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DoD News Briefing: Remarks to the Troops at Tuzla Air Base, Bosnia

Presenters: Remarks to the Troops at Tuzla Air Base, Bosnia
October 06, 1997

Secretary Cohen: The first thing that you might do, is come forward as close as you can. (Troops move closer to the stage). I guess I have to stand behind here but I prefer to be out mixing with you.

Let me first say that I know that General Clark and General Shinseki and General Grange are happy to see you here today and to welcome you, in these numbers. I know that you turn out for them each and everyday like this. They are deeply appreciative.

On a serious note – General Clark has just taken over as SACEUR. He assumes an enormous responsibility. He was with me just recently in Washington, DC as we paid tribute to General Shalikashvili, -- known to many of you for his trips to visit with troops all over the world. It was truly an inspiring sight for us to see when General Clark was there as well to see that people from all over the world had come to pay tribute to General Shali. They saw a true soldier's soldier. They knew what he was doing for our troops and how he led them, and the symbol he represented to troops all over the world.

General Clark is stepping into his shoes (as a former SACEUR) and he is following in his footsteps and he is going to do a truly extraordinary job. He is one of the most outstanding leaders that we have in the U.S. military, and it was my pleasure to submit his name to President Clinton to assume this position of command of our forces in Europe and to head up SACEUR as well.

General Clark I want to take this opportunity to – this is the first chance that I've had since you have been over here, to say how much I appreciate the leadership that you have shown over your entire career. And now, especially that

you are here in Bosnia and visiting with the troops. Thank you very much. I just wanted to stop and say how much we appreciate you. The entire, I'm speaking not only for the Pentagon now, I'm talking about the people of our country. To those of you who are representing other countries—how much we appreciate the job that you are doing here in Bosnia.

I came here two years ago and I saw an entirely different country. I saw a country that had been ravaged by war. I went throughout Sarajevo and Snipers Alley. I must tell you, I felt the tension rising at that particular time. Wondering if someone up in the hills might be targeting our vehicle, as they had targeted so many innocent women and children passing across that alley. But as a result of the mission IFOR, now SFOR, people no longer are killing each other. They are not attacking each other. They are trying to build a country and an economy. As a result of the sacrifice that each of you has made, and continue to make on a daily basis. You have improved the lives of thousands, tens of thousands of people in this war-torn region.

So, my wife Janet and I wanted to take this occasion to come by and say thank you. We appreciate everything that you are doing. We have traveled the world over together. Be it up on the DMZ when Janet was looking out across – pointing at the DMZ, and about two hours earlier, a shot had been fired about sixty miles away. But that night on CNN it had Janet pointing to the shot that was fired sixty miles away.

We have been to Japan, to Germany, to Italy, throughout the world together. Wherever we go, we want to make an effort to meet with you. You are among the finest troops that we ever had. General Clark, General Grange, General Shinseki will tell you – there never has been a finer military in the world. We are today, better led, better equipped, better educated, better trained, than anytime in the history of this country, and anytime in the history of the world. That's why we remain the envy of the world.

We were in Maastricht in the Netherlands earlier this past week. We visited there with the ministers of defense from all of the NATO countries and the three new countries who want to come in. Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic.

From there we went to Bulgaria. The Bulgarian people want to be like us as well. They want to join NATO as well. They have a country that has been under the heel and boot of communism for decades and they are now throwing those shackles off and they are saying, how can we have a free economy? How can we have institutions like you have in the West? How can we develop a military like you have? How can we downsize, restructure ourselves. We want to get into NATO. And they understand what that means.

This is a symbol which has meant stability for Western Europe. It has meant prosperity for Western Europe. And by spreading NATO, including more countries

coming into it, it means we are promoting more stability. It is not against any other country. It is not directed toward anyone else. It really is spreading our ideas for freedom, democracy, prosperity as far as we can and as gradually as we can. It is something that you are helping to accomplish.

We know the sacrifices that you are making. When I say that you are the best of the best, it comes from the heart. We want to keep it that way, and so we are looking at quality of life issues. We know about the commitment and what it takes out of you. We know what it means in terms of the OPSTEMPO and the PERSTEMPO. Our military leaders, the Joint Chiefs and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs are looking at that. And looking at ways in which we can make sure that we continue to focus on quality of life. Because of all the things that I have to decide, of putting budgets together, of trying to decide how we shape our military for the future, the thing that I have to look at most closely, is you.

I can say that we need to have F-22s or Joint Strike Fighters or new tanks or whatever it might be. The most sophisticated equipment that the world can produce, but if we don't have good people to operate it, then it really isn't worth very much. So we need to focus on people first, to make sure that we continue to get the best and the brightest, and that we keep you and take care of you, just as you are taking care of us. That is a mission that former Secretary Bill Perry had during his term as secretary of defense. It is one that I intend to follow, to make sure that we take care of you.

So, I won't keep you here any longer, other than to say, once again, not only to the American forces who are here from all of the services, from all of the guard and reserve units as well, to our foreign friends who are with us. To the Russian soldiers who serve with us. The thirty-two nations who now have soldiers with us here in Bosnia. Let me say on behalf of all of us in the United States, we thank you very much. This is not a unilateral operation on the part of the United States. It's a multilateral commitment on the part of nations from many parts of the world. So thank you for the job that you are doing. You can feel very proud.

I know that there are some who report from time to time that there might be some sense that you are not really accomplishing much. You are accomplishing a great deal. You've done a great deal. More needs to be done. We hope to focus on that between now and June. We will see what takes place after that. But for now, until then, our focus has to be on what we can do. The things that need to be done to make the Dayton Accord work. The thing I want to remind all of you is – that it is still dangerous out there. Things are going along very well right now. But it could turn ugly tomorrow, or next month. You always have to be on the alert for yourselves, and of course as you know, for the team. For each other. With that, let me conclude and say, I have only one thing to say – HooAhh!