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U.S. Coast Guard Appreciation Ceremony
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Coast Guard Base, Boston, Massachusetts, Thursday, September 28, 2000

Admiral [James] Loy [Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard], you redeemed yourself [with your introduction]. [Laughter.] I was not going to mention basketball, but my days do go back into college. And I very fondly remember Boston because I had occasion to play in an exhibition game for the Boston Celtics. At that time, it was Don Nelson who was playing. I was a substitute for [Boston Celtics guard and later Head Coach] K.C. Jones. We also had Satch Sanders. Toby Kimball was also playing. Lou Tsioropoulos was around at that time. I played up at Bangor in that exhibition game, and I want to say that it was a highlight of my career following college.

The only problem was that Don Nelson gave me his practice uniform and the shirt came down over my elbows. [Laughter.] His shorts were over my knees. [Laughter.] I needed a haircut badly and I was wearing horn-rimmed glasses. [Laughter.] And Satch Sanders took a pass and threw it the full length of the court. I went up gracefully to catch it, and it threw me right into the stands. [Laughter.] Then afterwards, after the game was over, all the young kids came in to get the autographs, and they were going around getting all the Celtic autographs. And I heard one of them say, "You guys were great. But what was that Woody Allen act out there?" [Laughter.] So there’s no way you can humble me by recalling my days at Bowdoin College.

[Massachusetts] Governor [Paul] Cellucci, I think everybody noticed that there are two differences between you and me. Number one, you say "harbor." [Laughter.] Number two, you don’t have to wear a topcoat. [Laughter] But it’s great to see you, and it’s great for me and Janet to be back in one of our favorite cities.

But I want to say to you, Admiral Loy, we didn’t play against each other, but it’s been great having you as a teammate during the last three and a half years that I’ve had a chance to serve alongside of you in the Pentagon. You have established a record of excellence over the years. And I am proud that you are representing the Coast Guard. We owe a great deal of gratitude to you. [Applause.]

Because of the wind, let me try to shorten my comments today and to welcome all of our distinguished guests, as well as Medal of Honor recipient Captain Thomas Hudner who is with us today, and ladies and gentlemen.

As we were flying into Boston, taking in the stunning view of this magnificent city, a lot of memories came rushing back to me from my days at Boston University Law School. I was living in a small apartment on Myrtle Street up on Beacon Hill. I was just starting out my life and a new career. I was making decisions and choices that would come to shape my life. And it occurred to me that only after many years had passed and we looked back over our shoulders that we truly appreciate what those decisions can mean for us and also what they can mean for others around us.

Let me say that whether you’re one of the newest Coast Guardsmen or a senior officer, you are here because you have made a very profound decision early in your lives, probably near a waterfront or a coastline or a dock much like this one. And it’s one of the oldest and, I think, one of the most sacred pledges that anyone can make, and that is to protect and defend your country by serving on its seas and shores and to help your fellow countrymen by accepting the ever-present risk and the uncertain rewards of a life on the water.

It’s a powerful statement of character, and it’s a declaration of who you are and what you value. And if you look back, as I’ve had a chance to do when I was in college, as far back as The Iliad, written by Homer, you can find references to a special type of oath, a bond with water and to the water. Homer called it "the most solemn oath that a blessed God can make," to place one hand on Earth and the other on water, and to stake your future and, at times, even your fate, on the integrity of that pledge.

Those of you in America’s "fifth service" have done precisely that. You have pledged to give your utmost, to give your best on behalf of your country. And you did so knowing that this noble calling would not always be a life that involved fair winds and following seas. It would require great perseverance and risks and sacrifices that many of your civilian peers would never see, much less ever endure.

So I wanted to make this a special day. I wanted to come here today to pay tribute to you with the gratitude of your fellow service men and women in the Department of Defense, and the gratitude of the American people, who are represented here today as well, for who you are, for what you have given us, and what you will continue to do on behalf of your nation on our shores and our gulfs and on our oceans.

Now, as we just heard from Admiral Loy, in real life our Coast Guardsmen in real life exceed the heroics that we see on that big screen, even in [the film] "The Perfect Storm." There are countless ways and countless instances that are rarely seen in the popular media, they’re rarely understood in terms of their difficulty and complexity, and I venture to say they are rarely recognized with the honors that they truly deserve, in which the nation has turned to the Coast Guard for the security, the prosperity and the safety of Americans, both near and far beyond our shores. So this is a ceremony that is really dedicated to recognizing everything that you do, as Admiral Loy said, day in and day out, when most people are completely unaware of it.

Consider our relationship with Russia. We know it’s one of the most sensitive that we have in terms of diplomacy, security and commerce. So when we monitor Russian and American fishing fleets in the icy waters of the Northern Pacific, it helps a great deal to have the fluency, the intelligence and the keen skills of observation that we get from a thoughtful translator. Time after time, we have turned to a Coast Guard Auxiliarist Boris Montatsky, whose linguistic talents have helped smooth relations as we deal with Russian fishermen along the U.S.-Russia maritime boundary. Mr. Montatsky, please stand. Let us pay tribute to you for the great work that you do. [Applause.]

Of course, for every sailor who’s riding out the storm on the deck of a cutter or manning a rescue helicopter on a windy night, there’s another one working long, hard hours back on land to give them the support that they need. And so we wanted to pay tribute to a woman like Chief Jean Crisp, who has one of the most challenging, and I think often thankless, jobs in the military service -- dealing with the billing and other operations of the TriCare health care system. [Laughter.] Now, I can tell you, as Secretary of Defense, when it comes to quality-of-life issues for our forces, health care ranks second to none. And so to have a person of such high caliber, and someone who has such great compassion is an immense help to so many of our men and women in uniform. Recruiters can always bring good people into our armed forces, but people like Chief Crisp help us to keep them in good health and with great morale. So I’d like for you to stand and be recognized for the great job that you do. [Applause.]

Now, time and time again over the past four years, it’s been heartening for me and Janet [Langhart Cohen] to see not only the dedication of our armed forces, but to see the deeper meaning and understanding of the practical consequences for our country each time we either decide to act or fail to act to see the enforcement of our laws. The sad truth is, if we didn’t have a strong, capable Coast Guard to enforce our immigration laws, innocent men and women and children would be left to the mercy of ruthless smugglers and unsafe vessels and criminals who prey upon those who must live in the shadow of life.

That’s why we rely so much on the courage and the persistence of people such as Anna Slaven, a boarding officer on the Cutter CHASE. Her team led a grueling, 15-hour—ultimately successful—search onboard a Colombian ship that was smuggling cocaine. And then just hours later, after crossing miles of ocean, they intercepted an Ecuadorian craft carrying more than 160 illegal immigrants. Ladies and gentlemen, this is precisely the type of hard work that saves lives before they’re in extremis, and I want us to acknowledge her great work here today. [Applause.]

You know, every time a Coast Guardsman steps forward and shoulders the burdens of defending our seas and shores it sends a very powerful message about America’s respect for the rule of law. And upholding that rule of law was the supreme test that the allied forces faced in Kosovo just a year ago. And in defining that test of wills, the Coast Guard was ready, just as it was in the Persian Gulf, Vietnam, Korea and both World Wars.

And perhaps no one better exemplified that readiness than Petty Officer Sean Tolsen. Early in 1999, he worked for months preparing the Coast Guard Cutter BEAR for deployment to the 6th Fleet for training in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Then, just before setting sail, the cutter received a call. The message: Change of plan; get ready for Operation Allied Force. And taking on his own job plus numerous other tasks that involved in the purview of others in the more senior ranks, Petty Officer Tolsen led the effort to completely refit the BEAR and get it mission-ready with tons of equipment, in the space of 24 hours. And the BEAR went on to provide outstanding service in surveillance and the protection of our forces. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the classic definition of [the Coast Guard motto] Semper Paratus, "Always Ready," and I would ask him to stand up for an expression of gratitude. [Applause.]

Now, this is an outstanding record. I have no doubt it’s going to stand up as one of the great logistic achievements and singular personal achievements of Operation Allied Force. But I also want to recognize this afternoon two young sailors whose achievement has already redefined the future of one of the Coast Guard’s most important functions, and that’s what Admiral Loy mentioned -- drug interdiction.

Everyone here knows that high-speed interception on the ocean is grueling, it’s dangerous, it’s unpredictable. Every operation is uncharted territory. But using a combination of new boats, armed helicopters and nonlethal weapons, Operation New Frontier has revolutionized these efforts to hold back the tide of drugs that threatens to overwhelm us. In fact, we have one of these new craft here today. And in one instance, our Coast Guardsmen set out in one of these new boats after the speedboat of a smuggler was seen some 38 miles away. They maneuvered to within 10 feet of that boat, going at breakneck speed. They stopped the boat in its tracks with a nonlethal grenade. They interdicted more than two tons of cocaine from Colombia.

Now, that’s the story that made the headlines and the evening news. But behind those headlines there are sailors such as Petty Officer Corey Nissen of the Cutter SENECA, right here in Boston. He worked for months to develop the training and the techniques to make these types of interdictions a success. And moreover, he’s the one who actually manned the chase boats that resulted in the New Frontier’s successes.

Behind the headlines you also had sailors like Machinery Technician Third Class John Hedrix of the Cutter GALLATIN. He refused to take liberty -- I don’t know how many times, but a lot of times -- so he could ensure that those new chase boats could take that brutal, high pounding that they take in the speed chases and still keep going. And this is not the type of persistence and integrity that you can buy. It comes directly from the heart. And so I’d like these two fine sailors to stand up and be honored as well. [Applause.]

Admiral Loy, let me just finish up here on this cool autumn afternoon and tell you how integral the Coast Guard is to our national defense. You are a part of the Defense Department. Whether we say [that command falls under the Department of Defense] "in times of crisis" or not, you are always operating on behalf of the defense of this country, and you are fully integrated into the Defense Department’s operation. [The Coast Guard’s deepwater capability] is a smart, commonsense investment that will pay for itself. We are going to save by having the Coast Guard so integrally integrated with the department. We’ll save dollars, and more importantly, we’re going to save lives.

Just about a century ago, the poet Clinton Scollard wrote about the greatness of those who defended America on the seas. And he pointed out that you could find in the Stars and Stripes, the flag that’s fluttering on the mast of our ships, a very powerful symbol. "The red," he said, "is for the brave hearts of our sailors, who burned with liberty. The white is for the peace that they earned, making men free. The stars are for the heaven above, and the blue is for the deep." And as for the ship itself, he wrote, "the steel is the sailor’s heart, and stalwart is his aim, for our republic, through cloud and storm."

Men and women of the Coast Guard, thank you today for what you represent. Thank you for the honor that you bestow upon all of us in each member's membership in the fifth service. Indeed, you are the brave stalwarts who earn the peace that keeps us free. Thank you for the steel in your hearts, and thank you for your service to our nation. [Applause]