Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the Community at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio

October 17, 1995

Thank you. Let's give Frances another hand. Wasn't she great? I thought she did a great job. Mayor Thornton, thank you for your remarks and for your remarkable and energetic leadership during this important time for San Antonio. General Viccellio, thank you for your assumption of this new, important task. General Curtis, thank you for your strong leadership here; to the other dignitaries here present, including the Deputy Secretary of Defense, John White, who has worked so hard on this project at my instruction, but also with his own heart in it; to the members of the Initial Base Adjustment Strategy Committee, or IBASC, as you call it, Jose Villareal, Juan Solis, and Tullos Wells; to your county judge, Cynthia Taylor Krier; and to the workers here at Team Kelly.

And I'd like to say a special word of acknowledgement to one of the people who came down here with me today, your former mayor and the finest Secretary of Housing and Urban Development this country ever had, Henry Cisneros.

I want to thank the Sky Country and the Band of the West from Lackland for the music they provided before I came here. I want to thank Frances Garza-Alvarado for her introduction and for the example she's set of professionalism and dedication, a model for the people, both men and women, that she helps to train for the jobs of tomorrow. When she talked about how she felt when she came here 30 years ago, I knew that I was right to fight for the families and the people of Kelly and the future of this base and this community, because Frances represents what America is all about.

Before I get into my remarks, I'd also like to acknowledge two friends of Kelly Air Force Base who could not be with us today for different reasons: my friend of many, many years, over 20 years now, Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, who is working in Washington, and his colleague, Congressman Frank Tejeda.

Frank is in a different sort of fight now, and I want to say a word about him. Many of you know him as more than a Congressman. He's your neighbor; he's your friend. He comes home to his old neighborhood every weekend without fail. He's a decorated Vietnam veteran and a proud son of Texas. He has always been one of la gente. If an issue matters to working people, you can bet that Frank Tejeda is there working on it, fighting for them. He's a fighter; he's a winner. I had a wonderful talk with him just a few days ago, and we're all praying that he wins the fight he's involved in now. God bless you, Congressman, and good luck.

San Antonio has made special contributions to the security of this country, not only with Kelly but also with the Randolph Air Training Command, with Brooke Air Force Base, with Lackland Air Force Base, with Fort Sam Houston, and the Brooke Army Medical Center.

There are a lot of Presidents who have had special ties to San Antonio because of its commitment to our Nation's military. Most of you probably know that President Roosevelt trained the Rough Riders here. One of the gifts that I was pleased to receive since I became President is an original printing of Teddy Roosevelt's account of how he organized and trained the Rough Riders in San Antonio. President Eisenhower served as a young lieutenant at Fort Sam Houston and met his wife, Mamie, here. President Johnson married Lady Bird in San Antonio, and later was pronounced dead at the Brooke Army Medical Center.

This is an important part of America, and San Antonio's contribution and Kelly's contribution to the security of this country must never be forgotten. Our Nation owes a profound debt of gratitude to all the workers at Kelly for giving our country something that cannot be measured and certainly cannot be purchased, patriotism, service, and heart.

Recently I was so moved, just before I came out here, to hear two things about all of you that I want to repeat for the benefit of all the people of Texas and the people of the United States who will know about this event today. After it was announced that the BRAC commission's decision was to close Kelly and phase out its operations, your commander told me—General Curtis—that he was walking through the crowd just a few days ago, through the workplace here, and that two of the workers here stopped and said they wanted to ask him something about the new realignment plan we had put in place for Privatization in Place. They didn't ask him about their jobs. They didn't ask him about their retirement. They asked him instead whether he thought that the readiness of the United States of America could be maintained with this new plan. That is the kind of patriotism the United States of America should know about, in this place, among you people. And I am grateful to you.

The other thing I was told about today was that after the announcement was made, when you would normally expect a big decline in morale, that the productivity of operations here went up, not down. If everybody in America had that kind of character, we wouldn't have half the problems we have in this country. And I thank you for that.

You have been a model of what I believe our country has to do, a model of what I talked about yesterday in my speech on race relations at the University of Texas in Austin, a model of what those people who marched in Washington yesterday were calling on all of us to represent. You have shown personal responsibility and responsibility for your families, your communities, and your country. You have proved that you could work together across racial and ethnic lines. And now we're going to prove that we can harness the changes going on in the world today to make America and San Antonio and the families of Kelly stronger and better.

My mission as your President at this moment in our history is to harness the changes that are going on for the better. As we move from an industrial to an information and technology age, as we move from the cold war, in which you played such a pivotal role, to a global village with different kinds of threats to democracy and freedom, I want to see that we keep the American dream alive for all of our people and that we keep America as the strongest country in the world. Those are our two objectives as we move to the 21st century.

We know that we have to create a modern economy that will grow jobs and enable people to grow good families. We know we have to create a modern Government that is smaller and more flexible. We know we have to maintain America's leadership in the world. And most important of all, we know we have to make all these changes consistent with our basic values as people with responsibility and opportunity, with the idea that people have to be able to succeed at work and in their family lives, with the idea that we are all one community and we have certain obligations to our parents, to our children, to the needy among us so that we can go forward together.

One of the most important things to recognize today in that framework of values is that the people who won the cold war cannot be left out in the cold. We are going through a period of change; everyone knows that. Well, that's fine if you're winning from it, but it's pretty scary if you're not sure what the future holds. By your work, you have honored your commitment to America. And I came here today to tell you I want you to have hope for the future because we intend to honor our commitment to you.

On July 1st, you were dealt a serious blow when the independent base closing commission said that we ought to shut Kelly down. At my insistence and my refusal to go along with that specific recommendation, the Air Force developed the Privatization in Place plan that will keep thousands of jobs here at this depot. I am here to say that, of course, Kelly will change; that was inevitable because the world has changed. But we are not leaving you out in the cold. We will work with you in partnership to protect jobs, to protect workers, to help the families and communities here, and to make sure you are still contributing to America's mission in the 21st century.

Kelly has been far more than an important military base. It's also been an avenue of opportunity for so many people who could not have found it in other jobs. So many families were lifted into the middle class because of Kelly. And each generation of people in San Antonio and the communities around here have built upon that opportunity.

Henry Cisneros tells me that he grew up on the west side of the city under the flight pattern of Kelly's aircraft. He grew up hearing the prop B-36's, the C-124's, and later the powerful F- 16's. He said his entire block worked at Kelly. It's no wonder, from that block of military employed families came the first Cabinet Secretary in the United States Government from San Antonio, and with him came some of the best people in our administration. I want to just name one who is here today, Frank Wing, who after 38 years in the Air Force here at Kelly came to serve under Henry Cisneros in Washington. Thank you, sir, for your lifetime of devoted service.

This base has been a cornerstone for the Hispanic middle class, indeed, for much of middle class San Antonio. The larger area has played a role in our Nation's security for a very long time, as I have already said. I told the Air Force and the Department of Defense when this BRAC decision was announced to take all the time the law allows to reduce the economic impact on the community and to create the strongest possible economic base at Kelly and to work with the local leaders to plan a future that would give you a chance to have even more prosperity.

That means we're not shutting this base down, we're transforming it. We're maintaining jobs here because it is good for San Antonio, but it's also good for the Air Force. With our plan to move jobs here to the private sector, we'll be helping national security and helping the people of San Antonio.

We call this plan Privatization in Place. It means that for 5 more years, Kelly will keep the jobs that would be here if closure had not been recommended, and even 8 years from now, more than two-thirds of Kelly's jobs will still be here, working for the Department of Defense. But at the same time, we'll create even more jobs. We've seen this work already in other places. For example, at the Sacramento Army Depot in California, private investment there has actually produced thousands of more jobs than the base had at the time it was closed. If you look at this incredible resource here, we can do that and more.

Our plan for Kelly does more than just provide breathing room; it gives you the time we all need for a transition to the future for Kelly and for San Antonio. This base still has an important role in the future of San Antonio, an important role in the security of our Nation. With the 5 extra years we have won for Kelly, the city will have time to diversify its economic base. And we'll have a new opportunity to build another kind of base for jobs, grounded firmly in the private sector and in the strengths of San Antonio, the people, the culture, the ideal location to become a leading center of trade for the 21st century.

More than almost any other place, you are ready for the future. Your workers are among the best trained anywhere. You have the best specialized equipment and the facilities for the future, part of our national investment and part of something private industry really needs. So the incentive for private investment is here, as you found out last weekend when you had hundreds of businesses coming here to look over the potential for the future.

And then of course, there is San Antonio, the ninth-largest city in our Nation, a city that is very large but still is a community, not a crowd. People like Mayor Thornton and Frank Tejeda and my good friend Jose Villareal and all of the others who have worked on this committee, they have worked hard to prove that you could bring all parts of this community together with a clear-eyed vision for the future. In the name of Kelly and its workers, the people of San Antonio have done something very important. They have given all people here the opportunity to build a better and stronger life.

I know that this plan can work. Deputy Secretary White and Under Secretary of the Air Force Rudy de Leon are working closely with the community here. And because there is no better person to help direct a transition than a former vice commander at Kelly, we do have the best in General Butch Viccellio, and I thank him for his dedication to this effort.

At the same time—yes, you could clap for him; I think you ought to. [Applause] I know generals don't run for office, but they love to hear the applause. [Laughter] They love to hear the applause.

At the same time, your local IBASC commission has been working hard to coordinate the reuse effort here, to develop the strategy and the vision to propel Kelly and San Antonio into the next century. We aren't wasting a second. From day one, we've been pursuing creative initiatives, providing planning funds to help in the effort. We've allocated more than half a billion dollars for construction, personnel, and support help to Kelly and its workers. Just this past weekend, as I said, the open house that was sponsored by the city and the base drew hundreds of contractors and others from the private sector. They saw the potential for success here.

Today I am proud to announce that we have reached an agreement between the community and the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the joint use of the Kelly runway between the Air Force and private sector.

That puts San Antonio in a prime position to handle the growth of trade from all over our hemisphere, all the way down to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. If diversity is America's strength, and it is, San Antonio will have the muscle when it comes to trade with Latin America.

More action is on the way. Let me say that this is a time of hope for San Antonio. You're one of the youngest cities in the country. You have the position, the resources, the proven character and ability to take advantage of the future. You are organized, skilled, and now sitting on some of the best real estate and biggest opportunities in the entire United States.

I know the BRAC decision last summer was a disappointment. And if you saw me in my rare, unguarded moments, you knew that I was disappointed, too. But I believe that San Antonio will come out a winner with a healthier, more diversified economic base and better jobs, a community moving confidently into the next century as a center of trade and a vital player in our national security. And let me emphasize again, for the benefit of the two workers who asked the general that the other day, this plan is designed to strengthen our national security, not to weaken it.

No American should forget that. If our mission as a people is to go into the 21st century with the American dream alive for all people and to keep America the strongest country in the world, then we have to have a good economic plan, a modern Government, mainstream values driving everything we do. And that means we have to maintain America's leadership in the world. It is not an option for us to walk away from our role and our responsibilities. And you will be helping us do that well into the next century.

Let me close by saying something that you must already know. Your local leaders here have a vision and a plan. I believed all along that we could not walk away from San Antonio or from Kelly or from the people here. And we have a national plan that will permit you the time you need to take advantage of the changes going on in the world and to maintain an important role in our national security. But the real strength of these plans will come from you, from your character, your work, and your own vision, and your willingness to believe in yourselves and the future.

If you look at how we in the United States are positioned now and imagine what the world will look like 10 or 20 or 30 years from now when all the children in this audience have their children at meetings like this, I tell you, there is no nation in the world in a better position to do well in the global village of the 21st century, if we will seize our opportunities. And to do that, we have to believe in ourselves, stay true to our mainstream values, and make the changes we know that will harness the future for a better America.

That's what you can do. I will be there with you. I know that you can do it. If you believe you can do it, there is no stopping you.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:06 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to Maj. Gen. Lewis E. Curtis III, USAF, Commander, San Antonio Air Logistics Center.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Community at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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