Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to Troops in Baumholder, Germany

December 02, 1995

General Joulwan, General Nash, General Crouch, Secretary West. A special word of greeting to America's good friend Chancellor Kohl, who has been a wonderful partner to our country, with great thanks to Germany for their partnership with this fine unit.

I am immensely proud to be here today with the men and women of the 1st Armored Division. You truly are America's Iron Soldiers. Previous generations of Iron Soldiers have answered our Nation's call with legendary skill and bravery. Each time before, it was a call to war. From North Africa to Italy, they helped freedom triumph over tyranny in World War II. Then for 20 years, their powerful presence here stood down the Soviet threat and helped to bring victory in the cold war. And just 4 years ago, when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait, the 1st Armored Division's awesome power turned back Iraq and protected the security of the Persian Gulf. I know many of you were there. But I would like to remind you that in just 89 hours of combat, you destroyed 440 enemy tanks, 485 armored personnel carriers, 190 pieces of artillery, and 137 air defense guns. You should be very proud of that remarkable record.

Now America summons you to service again, this time not with a call to war but a call to peace. The leaders of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia have agreed to end 4 long years of war and atrocities. They have asked for our help to implement their peace agreement. It is in our Nation's interest and consistent with our values to see that this peace succeeds and endures. And we are counting on you, the men and women of Task Force Eagle, to get that job done.

For 3 years I refused to send our American forces into Bosnia where they could have been pulled into war. But I do want you to go there on a mission of peace. After speaking to your commanders and looking at all of you and listening to you, there is not a doubt in my mind this task force is ready to roll. Your mission: to help people exhausted from war make good on the peace they have chosen, the peace they have asked you to help them uphold.

Just 2 weeks ago in Dayton, Ohio, the warring parties in Bosnia agreed to put down their arms, to pull back their armies and their heavy weapons, to hold free elections, to start rebuilding their homes, their towns, and their lives. But they need help to do that, and they have asked America and our NATO allies and other willing countries to provide it.

They need that help because, after nearly 4 years of terrible brutality, trust is in short supply in Bosnia, and they all trust you to do the job right. Each side wants NATO to help them live up to the commitments they've made, to make sure each army withdraws behind the separation line and stays there, to maintain the cease-fire so that the war does not start again, and give all the parties the confidence they need to keep their word and also to give them the trust that the other side will keep its word as well.

I pledged to the American people that I would not send you to Bosnia unless I was absolutely sure that the goals we set for you are clear, realistic, and achievable in about a year. This mission meets those essential standards. I also vowed that you would not go to Bosnia until I was sure that we had done everything we could to minimize the risks to your safety.

You know better than anyone that every deployment has risks. There could be accidents. In a formerly hostile environment, there could be incidents with people who have still not given up their hatred. As President, I take full responsibility for your well-being. But I also take pride in the knowledge that we are making this mission as safe as it can be.

You will take your orders from General Joulwan, who commands NATO. There will be no confusing chain of command. You are superbly prepared. You will be heavily armed. The reputation that you—[applause]—I didn't want anyone to think there was a division of the house on that point. [Laughter]

Perhaps even more important, you will be heavily armed with the reputation that proceeds you. That and the technology and training that protect you will make those who might wish to attack think twice. But you will also have very clear rules of engagement that spell out the most important rule of all in big, bold letters: If you are threatened with attack, you may respond immediately and with decisive force. Everyone should know that when America comes to help make the peace, America will still look after its own.

Your presence will help to create the climate of security Bosnia needs. It will allow the international community to begin a massive program of humanitarian relief and reconstruction. It will bring the people of Bosnia the food, the medicine, the shelter, the clothing they have been denied for too long. It will help them rebuild their roads and their towns, open their schools and their hospitals, their factories and their shops. It will reunite families torn apart by war and return refugees to their homes. It will help people recover the quiet blessings of normal life.

This morning, after 2 days of working for peace in Northern Ireland, I met at the airport in Dublin with Zlata Filpovic, the young Bosnian girl whose now famous diary of her wartime experience in Sarajevo has moved so many millions of people around the world. She's my daughter's age, just 15, but she has seen things that no one 3 or 4 times her age should ever have to witness. I thanked her for a powerful letter of support for our efforts for peace in Bosnia that she wrote me just a few days ago. And then I told her I was on my way to visit with all of you. This is what she said: "Mr. President, when you're in Germany, please thank the American soldiers for me. I want to go home." She also asked me to thank you and all the American people for, in her words, "opening the door of the future for her and for all the children of Bosnia."

Without you, the door will close, the peace will collapse, the war will return, the atrocities will begin again. The conflict then could spread throughout the region, weaken our partnership with Europe, and undermine our leadership in other areas critical to our security. I know that you will not let that happen.

As you prepare for your mission, I ask you to remember what we have all seen in Bosnia for the last 4 years: ethnic cleansing, mass executions, the rape of women and young girls as a tool of war, young men forced to dig their own graves and then shot down in the ground like animals, endless lines of desperate refugees, starving people in concentration camps. Images of these terrible wrongs have flooded our living rooms all over the world for almost 4 years. Now the violence has ended. We must not let it return.

For decades, our people in America have recognized the importance of a stable, strong, and free Europe to our own security. That's why we fought two World Wars. That's why after World War II we made commitments that kept Europe free and at peace and created unparalleled prosperity for us and for the Europeans as well. And that's why you are still here, even after the cold war.

Europe can be our strongest partners in fighting the things that will threaten the security of your children: the terrorism, the organized crime, the drug trafficking, the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But it can only be a strong partner if we get rid of the war that rages in the heart of Europe in Bosnia. We have to work with the Europeans on this if we're going to work on all those other problems that will be the security problems of the future.

When people ask—as they sometimes do back home because they're so concerned about you— "Well, why can't the Europeans do this without us?" just remember that when you went to Desert Storm, we asked for help from a lot of nations who could have taken a pass, but they stood up with us. And when we led in Haiti, we were supported by a lot of other nations who had no direct interest in Haiti, but they answered our call and they stood up with us. Now in Bosnia, we are needed. You are needed.

Men and women of Task Force Eagle, I know the burden of our country's leadership now weighs most heavily on you and your families. Each and every one of you who have volunteered to serve this country makes hard sacrifices. We send you a long way from home for a long time. We take you away from your children and your loved ones. These are the burdens that you assume for America, to stand up for our values, to serve our interests, to keep our country strong in this time of challenge and change.

In Bosnia, your mission is clear. You are strong, you are well-prepared, and the stakes demand American leadership that you will provide. You don't have to take it just from me. I have gotten it myself from the words of your own children. A seventh-grade English teacher at Baumholder High School, Patricia Dengel, asked her students to write letters to their parents who are preparing to go to Bosnia. I've seen a few of those letters, and I was moved.

I was moved by the fears they expressed but even more by the pride and confidence they showed in you.

Justin Zimmerman's father, Captain Ronald Zimmerman, is a company commander with the 40th Engineering Battalion. This is what Justin wrote: "Dad, I know you'll be fine in Bosnia because of all the training you've had. I'll miss you and count the days until we see you again." And Rachel Bybee, whose father, Major Leon Bybee, is a doctor with the Medical Corps, tells him, "I'm proud of your job, which is to help others. It must make you feel great to know you save lives."

Your children know you are heroes for peace, and soon so will the children of Bosnia. Your country and I salute you. We wish you Godspeed in the days and months ahead. You are about to do something very important for your Nation, very important for the world, very important for the future that you want your own children to have.

God bless you all, and God bless America.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:35 p.m. in the Smith Barracks at the Baumholder Army Base. In his remarks, he referred to Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, Commanding General, 1st Armored Division; Gen. William W. Crouch, Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe; and Secretary of the Army Togo D. West, Jr.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to Troops in Baumholder, Germany Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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