21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The new Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, made a visit to Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 29, taking time to talk to a group of service members who were eager to meet the newest member of the Department of Defense family.
While the stay was brief and the group small, Panetta’s words to the gathering of Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, was anything but that.
Recently returning from the Middle East after having spent time with the troops Panetta said, “… to look into their eyes is to really look into the heart and soul of America, they’re putting their lives on the line, many of you always put your lives on the line. And for all of that, I just want to express the thanks of the country, my personal thanks that you are doing a job that is essential to protecting our freedom.”
As the new secretary of defense, Panetta shared some of the challenges and priorities the DoD is currently facing.
“Number one is obviously, that we have to continue the war on terrorism,” he said, noting the progress that has been made in recent months and the success of the operation that took down bin Laden.
“That combination of both intelligence and military capability together to accomplish what was a challenging operation is a reflection of power, [and shows how] important it is for both our armed forces as well as our intelligence community to work together,” said Panetta.
The second challenge: conflicts. “We are a nation at war,” said Panetta.
“My responsibility is to try to ensure that we are able to bring those conflicts to an honorable conclusion,” he said.
An honorable conclusion, according to Panetta, which means that the transition to handing over both security and governing responsibilities is done in a steadfast way that ensures the mission will be accomplished.
Other challenges addressed were nuclear proliferation, cyber warfare, troop protection and support for military families.
“We owe it to you; we owe it to your family to try to do everything possible to make sure that you get the benefits you’re entitled to,” he said.
With that, Panetta went on to say, “Now that leads us to the biggest challenge we’re facing as far as present times, which is what’s going on in Washington.”
Recognizing the likelihood of reduced resources, Panetta does not want to see a sacrifice for national security, but a means to create a more agile and effective force utilizing modernized weapons and a strong Reserve and National Guard.
“I don’t think you have to make a choice, between being fiscally responsible and having a strong national defense. My goal in working with the service chiefs is to design a national defense system, not just for today but for the future,” he said.
Panetta made clear he didn’t want to ‘make the same mistakes of the past’ that saw increased cuts to the defense near the end of a war, which was made at a high price to national security.
“That is not my intent, and I’ve made that clear to people in Congress and in the administration,” he said.
Panetta also made a personal testament to the service members present that afternoon about what he believed was the greatest resource of the DoD.
“The things that encourages me and gives me the greatest confidence, is you,” he said.
“You’re very dedicated, you’re very committed, you have the skills, you have the capability, you are what makes this country the strongest national defense system in the world, it’s you,” said Panetta.
“My friends, we bless ourselves with the hope that everything is going to be OK in this country, but very frankly it doesn’t mean a thing unless you’re willing to fight for it. You, by your very presence here, make clear to me and to the country that we are willing to fight, for a safer America, for a more secure America, for a better life for our children, most importantly, for a stronger government for all people,” he said.