Panetta Lauds Japanese‑U.S. Relief Effort

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)