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Remarks on Arrival at Fort Benning, Georgia

April 12, 1995

Thank you very much, Senator Nunn, General Hendrix, Congressman Bishop, Congressman Collins, Mayor Peters, distinguished Georgia State officials and members of the legislature and local and county officials here. I am glad to be back in Georgia. If I had known that there had been no President here since 1977, I would have come to Fort Benning earlier. I'm glad to be here a little late.

You know, when Senator Nunn was reeling off all of the awards won by all the bases in Georgia, I thought to myself, well, that's why Georgia never suffered from any of the base closings. It had nothing to do with Sam Nunn's influence; it was all on the merits that you did so well. [Laughter]

I do want to say a special word of thanks to Senator Nunn for his leadership over so many years in behalf of a strong American military and especially for his counsel and advice to me after I became President. Having been a Governor, having never served in the Congress before, it was especially invaluable to have the counsel of Sam Nunn about matters of national security.

As I have said many times all across this country, the mission we face today as a people is to move into the 21st century, now just 5 years away, still the strongest country in the world, the world's greatest force for peace and freedom and democracy and still the country with the American dream alive, the dream that if you work hard and make the most of your own life, you can live up to your God-given capacities.

I believe that in this challenging but hopeful time we have to do a number of very important tasks. We are up there now trying to change the way Government works. We've been working on that for 2 years, to make it smaller and less bureaucratic but still able to do the work of the people. We have to create more economic opportunities for our people, and we are working on that—over 6 million new jobs in the last 2 years.

We have to invest in the education and training of our people. Much as the military has done, we must do for all Americans, and not just when they're young but throughout their work lives, to enable people to make the most of their own lives. We know clearly that in the 21st century, what you earn will depend upon what you can learn. And we know that the great divide in our country today between those that are doing well and those that are struggling is often defined by how much education they have and what they still can learn.

And finally and still critically, we have to strengthen our security at home and around the world. At Fort Benning, you have done a magnificent job of achieving that last goal. You are fulfilling the mission that President Roosevelt left to us. In his last speech, which he did not live to deliver, Franklin Roosevelt wrote these words, "We have learned in the agony of war that great power involves great responsibility. We as Americans do not choose to deny our responsibility." I thank you, America's soldiers, for upholding FDR's last commitment.

General Hendrix gave me a brief rundown of the commands based here, and I know that you are all proud of your work. But let me say a special word of thanks to those of you who served in Somalia, to those of you who went to Rwanda and saved so many lives there, to those of you who responded so quickly when Iraq made a move last fall toward Kuwait's border. When we sent you to the Persian Gulf, Iraq withdrew. And I thank you for that, and so do the people of Kuwait.

I have recently returned from Haiti, and I want to say a special word of thanks to the MP's, the engineers, the medics, the army civilians from this base who helped to give the people of Haiti a second chance. Ten days ago I saw dozens of hand-painted signs all across Port-au-Prince with three simple words, "Thank you, America." They were thanking you, Fort Benning. You did something remarkable, something astonishing, and something for which those people and our people should all be very grateful.

I also want to congratulate you on repeating your award, the Commander in Chief's Army Community of Excellence Award. I was kind of hoping my basketball team would do that this year. [Laughter] And I know just how hard it is to do. Are any of you planning on going for a "three-peat," I wonder? What do you think? [Applause]

I want to say, I know you won the last two awards with the help of someone who won't be around, and I'd like to especially acknowledge Sergeant Major Acebes, who is retiring tomorrow after 30 years. Could you stand up, sir? [Applause] I know a lot about him. A Ranger, a Special Forces soldier, a master parachutist, he's done it all. He's also reputed to be the best listener in the Army. He let his bulldog, Sister, even chew his ear off at one time. See, the President finds out things. [Laughter]

Ladies and gentlemen, even though we have downsized the military dramatically, and many of you have helped in that process and it has been somewhat traumatic, I think it is fair to say that no major organization in the history of the United States has ever gone through so much change so rapidly, with such a high level of professionalism and commitment and ultimate success. We still have the best trained, best equipped, most highly motivated, most effective military in the world.

It is now important that we do whatever we can and whatever we must to maintain that strength. On Monday, I was pleased to sign the defense supplemental appropriations bill, which will give us more funds in this fiscal year to maintain the readiness of our forces.

Even as you have served as such a valuable force for America's security interests around the world, I would like to close by thanking you for being a valuable force for our long-term security here at home. For so many of you are role models to our young people, role models to those who are discouraged, who may want to quit, who may think that they can't make the most of their lives, who understand that they may have personal problems or be living in a country with big economic problems that they don't feel they can overcome. All of you can make a difference.

And our security involves what we do here at home as well as what we do beyond our borders. We spent a lot of effort, the Congress and I have, in the last 2 years, making sure that we could reduce the Federal Government dramatically and give that money back to our local communities to hire more police officers and to take other steps to make our streets safer. That's a part of our security, giving our people reward for work, permitting them to take a little time off without losing their jobs or giving them help in providing health care. That's a part of our security.

But doing something about the crime and the violence and the still-rampant abuse of drugs and alcohol among our young people, that is also a part of our security. And I cannot tell you how many places I go around this country where young people who are despairing, who are confused, who don't know what they're going to do with their lives at least look at you and know that if they live by old-fashioned values and they support the American way, they can succeed. You are that to them.

So I ask you, never forget that your mission in improving, enhancing, and protecting our security not only involves what you may be called upon to do in distant places around the world but what you may do every day just walking down a street or speaking to a child or standing tall so that people can see that in this country if you do the right thing, you can live a good life and be a great American.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at noon at Lawson Army Air Field. In his remarks, he referred to Maj. Gen. John W. Hendrix, Commanding General, and Sgt. Maj. William Acebes, Command Sergeant Major, U.S. Army Infantry Center, Fort Benning; and Mayor Bobby Peters of Columbus, GA.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Arrival at Fort Benning, Georgia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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