GROTON, Conn., Nov. 17, 2011 — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta visited U.S. Navy sailors and industrial base workers today while getting a firsthand look at construction of the Virginia-class attack submarine, the USS Mississippi.
“I can’t tell you what an honor it is for me to have a chance to come up here to Groton and recognize the fact that this is the submarine capital of the world,” the secretary said.
Speaking to a group of workers from General Dynamics Electric Boat, sailors and a state delegation, the secretary praised the local industrial base’s shipbuilding expertise.
“It’s the home of our submarine force, it’s the original home of the Nautilus and it is, from my point of view, one of the very important elements of our national defense that you guys are doing,” Panetta said.
“The work that you’re doing is absolutely essential to our ability to keep our country safe,” he noted.
Panetta thanked the group for their contribution. “I thank you for your service, for your work, for your dedication, for your commitment,” he said. “This kind of work simply could not happen without your skills and your dedication.”
Representing the local defense industrial base, one of its leaders lauded Panetta’s commitment during times of fiscal austerity.
“As the nation’s defense budget comes under increasing scrutiny, we’re fortunate to have such a capable and experienced secretary of defense,” said John P. Casey, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat.
“Secretary Panetta has toured [USS] Mississippi behind me with members of our EB team and the ship’s crew,” Casey said. “We’re working together to deliver this ship about one year ahead of schedule and about $50 million dollars under its target cost.”
Panetta cited the state delegation’s efforts to ensure the future of the defense industrial base in Groton.
“The reality is that your delegation has put up a good fight,” he said. “You’re talking to somebody that went through the [Base Realignment and Closure] process.”
The secretary noted the challenges of BRAC on local communities and economy. He recalled serving as a congressman in California when Fort Ord, Calif., closed due to BRAC. The installation represented about 25 percent of his district’s economy.
“I went through the hell of having to figure out what do I do to try to protect the economy of my local community,” Panetta said. “Fortunately, we were able to do it. We located a campus there and it’s doing fine. But I wouldn’t wish going through BRAC on anybody.”
Panetta commended the delegation for fighting to preserve “something that is very important to our national defense.”
“Especially looking at it from my point of view as secretary of defense, this is absolutely essential,” he said. “So I want to thank the delegation for their support and for their willingness to go to bat when it’s important to try to protect a facility like this,” he added.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)