|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks to Armed Forces Personnel and their Families
Elemendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, July 22, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, General Case, for that kind introduction. Governor Knowles, General Cash, General Oates, Colonel Gration, men and women of Elmendorf and Fort Richardson, good afternoon to you all. I am delighted to be with you, and want to thank you all--including family members--for coming. I hope that at least some of you are here voluntarily.
I also want to introduce to you my senior military adviser, General Doc Fogelsong. Among other accomplishments, Doc played a key role in the military-technical negotiations that helped bring the conflict in Kosovo to an end. As I understand it, his main job was to ask Milosevic's generals, "What part of ‘get out now' don't you understand?'" Unfortunately for me, but not for him, Doc will be leaving soon for Arizona to take command of the Twelfth Air Force.
As Secretary of State, I have passed through Elmendorf many times, often in the winter or at dead of night; and I have always received the finest in U.S. Armed Forces hospitality. Today, I have the chance to thank you not only for your courtesy, but also for your service to our country. And I assure you it is only happenstance that I found the opportunity to do so in midsummer.
I want to begin by wishing the Third Wing a happy eightieth birthday. Eight decades ago, you patrolled the US-Mexican border. Today, you defend the North Pacific and participate in operations worldwide. Eight decades from now, who knows, you may be protecting our interests in a galaxy far, far away. The one thing for certain is that your standard of performance will not have changed and that standard will be high.
In that sense, the Third Wing reflects the entire U.S. military.
Over the past half dozen years, I have met with American servicemen and women in Korea, Japan, the Balkans, the Middle East, Germany, Italy, the Gulf, Africa, Central America and the Caribbean. In short, I have seen you and your counterparts just about everywhere.
And I have reached several conclusions.
The first is that you are, quite simply, the best. America has the most-skilled, finest-trained and best-led armed forces on the planet. That is true whether your particular job is to fly a fighter or maintain one; take a position or destroy one; lead a deployment or support one. It is true whether you are active duty, Guard or Reserve.
As the men and women present on this stage reflect, you are part of an absolutely top-notch team. Person to person, unit to unit, service to service, you know how to operate together and support each other. You should be proud of the many uniforms you wear and I know you are.
My second conclusion is that the eleventh Air Force had it right a few years ago when changing its motto from "Top Cover for North America" to "Top Cover and Global Power." Because when the Cold War ended, the world shrunk and America's role grew. This is illustrated by the changing mix of missions for our military, and by the extraordinary range of international training and other activities you conduct here at Elmendorf.
My third conclusion stems from the previous two. The United States needs to be very disciplined in deciding where, when, and how you are deployed.
Precisely because you are so good, and because the world remains so troubled, there is a risk you will be called upon too often. Excellence is no accident. Every deployment comes with a high cost of training foregone, equipment worn down, personal sacrifice, and danger. We need to ensure that your operational tempo is the right one; and that it can be sustained over the long term.
This means we must explore diplomatic options thoroughly before considering the use of force. And we must insist that when deployments do occur, the stakes must matter; the mission must be achievable; and our forces must have all the equipment, training and support they need to get the job done.
My final conclusion is that the need for American leadership in the world is as great now as it has ever been, but that exercising that leadership will require an increasingly complex blend of diplomacy backed by power.
This is true in Korea, which is perhaps the most dangerous place on Earth today. Here, U.S. forces help to maintain stability while diplomats strive for reconciliation.
Our goal is to encourage the Government of North Korea to end its isolation and choose the path of cooperation, which is the road to greater prosperity and assured peace. The situation in Korea will be a major topic of my meetings with counterparts from throughout the Asia Pacific beginning this weekend in Singapore.
The combination of diplomacy and force is also at work in the Gulf, where we are maintaining political pressure on Saddam Hussein, while containing his military through Operations Northern and Southern Watch.
And in Kosovo over the past nine months, force and diplomacy have alternated on center stage. Initially, we used diplomacy backed by the threat of force to try to achieve a political settlement. When that did not work, we used diplomacy in support of force to maintain allied unity and make NATO's case to the world.
Then, we used diplomacy to help bring the need for force to an end. Russia's participation in that effort left Milosevic isolated, as well as indicted, and with no choice but to withdraw.
Now, we have entered a new phase. Diplomats and a NATO-led force are working as partners to begin reconstruction and solidify peace.
From beginning to end, we have acted in support of U.S. interests, and in defense of universal values. By meeting Milosevic's campaign of ethnic cleansing with a red light, we have made it less likely that others in the region will choose to confront NATO. And we have taken another big step towards a Europe wholly at peace and fully free.
Not long ago, I visited a refugee camp in Macedonia. And I was never prouder to be an American than when I heard the chant "USA, USA, USA" and saw a little boy's handlettered sign that read, at the top,"I Love America" and at the bottom, "I want to go home."
There are some who say that Americans need not care what happens to that child or to those like him. I say that America would not be America if we did not care.
Long ago, when Hitler invaded my native Czechoslovakia, my family sought and found refuge in London. Around us, the battle between Fascism and freedom raged. When we were not in the bomb shelter, we were glued to the radio.
Through the darkness, we were sustained by the eloquence of Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Churchill, and by the courage of allied troops. I was just a little girl, but in my heart, even then, I was inspired by those brave enough to fight for liberty, and I fell in love with Americans in uniform.
My family's story has been repeated in millions of variations over more than two centuries in the lives of people around the world who have been liberated or sheltered by American soldiers, empowered by American assistance or inspired by American ideals.
For our country, there are no final frontiers--not even Alaska. We are doers. Whatever threats the future may hold, we will meet them. With the memory alive in our hearts of past sacrifice--of soldiers killed and air crews that never returned--we will defend our freedom.
Like earlier generations of Americans, we will be slow to anger, persistent in pursuing peace, and frank in insisting that others do their share.
But above all, we will be determined that when America does fight, we fight to win.
Today, as I look around this hangar, all I see are winners. For all you have done and are doing, I congratulate you. As Secretary of State, I salute you. And as a mother and grandmother, I thank you for helping to make this a better and more secure world.
Thank you again very much, and may God Bless you and keep you safe.
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