Panetta Outlines ‘State of DOD’ to Troops in Germany

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE and LANDSTUHL, Ger­many, Feb. 3, 2012 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta paused today between a NATO defense min­is­te­r­i­al and the annu­al Munich secu­ri­ty con­fer­ence to vis­it what he called the U.S. military’s “unsung heroes” here.

Panet­ta spoke at Ram­stein with some 65 air­men assigned to the Con­tin­gency Aeromed­ical Stag­ing Facil­i­ty, 10th and 86th Aeromed­ical Evac­u­a­tion squadrons, 721st Aer­i­al Port Squadron and 786th Force Sup­port Squadron.

The sec­re­tary offered his thanks on behalf of the Defense Depart­ment and the Amer­i­can peo­ple to the ground trans­porters, med­ical evac­u­a­tion crews, mor­tu­ary affairs spe­cial­ists and USO vol­un­teers gath­ered to see him.

“You lit­er­al­ly save lives,” Panet­ta told the troops. “In addi­tion, you help — for many of those that don’t make it — to give them the dig­ni­ty and the respect that they need as we return their bod­ies back to their fam­i­lies. And I appre­ci­ate that, as well.”

As he spoke, Panet­ta stood beside a large wall-mount­ed poster show­ing the sil­hou­ette of ser­vice mem­bers car­ry­ing anoth­er over his or her shoul­der. The poster read, “Wound­ed War­rior Project,” and “The great­est casu­al­ty is being for­got­ten.”

Ram­stein Air Base, rough­ly 10 miles from Land­stuhl Region­al Med­ical Cen­ter, is home to troops who man­age much of the work in get­ting patients from mede­vac flights to the hos­pi­tal for treat­ment, and from the hos­pi­tal to onward move­ment after treat­ment, accord­ing to base spokesman Juan Melen­dez.

Panet­ta said while U.S. forces have reached a turn­ing point after 10 years of war, Ram­stein and LRMC still per­form crit­i­cal mis­sions.

“There’s going to con­tin­ue to be some heavy fight­ing … and we will con­tin­ue to depend on you to do what you do best, which is to take these lives and give them a new life,” the sec­re­tary said.

In both loca­tions, the sec­re­tary out­lined the defense strat­e­gy and bud­get deci­sions announced in Jan­u­ary, repeat­ing here in Ger­many words often heard in the Pen­ta­gon about tomorrow’s mil­i­tary: a small­er, agile, high­ly tech­ni­cal force , rebal­anced to the Pacif­ic while main­tain­ing a focus on the Mid­dle East. This force, while main­tain­ing and devel­op­ing part­ner­ships around the world, will be able to defeat any adver­sary any­where, as the depart­ment invests in cyber, space and mobile capa­bil­i­ties.

Panet­ta assured the troops all ser­vice chiefs and sec­re­taries had helped devel­op the spend­ing pri­or­i­ties as part of the new strat­e­gy.

“In the end, we are uni­fied,” the sec­re­tary said. “We feel very good about the strat­e­gy we are putting in place.”

Panet­ta reaf­firmed he will not cut mil­i­tary pay or raise health costs, and will not change retire­ment ben­e­fits for peo­ple now in uni­form.

A retire­ment com­mis­sion will study pos­si­ble alter­na­tives to the cur­rent sys­tem, he said, “but changes will not affect those now serv­ing.”

Dur­ing a ques­tion-and-answer ses­sion with the Ram­stein troops, the sec­re­tary respond­ed to queries about bas­ing in Europe, the like­li­hood of U.S. mil­i­tary action against Iran, his career in pub­lic ser­vice — – and, based on his intel­li­gence con­tacts, which team will win the Super Bowl.

U.S. troop strength in Europe will remain the world’s largest out­side the Unit­ed States — some 37,000 ser­vice mem­bers — even after two brigade com­bat teams leave, he said.

“Plus, we’re going to devel­op a new brigade in the Unit­ed States where we’re going to have bat­tal­ions rotate to Europe to do … train­ing, do exer­cis­es twice a year,” he added.

The U.S. approach to Iran has not changed, Panet­ta said.

“We’ve made clear our con­cerns with regard to Iran,” he said. “This is some­thing that wor­ries us … we’ve made very clear that they can­not, they can­not, devel­op a nuclear weapon.”

The world com­mu­ni­ty agrees on that posi­tion, Panet­ta said, and has joint­ly applied “very tough” diplo­mat­ic and eco­nom­ic sanc­tions on Iran.

“We’ve iso­lat­ed Iran from the rest of the world … [and] we have to con­tin­ue that kind of pres­sure,” he said. “The most impor­tant thing is to keep the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty uni­fied in keep­ing that pres­sure on.”

Panet­ta said he believes inter­na­tion­al sanc­tions even­tu­al­ly will con­vince Iran to bring its nuclear pro­gram into com­pli­ance with “the rules we all oper­ate by.” How­ev­er, if Iran con­tin­ues on its cur­rent course, he added, “all options are on the table.”

The sec­re­tary said he’s been for­tu­nate to spend his career in pub­lic ser­vice, first as an Army intel­li­gence offi­cer, then in Con­gress, as well as in cab­i­net posi­tions and in agen­cies fur­ther­ing edu­ca­tion, civ­il rights and nation­al secu­ri­ty.

“I can’t hold a job,” he joked. Turn­ing seri­ous, he said he views ser­vice mem­bers’ work much as he does his own: “There is no more impor­tant role than what we do to pro­tect the safe­ty of our coun­try … and we’re able to give our chil­dren a bet­ter life.”

One air­man thanked the sec­re­tary for “fight­ing for our ben­e­fits,” then asked for any inside intel­li­gence Panet­ta might have on the Super Bowl.

Panet­ta rue­ful­ly acknowl­edged his dis­ap­point­ment when the New York Giants beat his favorite team, the San Fran­cis­co 49ers in the play­offs. Still, he said, “I’m going to sit back and watch it, and I think it will be a good game.”

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