Military readiness top priority, Clinton pledges

Military readiness top priority, Clinton pledges

Saluting U.S. military forces in South Korea for serving in an ever-more dangerous land, President Clinton pledged to make military readiness the nation's top priority.

For 45 years, U.S. troops have contributed to the struggle for freedom on the divided peninsula. That struggle "requires strength, courage and a lifetime of dedication," Clinton said Nov. 22 at Osan Air Base, South Korea, to service and family members who braved cold winds to hear him speak.

The president stopped at Osan and in Seoul during a trip to Japan, Korea and Guam Nov. 18 to 23. He thanked the American and South Korean military forces for their service on behalf of all Americans.

"Sometimes it's easy to forget that even in peacetime, military work is difficult and dangerous," he said. "Tensions have gone up and down on this peninsula over the years, but always there are risks." Clinton noted the threat from North Korea has loomed ever larger in recent months.

"Lately, signs of danger have intensified with incursions from the north, provocative missile tests and the question of a suspect underground installation. So we must remain vigilant," he said. "And thanks to you, we are."

North Korea is a major concern when it comes to the threat of weapons of mass destruction, according to the president. "Here at Osan," he told the uniformed men and women, "you are critical to this most dangerous battleground, deterring and, if necessary, defending, against chemical and biological attacks."

Until North Korea fully commits to playing a constructive role on the peninsula, Clinton said, the United States must maintain ready forces there. "Our ability to succeed in promoting peace is uniquely due to the fact that we can back up our diplomatic efforts with military force," he explained.

Clinton acknowledged that military duty involves much sacrifice. "We ask so much of you-to travel far from home, to work long hours, to risk your lives. We ask so much of your families-lengthy separations, career and school transitions.

"We owe an awful lot in return-at least the training and support you need, the tools to do your job, from high-tech equipment to the most basic spare parts, and the quality of life you deserve."

Highlighting recent efforts to add more money to defense coffers, Clinton said Congress has approved adding $1.1 billion for readiness and recruitment in this year's budget. Another $2 billion was added to cover operations in Bosnia.

"We shifted another $1 billion in existing defense funds to readiness needs," the president said. "I've approved pay raises that will significantly reduce the gap between military and civilian pay."

Readiness-for first-to-fight forces, ships at sea, strategic and tactical air forces-will continue to be a top priority, Clinton pledged. "You have made the world a better place and you will continue to do so. You have made us very proud and we will continue to be very proud."

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