Panetta: Language Training Critical to U.S. Interests, Security

PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta today returned to the Defense Lan­guage Insti­tute For­eign Lan­guage Cen­ter he cham­pi­oned as a con­gress­man to praise the next gen­er­a­tion of mil­i­tary lin­guists he called crit­i­cal to the Unit­ed States’ future.

Panet­ta told an assem­bly of about 2,500 sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines stand­ing in for­ma­tion on Sol­dier Field over­look­ing Mon­terey Bay that the lan­guage and cul­tur­al train­ing they are receiv­ing here is crit­i­cal to the nation’s eco­nom­ic, diplo­mat­ic and secu­ri­ty inter­ests. “It is absolute­ly vital to what the Unit­ed States is all about,” he said.

“We live in a glob­al world,” the sec­re­tary said. “We have to under­stand that world if we … are going to be able to not only defend this coun­try, but to extend our rela­tion­ships to oth­ers so that we can work togeth­er to defend the world that we live in.”

“The real­i­ty is that we have to reflect the nation we live in and we have to reflect the world we are a part of,” he con­tin­ued. “Lan­guages are the key to under­stand­ing that world.”

It’s also crit­i­cal, he said, to the effec­tive­ness of cur­rent U.S. mil­i­tary oper­a­tions.

“If we are going to advance sta­bil­i­ty in some of the coun­tries we are fight­ing in today, we have to be able to under­stand what moti­vates those coun­tries, what moti­vates their peo­ple, and to under­stand their cul­ture, beliefs, faiths, ide­olo­gies, hatreds and loves. “So it is cru­cial to our nation­al secu­ri­ty to be able to have a strong lan­guage abil­i­ty,” he said.

Through­out his career – while in Con­gress, as direc­tor of the CIA and now as defense sec­re­tary — Panet­ta has been a staunch advo­cate of for­eign lan­guage train­ing.

While in Con­gress, he served on a com­mis­sion then-Pres­i­dent Jim­my Carter appoint­ed to deter­mine the state of that train­ing in the Unit­ed States. The com­mis­sion iden­ti­fied what Panet­ta called “a nation­al scan­dal,” not­ing that for­eign lan­guage train­ing at the time “was not sup­port­ed, stu­dents weren’t learn­ing the kinds of lan­guages they should be learn­ing, and much more need­ed to be done.”

Rep­re­sent­ing the dis­trict that includes the Defense Lan­guage Insti­tute For­eign Lan­guage Cen­ter while in Con­gress, Panet­ta played a big role in ensur­ing the school got the sup­port and resources it need­ed to pro­mote its train­ing pro­grams.

Despite advances in pro­mot­ing lan­guage and cul­tur­al train­ing through­out the Unit­ed States, Panet­ta acknowl­edged today, “frankly, more needs to be done.”

The sec­re­tary offered high praise to the cen­ter for help­ing set the stan­dard for for­eign lan­guage train­ing, and the fac­ul­ty he called the heart of that train­ing. “This is a remark­able insti­tu­tion,” he told the stu­dents. “I con­sid­er the Defense Lan­guage Insti­tute as a trea­sure in the abil­i­ty to be able to train you, to give you that lan­guage abil­i­ty so you can bet­ter defend this coun­try in what you do.”

Panet­ta offered spe­cial thanks to the stu­dents who will take the train­ing they receive here to sup­port U.S. mis­sions around the world. “Thank you for your ser­vice. Thank you for giv­ing back to this coun­try,” he told them. “Thank you for car­ing enough about this great coun­try of ours to be will­ing to put your lives on the line in order to defend this coun­try and what we rep­re­sent to our­selves and to the world.”

Democ­ra­cy in the Unit­ed States has always depend­ed on the will­ing­ness of its cit­i­zens to “roll up their sleeves and serve this coun­try,” Panet­ta said. “Thank you for being will­ing to do that.”

The son of Ital­ian immi­grants who left behind every­thing to begin a new life in the Unit­ed States, Panet­ta said his father told him his moti­va­tion was to give his chil­dren a bet­ter life. It remains the Amer­i­can dream, he said, moti­vat­ing and inspir­ing Amer­i­cans to do what’s nec­es­sary to ensure their chil­dren have a safer and bet­ter life.

“It’s your dream, it’s your mis­sion, it’s your duty, ” he told the ser­vice mem­bers, “to make sure those we care about, those that we love, are able to enjoy a more secure Amer­i­ca and are able to enjoy the free­doms and lib­er­ties that we pro­vide.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)