THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI IN FAREWELL CEREMONY
Fort Myer, Virginia
12:06 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Vice President, Secretary Cohen, Secretary Albright, Secretary Gober, National Security Advisor Burger, Director Tenet, General McCaffrey; to the Service Secretaries, the Joint Chiefs, the Unified Commanders-In-Chief, members of Congress, members of our Armed Forces; to all the friends of General Shalikashvili who are here today, including former Secretary Perry, former Chairmen and members of the Joint Chiefs, former officials of the Department of Defense: We all come together in grateful tribute to John and Joan Shalikashvili.
This is, frankly, a bittersweet day for me. I am full of pride, but also some regret. For the last four years, I have counted on Shali for his wisdom, his counsel, his leadership. He has become an exceptional advisor and a good friend; someone I knew I could always depend upon when the lives of our troops or the interests of America were on the line. And I will miss him very much.
General Shali is a great American with a great American story. A childhood seared by war, he has given his life to the cause of peace. From an immigrant learning English, he has become the shining symbol of what America is all about. He's never forgotten what his country gave him, nor has he ever stopped giving back to it. His service to our nation, spanning 39 years, rises from the ranks of Army private to the highest military office in the land.
Of course, the road even for him has not always been smooth. I am told that after a grueling first day at Officer Candidate School, Private John Shali sneaked out of his barracks looking for a place to resign. Our nation can be very grateful that, probably for the only time in his entire career, he failed in his mission.
I am convinced that when future students look upon this time, they will rank John Shalikashvili as among the greatest Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff America ever had.
Greatness is something that cannot be bestowed like a medal, a ribbon, a star. It cannot be taught or bought. It comes in the end only from within. General Shali has said that the three indispensable traits of a great leader are competence, care and character. He ought to know; he embodies them.
His competence shines in the sterling record of innovation and achievement, managing the downsizing of our forces while upgrading their capability and readiness; upholding the most rigorous standards for the use of those forces in the world, where threats to our survival have faded, but threats to our interests and values have not; dramatically improving joint doctrine and training and taking joint planning far into the future for the very first time; and of course, helping bring Europe together at least in liberty, democracy and peace.
One of the proudest moments of my presidency was standing with Shali in Warsaw as we celebrated NATO's enlargement and welcomed the people of his original homeland back home to the family of freedom.
And if the baseline measure of a Chairman's competence is successful military operations, Shali has filled a resume that would turn others olive drab with envy. In the last four years, our troops have been tested in more than 40 operations. From Bosnia to Haiti, the Taiwan Straits, Iraq, Rwanda, Liberia and more, our Armed Forces have performed superbly with Shali at the helm. Our troops trust him because they know how much he cares for them. They have seen that caring in his constant contact with our servicemen and women, in the way he warms their hearts with his pride in them, in the humility, the honesty, the graciousness, the respect he always shows to others, in the wonderful way he listens, even to bearers of bad news.
Our troops know that he never expects their gratitude or applause, but he does want to sharpen their capabilities, improve their welfare and lift their morale, and, in his most important duty, to make sure that whenever they go into danger, the planning is superb, the risks are minimized, and every reasonable measure is taken to ensure their success and safe return.
For Shali, caring transcends our obligations even to one another. He believes in America's unique ability to help others around the world -- sheltering freedom, defending democracy, relieving fear and despair. He knows that what sets our troops apart is not just their courage, strength, and skills, but also the ideals they serve, the hope they inspire, the spirit they represent.
As some may recall, during the crisis in Haiti, Shali visited with refugees in the camps, observing and listening with quiet understanding -- the quiet understanding of one who had also been in that position. And he ordered improvements to make those camps as comfortable as possible, to alleviate boredom and brighten hopes and bring toys to children at Christmas. That story also revealed something about his character -- a clear sense of what is right and wrong, a man whose conscience is always his guide.
I'll miss a lot of things about Shali, but perhaps most of all I'll miss the integrity he always displayed in being my closest military advisor. In every conversation we ever had, he never minced words, he never postured or pulled punches, he never shied away from tough issues or tough calls, and most important, he never shied away from doing what he believed was the right thing. On more than one occasion -- many more than one occasion -- he looked at me and I could see the pain in his eyes that he couldn't tell me what I wanted to hear and what he wished he could say, but with a clear and firm voice and a direct, piercing gaze, he always told me exactly what he thought the truth was. No President could ever ask for more.
Shali has had the support of a proud and dedicated family: his son Brant, his brother, himself a distinguished Green Beret veteran, his sister, and, of course, there are his dogs. I understand they are the only living creatures who have never obeyed his orders. (Laughter.)
And most importantly, there is Joan. Joan, you have been a terrific support for our men and women in uniform. They know you are always looking out for them and their families. From around the corner to around the world, you were the Chairman's personal inspector general when it came to how family are cared for. No one had more commitment, a better eye, or a bigger heart. And we thank you.
General, very soon now you and Joan will be settling into your new home in Washington State. You can tuck your uniform into a drawer. You can carry an umbrella. (Laughter.) You can even grow a beard. Maybe you'll actually even open that hardware store you have been talking about. I don't know if you know the first thing about power tools and mixing paint, but the brand you have to offer is the top of the line.
Our nation is safer, our Armed Forces are stronger, and our world is a better place because of your service. Thank you for all you have done. God bless you and Godspeed. (Applause.)
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, Vice President and Mrs. Gore, Secretary and Mrs. Cohen; my special friend, Secretary Albright; National Security Advisor Berger, members of the Diplomatic Corps, other members of the Cabinet, other distinguished Members of Congress; my mentor and friend, Secretary Bill Perry and Lee Perry; Secretary and Mrs. Hamry, Secretary West, Secretary and Mrs. Dalton; my friend, General Nalman (phonetic), Chairman of NATO's Military Committee; fellow Chiefs of Defense here present, thank you for coming such a long distance.
Members of the Joint Chiefs, present and past, Commanders-In-Chief of our Unified Command, distinguished guests; Joanie, Brant, friends and family who have come near and far. And men and women of our Armed Forces, so splendidly, splendidly represented here this morning by these magnificent soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, standing so tall and standing so proud here before us. Please join me in giving them a very well-deserved round of applause. (Applause.)
What a great day, despite these clouds. What a great day to be a soldier. Thank you, Secretary Cohen. Thank you, Mr. President, for those very kind, very kind words. And, thank you, Mr. President, for the award of the Medal of Freedom, and I am so deeply honored.
And let me say, as well, that it is a privilege to leave this office knowing that I will be relieved by General Hugh Shelton -- a friend, a combat veteran decorated for heroism, a true professional and an inspired choice to lead our Armed Forces into the 21st century.
And I thank you, Mr. President, and I thank you, too, Mr. Vice President, for all that you have done these past four years to keep America's Armed Forces the very best in the world, and for all your concern for the safety of our men and women and for their welfare and for the welfare of their families.
Mr. President, it has been an honor, indeed, to have served under your command. Thank you.
A short while ago I received a new set of orders, as I have so many times in the past. These orders, my retirement orders, contain a notation that reminded me that I have now served 39 years, three months, and one day on active duty.
To some of you here, this must sound like a very, very long period of time. In my own life, if I were to measure the distance between my earliest memories of Warsaw, Poland, my birthplace, and this podium here today, it might seem like a very long journey indeed. But in truth, these 39 years have passed by in a wink of an eye. For it seems like only yesterday that I, a brand new draftee from Peoria, Illinois, started my journey as a wide-eyed trainee in the green hills of Fort Leonardwood, Missouri; only yesterday that I felt the biting cold of the Alaskan winter while serving as a brand new lieutenant with the Manchus of the First Battle Group, 9th Infantry; only yesterday that I experienced the stifling afternoon heat of the rice paddies in the jungles of Vietnam; or that in Germany, at Grevenbroich, I heard the roar of the guns of the 1st Armored Division; or bathed in the dust at Yakima with the motorized soldiers of the 9th Division; and only yesterday, in the mountains of northern Iraq, I watched with pride as American soldiers and soldiers from a dozen nations worked feverishly to give life back to hundreds of thousands of Kurds who had been driven into these mountains by Saddam Hussein and left there to perish.
These experiences seem like only yesterday, because in the history of our nation and our military they are but a fleeting moment, a moment replayed day in and day out on a thousand posts and camps and stations from Kuwait to Kansas, from Pearl Harbor to the Persian Gulf, from Germany to Korea.
For a peacetime era, these past four years have been a period of unprecedented military activity and unmatched operational excellence. Each time the call came, America's forces were ready; and each time, they performed magnificently. Whether maintaining a strong deterrent against aggression on the Korean Peninsula, ensuring Saddam Hussein remembers the penalty for turning his fury against his neighborhoods or his own people, providing humanitarian assistance for the dying in Rwanda, bringing an end to violence in Haiti, or extending the hand of friendship to former adversaries and new partners through NATO's Partnership for Peace, our men and women did all that America asked of them and more.
And in the process, they proved themselves, to friend and foe alike, the best military in the world, bar none. Others might envy us our high technology equipment, but they stand in awe of our young men and women in uniform and the sergeants and the petty officers who lead them.
To paraphrase the late General Abrams, people aren't in the Armed Forces, people are the Armed Forces. Not personnel, but living, breathing people -- tough people, ethical people, trained people, people working together to get the job done, worldwide, year after year -- not just for 39 years, but for over two centuries. Our men and women in uniform were always, are now, and forever will be the key to our operational excellence. And no technology is about to change that.
We must never forget their sacrifice. We must never underestimate their importance. And we must never cut back on our support for them or for their families.
And just as people are the lifeblood of our Armed Forces, so they have been the joy of my years in uniform. I have worked for and served with the very best -- from Sergeant Greiss (phonetic), who taught me how to care for soldiers, to General Lester L. Wheeler who instilled in me the essence of being an officer, to thousands of others all the way up to my friend, Colin Powell, who mentored me on the responsibilities of being a Chairman.
And while Chairman, I have been blessed to work for three great Secretaries -- the late Les Aspin, Bill Perry, and now Bill Cohen -- all men of character, men of brilliance, men dedicated to building a strong defense. And no one, no one could ask for better bosses or more dedicated Americans to look after our men and women in uniform. I thank you.
And I've been blessed, and indeed, America has been blessed, to have the great generals and admirals that we have had leading the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Coast Guard during these very turbulent years. Danny, Jay, Ed, Chuck, Bob, I thank you for your support, your wise counsel and certainly for your friendship.
And we have been blessed as well to have had such outstanding leaders as our Unified Commanders. I can't say enough to praise all of you and the great work that you have done to give America a joint force equal to her own greatness.
And to the Vice Chairman, General Joe Ralston, my dear friend, you are a consummate professional and a model of selfless service. Every honor that I have received today owes much to your wisdom, your tireless work and your devotion to our nation.
And to the Joint Staff, you lead the way. You are the finest military staff, and much of our operational excellence springs from your unmatched professionalism.
But when all is said and done, it is my family to whom I owe the greatest debt of gratitude. Joanie, these 30 years together have been the most wonderful journey; you and I holding hands every step of the way. How lucky I am to be married to my best friend, who shares my love for soldiers, who has given so much to them and to their families. Joanie, we always said that together we could make it, for that's the kind of stuff we're made of. Well, we've made it. Duck, I love you.
And to you, Brant, many thanks, for having put up with all of my absences from home while you were growing up, all the many moves, all the missed soccer games, and despite that, having become the fine young man that you are. Your mother and I are prouder of you than you will ever know.
Forty-five years ago, my parents, my brother Othar, my sister Gayle (phonetic) and I came to the shores of this great nation. And America took us in and opened its heart to us. In time, it allowed me to rise from private to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What a reflection on this grand land of opportunity. Only -- only in America.
Now, let me close with a word to the soldiers with whom I shared this 39-year journey. Many years ago, when he was asked what his last wish would be, Black Jack Pershing said that when the last bugle is sounded, I want to stand with my soldiers. And so, when -- the last bugle sounds, I hope to stand with you, as ramrod straight and as proud as you stand before us here today. In the years to come, no matter what I do, no matter where I go, no matter what I will become, in my heart I pray, I will always remain one of you -- a soldier.
Mr. President, it has been a great honor to wear the uniform of this great nation and to serve you. And I thank you for that privilege. And may God bless you, sir, and may God bless this extraordinary land of ours. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 12:28 P.M. EDT