CNN Balkan Conflict News

soldier saluting

U.S. troops wary, but willing

Clinton backs use of 'decisive force' in Bosnia

December 2, 1995
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EST (2230 GMT)

BAUMHOLDER, Germany (CNN) -- American troops preparing to leave for Bosnia gave a rousing reception to President Clinton's pep talk Saturday. But their approval was tinged with doubts about the dangerous mission that lies ahead.


"It's rough," said a soldier from the First Armored Division. "It's really rough, being away from your family during Christmas. I guess the biggest worry for most people I've talked to are the land mines -- six million land mines. They only know where a million of them are." (145K AIFF sound or 145K WAV sound)

For families of soldiers, it was perhaps the worst season to bid farewell. But some were stoic about it. "I wanted my kids to see him and to hear from his own mouth why they were going in and everything like that," said a soldier's wife. "It meant a lot to me and my children I'm sure."

One soldier said he reassured his concerned mother that it was "no big deal," and he was "just doing his job."

"Bosnia is a country now been at war for four years, and someone has to help, you know, give the peace. And we are here to help 'em," said another soldier. (75K AIFF sound or 75K WAV sound)

Clinton speaking

His colleague said he was anxious. "I'm going to leave my beautiful wife, my mother back in New York," he said.

Calling them "heroes for peace" Clinton got a roar of approval from the 11,000 troops at Smith Barracks when he told them they "may respond immediately and with decisive force" if they are even threatened with attack in the Balkans. (230K AIFF sound or 230K WAV sound)

Bill Clinton

"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," the president told members of the 1st Armored Division of the U.S. Army in Europe. The troops are slated to be among the 60,000-strong multi-national peacekeeping force in Bosnia.

Comparing the Bosnia mission to that of the Persian Gulf War in 1992, Clinton told the members of Task Force Eagle that "now America is calling you to serve again, this time not in a call to war but a call to peace."

"Everyone should know that when America comes to help make the peace," he said, "America will still look after its own."

Clinton addressing crowd

The president told the camaflouge-dressed soldiers that every effort was being made to assure their safety. But, he said, "every deployment has its risks."

But, he added, "in Bosnia your mission is clear. You are strong, you are well-prepared, and the stakes demand the American leadership that you will provide."

Clinton read letters from children of soldiers heading for Bosnia, and also told the troops of his meeting at the Dublin airport with Zlata Filipovic, a young Sarajevan who wrote to the president last week thanking him for his efforts at bringing peace to Bosnia. When she learned that Clinton was scheduled to speak to the soldiers, she asked him to deliver a message.

"Mr. President," he related, "when you are in Germany, please thank the American soldiers for me. I want to go home." (247K AIFF sound or 247K WAV sound)

Clinton was greeted at NATO's Ramstein Airbase Saturday morning by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and U.S. Army General George Joulwan, NATO commander of allied troops in Europe.

An handful of protesters were also on hand, carrying signs denigrating the president as a "draft dodger" and calling him the "president who stole Christmas."

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