YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan, Oct. 26, 2011 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told U.S. sailors aboard the USS Blue Ridge here today that while America’s military is the world’s best, „in the end, the best service we do is … reach out and help our fellow human beings in need.“
The secretary went aboard the U.S. 7th Fleet’s command ship to attend a briefing on the relief effort dubbed Operation Tomodachi — Japanese for „friend.“ The operation was the U.S. military portion of the Japanese-led humanitarian assistance and disaster relief effort that followed the March earthquake and Tsunami in Japan. The Blue Ridge served as a command-and-control platform for the operation. After the briefing, Panetta spoke to some 200 sailors to thank them for their help in that effort.
„The work that was done here, in that disaster, working with the Japanese Self Defense Forces, … I can’t tell you how important it was to the alliance between the United States and Japan,“ the secretary said.
Midway through a weeklong Asia trip that began in Indonesia and continues today to South Korea, Panetta told sailors his visit underscores the strategic importance America places on the Pacific region.
The theme he is emphasizing to allied and partner nations during the visit is that America will remain a Pacific presence and a force for regional stability, the secretary said. To U.S. troops, he added, his message is that while budgets are getting tighter, he’s got their backs.
„We’re going to continue to protect the best military, we’re going to make sure we never hollow out the force, … [and] we’re going to protect and keep faith with all of you,“ Panetta said.
The nation has made commitments to those now serving and their families, the secretary noted. „And we’re going to stick to those commitments,“ he told the sailors.
A military official who is traveling with the secretary and attended today’s briefing told reporters the „triple disaster“ — earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor crisis — that struck Japan in March was perhaps the most complex in history.
The U.S. military brings to bear a diverse set of capabilities adaptable to disaster relief efforts, the official said: an aircraft carrier’s fighter jets can fly surveillance missions to pinpoint areas in need of help, a transport ship normally used to position Marines for an assault can ferry assistance troops from point to point by water, and equipment soldiers use to prepare landing strips also can clear flooded and silted-up airport runways.
The U.S. military contributed all of these capabilities and more in the wake of Japan’s disaster, the official said.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, also traveling with the secretary, told reporters Panetta was deeply impressed by what he learned about Operation Tomodachi. Little said the secretary was particularly impressed by the quick reaction of the Japanese forces and the rapid deployment of U.S. military capabilities after the earthquake.
„Operation Tomodachi … was a remarkable effort, and it showed the continuing cooperation between the United States and our Japanese allies,“ the press secretary said. „It’s the model. If such a tragedy were to occur again, we believe we could draw some excellent lessons from it.“
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)