [John] Glenn and members of Congress, members of the diplomatic community, General [Hugh] Shelton [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], Mrs. [Carolyn] Shelton, General [Richard] Myers [Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], members of the Joint Chiefs, Generals [James] Jones [Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps] and [Michael] Ryan [Air Force Chief of Staff], Admiral [Jay] Johnson [Chief of Naval Operations], Admiral [James] Loy [Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard]; distinguished guests, including General [John] Shali [Shalikashvili, former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], General [David] Jones [former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], good to see both of you here to celebrate this day; Janet [Cohen]; and a special tribute to Secretary [of the Army, Louis] Caldera, and his mother, who is visiting us; Secretary [of the Navy, Richard] Danzig, welcome.

I want to point out that just last week I was addressing another very large audience, on another sweltering day. I was the final of several speakers, and by the time that I started, some members of the audience started to drop. That evening, I mentioned this to Janet, and I said to her, "You wouldn’t believe it, it was withering, the humidity, the hot sun." To which she responded with an ambiguous question: "Are you sure it wasn’t just the hot air?" [Laughter.] In either case, I will assure you I will be brief this morning.

Men and women of the finest force for freedom that the world has ever known, this is your day, the day that America celebrates and salutes you: our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen—Active, Guard, and Reserve—men and women who give this nation every day what no single day of tribute can ever truly honor you for.

In recent months, I’ve had the occasion to visit our forces the world over: thousands of sailors and Marines aboard the USS Stennis, who patrol the skies and the sea in the Persian Gulf; airmen at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia who risk all in the no-fly zones over Iraq; and soldiers patrolling the dangerous streets of Kosovo and the dangerous border in Korea.

And I would say that in each of you, without exception, we find that same shining spirit that Senator Glenn represents and with which he described the Greatest Generation, a spirit where "love of country is a given and defense of its ideals a sacred duty." In you we find patriots who have assumed a sacred duty, understanding that our history and our heritage and, indeed, our honor, require us to bear the burdens of leadership.

When we gathered here just a year ago, this nation had accepted, along with our allies, just such a burden, that of standing up to a dictator who was determined to drive an entire people from their homes. A year later, because of the leader who is with us here today, and because of the remarkable service that each of you in uniform has performed, Milosevic’s thugs are out of Kosovo, international peacekeepers are in, the vast majority of the refugees have returned home, and there is hope for a more stable and peaceful tomorrow.

Herman Wouk once wrote of our obligation to the men and women who bear these burdens. He said that we should "reassure them that their long, hard training is needed, that love of country is noble, that self-sacrifice is rewarding, that to be ready to fight for freedom fills one with a sense of worth like nothing else." And he added, "if America is still the great beacon, the promise to hundreds of millions of the oppressed that liberty exists, that it is the shining future, that they can throw off their tyrants, and learn freedom and cease learning war, then we still need men and women to stand guard in the night."

So members of the Armed Forces, now more than ever, we need you still. So on behalf of a grateful nation, let me thank you again for your idealism, for your sacrifice, for your willingness to fight for freedom and for your patriotic and profound love of country.

If America is going to remain the great beacon, if it is to remain the shining promise to hundreds of millions the world over, then we also need leaders of vision and strength -- leaders such as the one who joins us today.

Ladies and gentlemen, from those difficult days in Kosovo, to every day over the last three-and-a-half years, I have witnessed how this President has guided this nation in moments of great challenge to our ideals, to our interests, and to our country. Standing in the eye of the storm, I will tell you, he has never yielded. Standing up on behalf of all of our forces, he has never wavered. He has had the faith that our missions were always going to prevail because of the power of our military, because of you, but also because of the power of our cause. All the while, this President has never forgotten that at the end of every debate, at the end of every decision, at the end of every deployment, stand you, you who stand guard in the night.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been my great privilege to serve with this President. It is now my privilege to introduce you to our Commander-in-Chief, President Bill Clinton. [Applause.]