Panetta: Services Must Work Jointly on Budget ‘Storms’

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2011 — The ser­vices must work togeth­er to face mount­ing bud­get pres­sures and deter­mine the nation’s future mil­i­tary needs, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said today.

Speak­ing with hun­dreds of ser­vice mem­bers at the annu­al meet­ing of the Asso­ci­a­tion of the U.S. Army here, the sec­re­tary entered to a stand­ing ova­tion and in his remarks praised the men and women of the Army and dis­cussed a range of chal­lenges. Over 10 years of war, he said, “we’ve become the best coun­terin­sur­gency force in the world and we’ve also become the most adap­tive, the most expe­di­tionary and the most joint force in our country’s his­to­ry.”

Panet­ta said the ser­vices have to weath­er the present bud­get storms as a team, putting the needs of all before the needs of one.

“We can’t do any­thing less,” he added. “The stakes are too high right now, and if we don’t tack­le these chal­lenges togeth­er, we will not be able to see our way clear to remain­ing the best mil­i­tary in the world.”

Tough deci­sions lie ahead, the sec­re­tary said.

“No one real­ly knows exact­ly what lies ahead in 10 or 20 or 30 years from now,” he added, “but one thing we know for sure: this coun­try, our fel­low cit­i­zens and, indeed, peo­ple around the world are going to con­tin­ue to look to Amer­i­ca for lead­er­ship and to Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pow­er for part­ner­ship and for lead­er­ship in the world.”

The past 10 years have shaped the Army into the finest fight­ing force in the world, Panet­ta said.

Since 9/11, more than 1 mil­lion sol­diers have deployed to com­bat in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. More than 70,000 sol­diers serve in Afghanistan, near­ly 40,000 still serve in Iraq, and thou­sands more serve around the globe.

“This bur­den has not come light­ly,” Panet­ta said. “More than 4,500 sol­diers have giv­en the last full mea­sure of devo­tion since 9/11, and anoth­er 32,000 sol­diers have been wound­ed.”

From Iraq’s city streets to the moun­tains of Afghanistan, the sec­re­tary added, “America’s sol­diers �- active, Guard, Reserve — have been serv­ing and sac­ri­fic­ing, fight­ing and dying in order to pro­tect our free­doms, our lib­er­ties and our val­ues. That is the endur­ing sto­ry of the Amer­i­can sol­dier.”

Today’s Army is unmatched by any in the world, the sec­re­tary said, and yet the mil­i­tary ser­vices, and the Army in par­tic­u­lar, have reached an impor­tant inflec­tion point.

The Unit­ed States is bring­ing the war in Iraq to a respon­si­ble end, Panet­ta said, “and that coun­try now has a chance to emerge as a sov­er­eign, sta­ble, self-reliant nation and a pos­i­tive force for sta­bil­i­ty in a vital region of the world.”

Afghanistan still is a tough fight, he added, but con­di­tions are being set for a respon­si­ble tran­si­tion to Afghan secu­ri­ty by the end of 2014.

“As we draw down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army will gain final­ly some much-need­ed strate­gic breath­ing space ‑� already, com­bat deploy­ments are being short­ened from 12 months to nine months,” the sec­re­tary said.

“We must use this time well and wise­ly,” he added, “because as wel­come as it is, it comes as we face an extra­or­di­nary fis­cal pres­sure on the mil­i­tary, on the Defense [Depart­ment] and, for that mat­ter, on the coun­try. This depart­ment faces the imper­a­tive of cut­ting more than $450 bil­lion over the next 10 years.”

The depart­ment is will­ing to do its part, he said, but “there are some who con­tin­ue pro­pose even deep­er cuts in defense, argu­ing that the dra­con­ian cuts that are part of this crazy dooms­day mech­a­nism called sequester — a $1 tril­lion cut if it takes effect — some­how won’t impact on our nation­al secu­ri­ty.”

Seques­tra­tion would force across-the-board, “sala­mi-slic­ing” cuts of the worst kind, he said.

“It would hol­low out the force,” he added. “It would leave our mil­i­tary defi­cient in peo­ple, in train­ing and [in] equip­ment, and unable to adapt when the next secu­ri­ty chal­lenge comes along.”

The same mis­take was made after World War I, after World War II, after Korea, after Viet­nam and after the col­lapse of the Sovi­et Union, he said.

“We must nev­er make that mis­take again,” Panet­ta added. “And it will not hap­pen under my watch.”

The inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment is grow­ing in com­plex­i­ty and uncer­tain­ty, he said, and the nation and the world must con­tin­ue to deal with ter­ror­ism and the threat of vio­lent extrem­ism.

“My job is to make sure we’re ready for that role,” the sec­re­tary said, “across a com­plex group of mis­sions, to ensure that our armed forces remain the very best in the world and that our Army remains the finest strate­gic land force in the world.”

The nation’s future mil­i­tary will be small­er, but must be able to address such future chal­lenges, which like­ly will come from “state and non­state actors arm­ing with high-tech weapon­ry that is eas­i­er both to buy and to oper­ate — weapons that frus­trate our tra­di­tion­al advan­tage and free­dom of move­ment,” Panet­ta said.

“Com­ing up with new ideas, with new oper­at­ing prin­ci­ples to defeat these kind of ene­mies,” the sec­re­tary said, “is a chal­lenge that I pose to this bat­tle-hard­ened gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can sol­diers.”

Today’s men and women in uni­form are as cre­ative and men­tal­ly agile on the bat­tle­field as are their con­tem­po­raries in high-tech idea labs in Sil­i­con Val­ley, Panet­ta said.

“The excel­lence of our great­est asset, our sol­diers,” the sec­re­tary added, “gives me con­fi­dence that we can craft an Army orga­nized, trained and equipped to pre­vail in the future.”

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