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Torrance Armed Forces Day Luncheon
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Cultural Arts Center, Torrance, California, Saturday, May 20, 2000

Thank you very much, Mayor [Dee] Hardison, and Congressman [Steve] Kuykendall. Steve, let me say a special word of thanks to you. This is a gentleman I have to appear before periodically, and I always pay my respects to him because he's one of the leading voices that speaks out so strongly on behalf of our men and women who are serving us. So I wanted to be here, Steve, to pay tribute to you as well. Thank you for all you do in the Congress and for the country. Business and civic leaders, members of the armed forces.

The Mayor was talking about basketball season. The Lakers are up by 10 going into the half [applause] and I'm sure you'll want me to conclude my remarks so that you can hear at least the ending of the game. But I wanted to spend just a few moments here with you this afternoon.

One of my favorite authors, Alistaire Cooke once wrote that, "today the rest of America and Europe had better heed what happens in California, for it already reveals the type of civilization in store for all of us." Peter Vale, a South African academician, put it somewhat differently. He said, "Rejoice my friends, or weep with sorrow. What California is today, the world will be tomorrow." [Laughter.]

Today we rejoice. We rejoice in your example. Indeed, before I pay tribute to our armed forces, I'd like to pay tribute to the people of Torrance and to this wonderful commemoration that you put on every single year. It's been noted before, of course, that this is one of the oldest armed forces parades anywhere in the country. What is remarkable to me is its continuity. When the parade started back in 1959, I think all of us realize it wasn't very unusual to have virtually every town in America have a parade in honor of its armed services. It was the height of the Cold War. Most adults had lived through the Second World War. The outgoing president was a great European Theater commander named Dwight Eisenhower. The race to succeed him was between two Navy veterans of the Pacific War, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. So it really wasn't terribly remarkable that you would witness a parade back say in 1960, '61, or '62.

What is remarkable is that this celebration of armed forces has continued year after year. In 1965, we saw our counter-culture grow. In 1968, protests against the war and the military itself raged across the country. In 1972, the nation grew weary of that war and all things military. Then in 1975, veterans like Steve and so many others returned from Vietnam to an often apathetic, indifferent, and indeed even hostile America.

But indeed, every year for the past 41 years you have always honored our men and women in uniform, not as a matter of fad or fashion, and not only in the spotlight of success. I think year in and year out you recognized that whatever political forces were prevailing in the country, that our service members deserved to be honored for their personal sacrifice, their persistent superiority, and their patriotic service. So I came here to thank the people of Torrance and to express my deep gratitude on behalf of all of our men and women in uniform for all that you do and represent to this great country of ours and to the military families who serve our country so splendidly.

I also came, of course, to pay tribute to those of you sitting here who are wearing the nation's uniform, and I want to talk for a few moments about your mission. I try whenever I can to spell out our national security strategy in fairly simple terms to whatever audience I'm addressing. Most of you who are in the audience today understand that it's summed up with three words: shape, respond, and prepare.

We believe that our wisest and most cost-effective actions are those that shape international conditions so that they are favorable to our interests. That's why we are forward deployed. That's why we have 100,000 forces over in the Asia Pacific region. That's why we have 100,000 roughly throughout the European theater. That's why we have some 23,000, and as many as 27,000, in the Persian Gulf at any given time. Our forward deployed forces help shape the political environment in ways that are advantageous to us.

California plays a special role in that shaping process. There are over a quarter of a million men and women in uniform here who are helping to shape that international condition. We shape a more peaceful Europe when the 40th Infantry Division stationed right here in Long Beach goes to Ukraine, where they are right now. Three years ago I happened to stop by an exercise in Ukraine, and it was the California National Guard that was over there. They said, "When can we come back?" The Ukraines also wanted them back, saying, "This is great. This is great to see Americans over here exercising with us."

When we do that we build military-to-military relationships. We generate confidence and security among our allies. We help to avert conflict in the Balkans when California's 69th Press Camp Headquarters unit serves in Bosnia. I was there at Christmas. We took an annual Christmas tour over there to visit our troops in Tuzla. It's a remarkable sight to see how well they are performing.

At the same time we do all of these things to shape the world, we have to be able to respond. That's one of the real, unique aspects of our military. We are capable of responding to virtually any kind of contingency.

You've probably read in recent days that some have advocated that perhaps we ought to just create special units for peacekeeping. Anyone who is in this audience understands that that would be a big mistake, because you can go from peacekeeping right up to conflict in a matter of minutes and you have to be prepared to do all of the above, to go from rescue missions, non-combatant evacuation operations, all the way up to humanitarian delivery of food and supplies, to the conflict over Kosovo, to containing Saddam Hussein. We have to have the full spectrum of capabilities.

So we are responding to destabilizing regional conflicts, as we did when the 163rd Air Refueling Wing from March Air Force Base kept our fighters in the air during the conflict over Kosovo.

By the way, let me look out to our Navy and our Air force and all who participated in that air campaign. It was the most successful air campaign in the history of the world. If you think about it, we had some 38,000 sorties that were flown during that air campaign. We lost two aircraft and we lost no pilots. That's a record that has never been accomplished in the history of warfare. And there's a reason for it. It's because of our technology, to be sure, and our training. It's because we have the very best at our disposal. But the reason that's most persuasive is you. We have the best people. We have the best education system, the best leadership. But the best people who come into the military are the ones who take this equipment that we have and are able to deliver it and to operate it with absolute efficiency and proficiency.

We're responding to narco-terrorism, when California's 144th Fighter Wing runs counter-drug operations as part of Operation Coronet Nighthawk in Central America. And let me salute the Coast Guardsmen who do so much to hold back this tide of drugs in addition to everything else they do.

So I point out that California plays an extraordinary role. I look at all the bases here, the production facilities, all the major contractors and all of the incredible talent that is arrayed in Southern California and all that is done. You play a major role in helping to shape and to respond to the international political environment.

But there's one other element that we have to look to, and that is how do we prepare for the future? So it's shape, respond, but what about investment? We have in the past three years gone from roughly $43 billion up to $60 billion this year in terms of our procurement budget. We went down too far at the end of the Cold War. We cut our force structure about a third. We cut our procurement about two-thirds. We finally got down to that level where we said that we can't really carry this out anymore, so we're now back up on track. We're climbing up to $60 billion. In five years it will go to $70 and beyond that for the future. But we need to have the next generation of ships and aircraft and armor.

Once again, Southern California plays such an important role. The Navy's Super Hornet, that F-18E/F model that's now rolling off the lines, that's built, much of it, in El Segundo. The Air Force has a great new global workhorse called the C-17 which I helped play a role in saving back in the mid '80s and now it's one of our premier airlift capabilities. It’s built in Long Beach. The Global Hawk, which is that experimental, high-altitude, unmanned aerial vehicle, is going to be developed in Palmdale. So we can see what a role California plays in our national security strategy of shaping, responding, and now preparing.

I would say that now more than ever our national security strategy depends upon the National Guard and Reserves. And this is a reflection of our new military, a more mobile, a much more flexible military where half the forces, including some 62,000 Californians, now wear a shoulder patch from a Guard or Reserve unit, one where the National Guard and Reserve pilots from California's National Guard 129th Rescue Wing fly over the skies of Iraq. They are helping to keep Saddam Hussein contained, both in the North and the South. We have National Guard and Reserve members from Southern California like the Air Refueling Team from Riverside. They are working to maintain peace in Bosnia and Kosovo. In fact, we couldn't carry out our duties without the full integration of the Guard and the Reserve.

I wanted to express my thanks to not only the Guard and Reservists who serve us so well, but also the employers. This is a very difficult thing for employers to deal with when they know now that their employees may be gone, not for a week or month, but maybe as long as four or five or six months, and they have to keep that position open. So I wanted to come here and express my extreme gratitude for the sacrifice that all of our employers make on behalf of our nation.

Both my wife and I have tried, in the past three years, to talk about reconnecting America to its military. It's not just a slogan, some kind of an easy expression. You more than anybody perhaps in our country understand how important it is to have a connection to the people who are serving us.

We now have fewer and fewer people who are able to see our men and women in action on a daily basis. We have fewer bases, and frankly, I will stand here and tell you that we still have too many facilities and too much overhead. We have to have less. But as we've been downsizing, there are fewer people who have a father, a mother, a sister, a brother, someone who is in the military. So they really don't see our military on a day-to-day basis.

When you have a base in a community, that community sees how good we really are. They see the military personnel active in their communities. They see them at various service clubs, be it Lion's or Rotary or any other club it might be, and they see them and they see how good they are and how good you are. But when you have fewer and fewer facilities as we're coming down from those levels in the Cold War, people don't see that on a daily basis.

As a result of that, what I've tried to do is to point out that we have to do more. We've got to do more for everyone who is serving us. We have to do more in the way of compensation. We started that last year with the highest pay raise we've had in a generation. We changed our retirement benefits, from 40 percent to 50 percent. Now we're looking at two other major factors, and that is health care and housing. We have to make sure that we continue to attract the best and the brightest, and we have to take care of them and their families. If we don't do that, we won't be able to hold on to the best and the brightest and we will no longer be that super power that we are today.

We have, I'm told, at least two people in the audience that I'd like to pay recognition to today. We need to remember and to celebrate the service of people like Louis Zamperini. Is he here in the audience? I was told that he was going to be here. I hope he's here, because he's someone that I have read about and watched programs about. His heroics during the Second World War are legendary. He was shot down on a rescue mission. He spent 47 days drifting in the Pacific and then two-and-a-half years as a POW. We also have, I believe, Staff Sergeant Andrew Ramirez, who was held as a POW for some 32 days during the conflict in Kosovo. I saw you in Kosovo. [Applause.] I wanted to pay tribute to you. I had a chance to meet you when I visited you in Kosovo and to thank you for your service.

But what I want to do is to remind people all over this country how important it is that we stay connected, that we not take you for granted, that we understand the kind of service and sacrifice and dedication that not only you but your families make.

That's one of the reasons I've been traveling around the country. I dropped into the campus of Microsoft to talk to all those brilliant young computer programmers and say that the reason that you can sit down in front of that computer and to create all these wonderful new software applications is because of all the people that we see right here in the audience today. They're out there day in and day out, sometimes in the mud, or sometimes over in the Kuwaiti desert.

I just came back about three weeks ago, four weeks ago, from being at the Udari Range where I saw some Marines happy to be there. It was 120 degrees and it was real humid. They had just spent two months aboard the ship and they were happy to be in the Udari Range carrying out a live fire exercise.

I went out on the [aircraft carrier] USS Stennis to see 4,000 or 5,000 of our sailors and Marines out in [the Persian Gulf]. The temperatures during the summer months can get as high as 140 degrees if you take in the humidity and the heat and all that jet blast coming off those jets taking off. They're wearing ice collars and ice jackets and they're out there, happy in doing what they're doing because they understand they're making a difference in the lives of many people.

And when you go over to Kosovo or Bosnia and you go to Korea or wherever we travel, we see our troops who are proud and patriotic. They feel good about themselves, and we want to make sure that we maintain that quality in our force.

I want to conclude because, as the Mayor pointed out, I used to be a Senator. And as you know, in the Senate you have unlimited debate time as opposed to Steve serving in the House, where there's a five minute rule in the House. It actually works much better. You can say everything you have to say in five minutes. It takes a lot longer in the Senate, so I find myself gearing up to Senate standards here today.

But over 200 years ago Thomas Paine wrote that, "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in crisis, shrink from service to their country. But he that stands now deserves the love and thanks of all men and women."

For 41 years the people of Torrance have stood with our men and women in uniform, never wavering, never waiting for popular opinion to catch up, and never disappointing those who were wearing the uniform. So I wanted to come here today to salute you for patriotism and to say that we are truly grateful for all that you do and all that you represent and all that you give. Thank you very much. [Applause.]