WASHINGTON, July 22, 2011 — Leon E. Panetta took the oath of office as the nation’s 23rd secretary of defense in a Pentagon ceremony today.
Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath in a formal ceremony three weeks after Panetta officially took office in a private July 1 ceremony.
“I want to first begin by thanking the president for placing his trust and his confidence in me,” Panetta said. “I am truly humbled by the responsibility and the opportunity that has been given to me at this great moment in time.”
Panetta vowed to continue working with Congress to strengthen the Defense Department’s mission.
“I’d like to express my deep gratitude to the members of Congress that are here today,” he said. “I pledge to all of you that I will continue to work closely with members of both of those great chambers on [Capitol] Hill and that I will continue to work with both political parties.
“I can’t do this job without you,” Panetta continued. “It’s that simple. I really believe that Congress has to be a full partner in the department’s mission of protecting America.”
Panetta thanked the military’s leadership for its support, especially Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the services’ uniformed and civilian leaders.
“Chairman Mike Mullen, who has become a dear friend, I thank you for your leadership, and I thank you for your continuing guidance as I take on this challenge,” Panetta said. “And I also want to express my deepest thanks to the outstanding service chiefs and service secretaries for their guidance, for their counsel, and for their support.”
In particular, the secretary said, he appreciates the leaders’ insights into the needs of the men and women who serve on the front lines, and their families.
The defense secretary also expressed his gratitude for his own family’s constant support during his career.
“My family has been tolerant beyond all measure during 40 years of public service,” Panetta said. “And above all, I want to thank Sylvia, who is here today. My three sons [and] my six grandchildren have been a great source of pride for Sylvia and me. And I am so grateful for their continuing love and support.
“That’s the story of my family,” he added. “And the story of my family tells you a lot about what America means to me and to all of us.”
Panetta expressed his confidence in the U.S. military.
“I believe there is no better guarantor of our security, and ultimately, our freedom, than the strength of America’s armed forces,” he said. “This is a time of historic challenge — for this department, and for our country. And change will only accelerate the challenges we face.”
Panetta spoke of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon, which occurred just a few hundred yards from today’s ceremony.
“That day, the nation suddenly understood that we had to confront a new and uncertain period of conflict,” he said. “Unlike the Cold War, we now face a multitude of security challenges [and] dangers that are spread across the globe.
“These threats are daunting, to be sure,” he continued. “But these past few years have also shown the world that America, with our strong intelligence and military capabilities, is up to that challenge. We will not back down when our homeland is threatened. We will do whatever it takes to defend this country.”
Panetta saved his strongest words of resolve for enemies of the United States and its interests.
“No one attacks the United States of America and gets away with it,” he said. “We have been relentless in the efforts to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and al-Qaida’s extremist affiliates. … I believe that we are within reach of achieving a strategic defeat of al-Qaida. But to do that we have to continue to put pressure on them where ever they are. And if we continue that commitment, then ultimately, we will succeed.”
Panetta reaffirmed his commitment to taking care of service members and their families, calling it his most important responsibility.
“Like my good friend and predecessor, Bob Gates, I will be a tireless advocate for [service members] and their families,” he said. “We owe it to them to make sure that they have what they need to accomplish their mission, but to also support their families back home.”
Mindful of the challenges ahead, Panetta thanked the military for its service to the nation.
“Thank you for your support,” he said. “May God bless the men and women who are out there serving us, but most importantly, may God bless the United States of America.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)