The bombing has stopped. The negotiations are over. And as tough as this phase of peacemaking has been, the hard, dangerous work of peacekeeping has just begun. Paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division led deploying NATO forces as the peacekeepers began establishing themselves in the bombing range that was Kosovo.
Within hours, tensions between Serbian and Albanian Kosovars flared into scattered bloodshed. Three German journalists were killed. In the weeks and months to come the likelihood of violence is as high as the time, location and provocation for such acts are unpredictable.
American soldiers are accustomed to these trials -- 34 times in the past 10 years. Yes, 34 times since the Berlin Wall fell, and we began to determine what to do with the "peace dividend," U.S. Army soldiers have deployed into harm's way around the world. Usually those missions required less than full-scale combat. As a result, they received little attention. They were not, however, less dangerous for that. Peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Somalia, Macedonia, the Sinai, Bosnia and now Kosovo are fraught with complexity.
Our objectives often require us to deploy soldiers with sophisticated weapons under rules of engagement that constrain their employment. It doesn't take long for the civilian populace to figure out what our rules of engagement are and to develop tactics that push right up to, but not past, our "red lines" for the use of force.
And who are the expertly trained soldier-statesmen contending with these provocations and confronting the complexity of these situations? They are 20-year-old volunteers, active and reserve, from Newark or Flint, Mich., Laredo, Tex., or Fairbanks, Alaska. Most enlisted in the Army for a few years to gain some life experience and to earn money for college. Initial entry training qualified them to deploy with their units to places with unpronounceable names.
Their mission is to keep people from killing one another and, secondarily, to protect themselves and their fellow soldiers. Back home, they left young spouses with small children who can scarcely comprehend they are gone, much less the complex foreign policy situations that take them away. For many, their paychecks barely cover monthly expenses, and there is little discretionary income for entertainment, savings or investment.
American soldiers in the field constantly amaze us with the strength of their dedication and morale. Despite danger, hardship, and separation from family, they enjoy their work for two fundamental reasons. First, they know they are doing something important. The U.S. Army is a potent symbol of liberty, justice and hope. Everyone can understand that there is no moral comparison between U.S. soldiers and their adversaries, be they Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic. Thus, it is easy for soldiers to believe in the rightness of what they do.
Second, no one does it better. American soldiers are the best-led and the best-trained war-fighters in the world. And they take great pride in their professional excellence and selfless service to the nation.
We have a covenant with these soldiers. They owe us their fealty, their commitment and their dedication to duty. We, in turn, owe them the best equipment we can provide. We owe them the most challenging and rigorous training imaginable. We owe them a living wage and a decent home and a good school for their kids. We owe them an opportunity for self-betterment and a chance to compete. When we send them to some far-off place that we would have been hard-pressed to locate on a globe a week before, they must know that we will never abandon them, or squander their sacrifice or commit them to battles that cannot be won. And when they are still there years from now, we owe it to them to remember all that they have done and are doing on our behalf.
As we celebrate our freedom this Fourth of July weekend, we need to pay attention not just to the 38,000 U.S. soldiers "on point" for the nation in 78 countries around the world but to all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving our country here and in faraway places such as Bosnia, Macedonia, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Kuwait, the Sinai and Korea. Remember their sacrifices and take pride in their service. I am proud to serve with them.
The writer is the Army chief of staff.