|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks to Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Their Families
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
Tucson, Arizona, May 15, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman, May 18, 1999
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: (In progress) -- everyone a happy Armed Forces Day. It's also my birthday so I'm glad to be here on this special day. I'm very glad to have General "Doc" Foglesong with me. He's my military advisor, and we work together very, very closely.
I know that a few of you may have been up a little late last night giving Brigadier-select Corley a proper send-off. So I'll keep my remarks short and not speak any louder than I have to.
I have been called a "Hangar Queen." I thought that was a compliment, but it probably is not.
The reason I'm here is that I want to tell you in person how very proud I am of America and all your efforts that have taken place in the Balkans and in the Gulf and elsewhere, and everything that you have been doing to defend our interests and uphold our values.
I know that many of you have experienced long separations from your families; and that's hard under the best of circumstances. It's harder still when accompanied by the anxiety that any military mission entails.
In recent years, I've visited our troops in Bosnia, Aviano and the Arabian desert -- where the heat makes Arizona seem like the North Pole. Everyone over there yearns for home. But everyone over there is also doing an absolutely first-rate and a very necessary job.
I look at the incredible planes here -- the A-10, C-130 and others -- and think about the huge role that the Air Force and squadrons now based here have played in this century.
During World War I, the Scorpions and Bats flew biplanes and observation balloons, helping to lead the Allied advance.
In World War II, the Bulldogs, Dragons, and Lobos escorted bombing raids against the Nazis and shot down 1,000 enemy aircraft. During the Cold War, the Axe squadron patrolled the front lines daily and kept a careful eye on the Warsaw Pact. All this was required because of aggression and division in Europe.
In this decade, we have made extraordinary progress towards a future of peace. The Soviet empire collapsed; central and northern Europe joined the democratic West; NATO and Russia became partners.
But one piece of the puzzle -- one part of the map -- remains missing from our effort to build a Europe whole and free; and that is the Balkans. And the primary reason is Mr. Milosevic of Serbia. Four times since 1991, he has initiated war; first against Slovenia, then Croatia, then Bosnia and now against the ethnic Albanian community in Kosovo. We don't yet know how many in Kosovo have been killed by Milosevic's troops. But we have reports of 500 villages burned or destroyed; of 60 villages where executions have occurred; of mass grave sites; of women systematically raped; and of more than one million people driven from their homes.
All this is no accident. It is the result of Milosevic's deliberate plan to kill, terrorize or expel an entire ethnic community. And it's happening in NATO's front yard.
Over the past year, we did all we could to resolve this crisis politically. We negotiated cease-fires, sent in observers, urged the Albanian Kosovars to come together around reasonable demands. And in response, Milosevic violated his commitments, refused to negotiate and launched his campaign of terror. Milosevic thought he could get away with it. But NATO will not let him.
The air operations the 355th Wing is supporting are steadily destroying Serb military capabilities and morale and breaking Milosevic's grip on Kosovo. Day by day, we are intensifying those operations. We are tightening economic restrictions. We are getting the truth out through an active campaign of public information, including to the Serb people. We're also making clear that there is a diplomatic alternative for Belgrade. The Serbs are not being asked to surrender freedom or yield territory, but only to cease murdering and allow the return and protection of innocent people. And we're holding out to the Serbs the prospect of a future in which they could be a part of a democratic and prosperous Europe.
This is important because our fundamental purpose in confronting Milosevic is to prevent this kind of destabilizing situation in Europe from happening again. We want to draw a line against ethnic cleansing and extremist violence, and help the peoples of the region enter into the democratic mainstream.
That is the political goal our military efforts in Kosovo will help us to achieve. And that is the only way to ensure that when our forces do leave the Balkans, they do so for good.
Now, have no doubt, NATO's campaign is being conducted on behalf of a cause that is just, by an alliance that is united, against a regime that is isolated, and we have set reasonable objectives. We're making progress; we will persist; and we will prevail.
In recent years, I have traveled to many places in the world where American servicemen and women are on duty, and I have formed several impressions. First, I am amazed at your skill. I doubt any other country could have pulled off the rescue of the F-117 pilot who went down in Serbia. And let me say what a pleasure it is to have been on the plane, to have met those of you that have participated in that. I can only tell you what an incredible relief it was to those civilians of us, who had our hearts in our stomachs when we heard that the pilot had gone down, and how thrilled we were when we heard that he had been rescued. And I think that what has happened through all your help has been unbelievable. Our military, including the Axe squadron, did all that. And the message is clear: we care about our people, and we are darn good at protecting them.
Second, we have the world's most respected military force, and we need to be careful how we use it. As in Kosovo, the stakes must matter; the mission must be achievable; and our troops must have world-class training, equipment and support they need to get the job done.
Third, we must be sure that our operational tempo is the right one. Currently, we're in the middle of a fight we're going to win. But, as we look ahead, we must bear in mind that excellence doesn't just happen. We need to maintain the necessary capabilities so that our effectiveness can be sustained.
The emergency funds the Administration is now seeking will help. But we must do more. We need to continue to ensure a balance between our capabilities and our future commitments. And we must be rigorous in asking our allies and others to do their fair share.
I do want, especially, to have you understand the message that I have just given because I, obviously, am a civilian and I am the Secretary of State, not the Secretary of Defense. But I do want you to know that I fully understand the importance of support for our military and everything that you have been doing, and the importance of maintaining your capabilities.
Finally, I know a team when I see one. Our armed forces succeed because person to person, unit to unit, service to service, you know how to operate together and support each other. As the person who represents the diplomatic side, I am very proud of our ability to work with you, to meld force and diplomacy, to protect American interests and exercise American leadership.
In this century, our nation has endured Depression, prevailed with our allies in two global wars, defended liberty through decades of Cold War and answered the call in numerous other crises and conflicts. Now we confront new dangers at a time of great turbulence and complexity. But we are not weary; we look to the future with optimism and faith.
Long ago, when Hitler invaded my native Czechoslovakia, my family sought and found refuge in London. Europe was our world then, and the war a battle for its survival. When we were not in a bomb shelter, we were glued to the radio.
Through the darkness, we were sustained by the inspiring words of Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Churchill, and by the courage of Allied soldiers. I was just a little girl then, but in my heart, even then, I developed deep admiration for those brave enough to fight for freedom, and I fell in love with Americans in uniform.
The story of my family has been repeated in millions of variations over more than two centuries in the lives of those around the world who have been liberated or sheltered by American soldiers, empowered by American ideals and inspired by American assistance and American values.
For our country, there are no final frontiers. We are doers. Whatever threats the future may hold, we will meet them. With the memory alive in our hearts of past sacrifice, we will defend freedom. Together, we will honor our principles and meet our responsibilities, and we will give the men and women of our armed forces the wholehearted support you need and so richly deserve.
Thank you once again for your hospitality, and thank you so much for everything you do to make America great.
[End of Document]