Panetta Pledges Security Support for South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 26, 2011 — The Unit­ed States remains stead­fast in its resolve to pro­vide secu­ri­ty sup­port for South Korea, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta told ser­vice mem­bers here today.

Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta states the impor­tance of ser­vice to U.S. and South Kore­an troops dur­ing a town hall meet­ing on U.S. Army Gar­ri­son Yongsan in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 26, 2011.
U.S. Army pho­to by Staff Sgt. Cody Hard­ing
Click to enlarge

The sec­re­tary out­lined his objec­tives for his vis­it and respond­ed to troops’ ques­tions dur­ing a town hall meet­ing at U.S. Army Yongsan Gar­ri­son fea­tur­ing an audi­ence of U.S. and South Kore­an ser­vice mem­bers. The sec­re­tary said the mes­sage he brought to South Korea is sim­ple.

“The Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca is com­mit­ted to the defense of the Repub­lic of Korea,” he said.

Panet­ta said the mes­sage he has brought this week to lead­ers through­out the region — in Indone­sia in meet­ings with defense min­is­ters of the Asso­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Nations, and in Japan — is that the Unit­ed States is a Pacif­ic nation, and will remain a Pacif­ic pow­er and a force for region­al peace and pros­per­i­ty.

“The only way we can do that is, frankly, with men and women like you — will­ing to serve, will­ing to help defend our nation and will­ing to defend [South Korea],” the sec­re­tary said.

A lot of blood was spilled by U.S. and Kore­an forces dur­ing the 1950–1953 Kore­an War that estab­lished today’s alliance, Panet­ta said.

“As a result of that, we have a South Korea that is a nation that has grown strong and inde­pen­dent, and real­ly rep­re­sents the kind of nation that will be an impor­tant ally to the Unit­ed States in the Pacif­ic region,” he said.

Panet­ta told the troops that they and their coun­ter­parts have accom­plished much in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

“Bot­tom line, the suc­cess­es in those areas are because of you,” the sec­re­tary said.

The Unit­ed States will main­tain a strong pres­ence in the Mid­dle East to deter aggres­sion from Iran and oth­er nations who seek to desta­bi­lize that region, Panet­ta said. Suc­cess­es there, he added, cre­ate an oppor­tu­ni­ty to focus on the Pacif­ic region.

“We are a coun­try that wants to pro­mote peace and pros­per­i­ty in the world,” he said.

America’s mil­i­tary pres­ence in South Korea and the larg­er Pacif­ic region allows U.S. forces to work with allies and part­ners, Panet­ta said, to pre­serve peace, allow for free and open con­gress, and afford young peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to suc­ceed.

Panet­ta reit­er­at­ed that he will not break faith with U.S. mil­i­tary mem­bers by cut­ting ben­e­fits promised to them when they signed up. The pres­i­dent and the chiefs of the mil­i­tary ser­vices have made that clear as well, he added.

The audi­ence applaud­ed when the sec­re­tary said any poten­tial changes in mil­i­tary retire­ment ben­e­fits will not apply to those now serv­ing.

Panet­ta acknowl­edged the nation’s bud­get strug­gles require that cuts be made, but declared he believes the right bud­get approach now can result in a bet­ter defense force in the future.

The sec­re­tary respond­ed to audi­ence ques­tions on troop draw­downs, edu­ca­tion ben­e­fits and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of future mil­i­tary retire­ment options for those who serve less than 20 years.

Reduc­tions in force will take place, Panet­ta said, not­ing they would have occurred even with­out a bud­get cri­sis, as com­bat forces leave Iraq and troop num­bers decrease in Afghanistan. Over the next few years, he said, the Defense Depart­ment like­ly will see troop decreas­es of 10,000 to 15,000 a year.

“We’ve got to be con­cerned about that … [and] make sure that those who have served … make that tran­si­tion back into [civil­ian life] in a way that pre­serves their dig­ni­ty,” the sec­re­tary said.

Panet­ta said the pres­i­dent and first lady, as well as offi­cials in the Pen­ta­gon and else­where, are involved in help­ing tran­si­tion­ing vet­er­ans rein­te­grate suc­cess­ful­ly to the civil­ian sec­tor.

The GI Bill, small-busi­ness incen­tives for vet­er­ans and pri­vate-sec­tor agree­ments to hire return­ing ser­vice mem­bers are avenues that can help rein­te­grate today’s troops when they leave the mil­i­tary, he not­ed.

“There’s a lot of effort to reach out to the pri­vate sec­tor, [and] this is a time when we’ve got to ask Amer­i­ca to sup­port those that have sup­port­ed our coun­try,” he said.

Panet­ta said that while he believes no new fees will be attached to GI Bill ben­e­fits, health care and oth­er areas may see some fee increas­es.

Par­tial retire­ment may be an option for those in the future who serve less than 20 years in the mil­i­tary, the sec­re­tary said, but those cur­rent­ly serv­ing will not see a change to the ben­e­fits they signed up for.

Before the town hall, Panet­ta met with Army Gen. James D. Thur­man, U.S. Forces Korea com­man­der. The sec­re­tary also par­tic­i­pat­ed in an hour-long round­table dis­cus­sion with three enlist­ed and three junior offi­cer ser­vice mem­bers and their spous­es, as well as a Defense Depart­ment civil­ian and spouse.

Panetta’s South Korea vis­it will con­tin­ue through Oct. 28. The sec­re­tary has meet­ings sched­uled with South Kore­an Min­is­ter of Defense Kim Kwan-Jin and For­eign Min­is­ter Kim Sung-Hwan.

Panet­ta also will take part in the exec­u­tive ses­sion of the 43rd Secu­ri­ty Con­sul­ta­tive Meet­ing. The meet­ing is an annu­al con­fer­ence of U.S. and South Korea gov­ern­ment defense lead­ers and del­e­ga­tions.

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

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