Panetta Urges Continuing Afghan Mission to Emphasize Resolve

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2011 — The Unit­ed States must not break faith with those who have paid the ulti­mate price, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said dur­ing the change of com­mand for U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand in Tam­pa, Fla., today.

The Unit­ed States must con­tin­ue until achiev­ing final vic­to­ry over ter­ror, Panet­ta said as he presided over the trans­fer of com­mand at Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand from Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson to Navy Adm. William H. McRaven.

The thoughts and prayers of the entire nation are with the fam­i­lies and loved ones of those we lost in Afghanistan over the week­end,” the sec­re­tary said. Thir­ty Amer­i­cans — includ­ing 25 spe­cial oper­a­tions per­son­nel — were killed Aug. 6 after the Chi­nook heli­copter they were aboard was shot down in Afghanistan.

They were far from home, but we know that they were also where they want­ed to be, doing what they want­ed to do, along­side men who were per­haps clos­er to them than their own broth­ers,” the sec­re­tary said. “We owe them our deep­est grat­i­tude for their will­ing­ness to put their lives on the line and their will­ing­ness to make the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice for our nation.”

Amer­i­ca must pledge not to for­get their sac­ri­fices, Panet­ta said.

We will hon­or the fall­en by show­ing the world our unyield­ing deter­mi­na­tion to press ahead, to move for­ward with the hard work that must be done to pro­tect our coun­try,” he said. “As heavy a loss as this was, it would even be more trag­ic if we allowed it to derail us from our efforts to defeat al-Qai­da and deny them a safe haven in Afghanistan.”

Con­tin­u­ing oper­a­tions against the Tal­iban and its al-Qai­da allies will send a strong mes­sage of Amer­i­can resolve, the sec­re­tary said.

From this tragedy we draw even greater inspi­ra­tion to car­ry on the fight, to con­tin­ue to hunt down those who would do us harm,” Panet­ta said. “We will nev­er stop. We will fight on until we have achieved the final goal of vic­to­ry over ter­ror­ism.”

The tragedy is a reminder to the Amer­i­can peo­ple that the coun­try is at war, Panet­ta said.

In almost 40 years of ser­vice, Olson has been an out­stand­ing spe­cial oper­a­tor and the per­fect per­son to serve as a wartime com­man­der, the sec­re­tary said. Olson is the first Navy SEAL to wear four stars, the sec­re­tary not­ed, and proved through the years his stead­fast lead­er­ship.

One of the most impres­sive chap­ters of Eric’s sto­ry, at least from the sec­tion that can be spo­ken about in an unclas­si­fied set­ting, unfold­ed dur­ing the 1993 ‘Black Hawk Down’ bat­tles in Mogadishu,” Panet­ta said. Olson, then a Navy com­man­der, led the ground con­voy to res­cue his com­rades fight­ing for their lives against hun­dreds of ene­my fight­ers who had them sur­round­ed.

That mis­sion showed Eric’s extra­or­di­nary courage, his war­rior spir­it, his inspired lead­er­ship and the over­whelm­ing care and con­cern he has for his com­rades in arms — all traits that he has demon­strat­ed again and again through­out his sto­ried career,” Panet­ta said.

The admi­ral always put peo­ple first, the sec­re­tary said. “As he says, humans are more impor­tant than hard­ware, and qual­i­ty is more impor­tant than quan­ti­ty,” he added. “And that’s exact­ly where his focus has been here at Socom — find­ing, car­ing for and keep­ing the high­est-qual­i­ty peo­ple. As a result of his hard work, we now have the best trained, the best equipped and the most expe­ri­enced spe­cial oper­a­tions force in the his­to­ry of the Unit­ed States.”

McRaven comes to the post after serv­ing as com­man­der of Joint Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand. Panet­ta said McRaven will con­tin­ue to man­age Socom’s growth in the years ahead.

He’s one of the military’s out­stand­ing strate­gic thinkers and lead­ers, who has always kept faith with those serv­ing down­range,” the sec­re­tary said.

Olson and McRaven and the men and women who serve around the world are defend­ers of the Amer­i­can dream and Amer­i­can rights, Panet­ta said.

May the torch that is being passed today always burn bright­ly for free­dom, for that Amer­i­can dream and most of all for the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca,” the sec­re­tary said.

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