WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2011 — “Don’t give up on the mission” is the message he gets from service members when he meets them, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
Speaking with military reporters during a roundtable discussion in his Pentagon office this morning, Panetta evoked meetings he has had with service members in Iraq and Afghanistan and at various bases in the United States since taking office July 1.
He has visited with wounded warriors in the Washington area hospitals, he said, and he is impressed with their resilience. “[When I look] at the sacrifices they have made and I see their resilience – I mean, they fought for this country and now they have to sort of fight for themselves,” he said. “It’s that kind of energy and attitude that is inspiring.”
The main message he gets from service members and their families, though, is “don’t give up on the mission,” the secretary said.
“In other words: ‘[Given] the sacrifices we’ve gone through, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan or any place else, just make sure we continue the mission and get the job done,’ ” Panetta said.
“What they want to know,” he added, “is that whatever they’ve been through and what sacrifices they’ve made, in the end it has been worthwhile in terms of defending their country.” Panetta has been in office almost two months, and he comes in during challenging times.
“I’ve got to deal with two wars, a NATO mission in Libya and the war on terror,” he said. “As effective as our efforts have been to try to weaken al-Qaida, the fact is they remain a threat to this country, and we have to continue to put pressure on them.”
Taking on al-Qaida and similar groups means continuing pressure not only in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, but also in places where nodes of terrorism have sprouted, such as in Yemen and Somalia, Panetta said, while also paying attention to Iran and North Korea – rogue nations that are trying to attain a nuclear capability.
The secretary also is stressing a whole new battlefield in the cyber realm. Hackers – or possibly countries – attack DOD networks hundreds or thousands of times a day, he noted. “Cyber is the battlefield of the future, and we don’t pay enough attention to that threat,” he said.
Rising powers in the world – such as China, India and Brazil — and continuing relations with Russia also require attention, Panetta said. “We have to do everything possible to ensure they represent a force for stability in the world, and not instability,” he explained.
And all this happens as the United States is facing serious budget concerns.
“Based on my own budget experience, I don’t think you have to choose between national defense and fiscal responsibility,” the secretary said. “Within the resources Congress has provided, I think we can meet those responsibilities.”
Panetta said DOD must protect its core national security interests, maintain the best military in the world, and not break faith with service members and their families.
“America has a special place in the world [through] our military power [and] our diplomatic capabilities, but more importantly, our values and our freedoms,” he said. My job is to make sure that we maintain that special place for America in the world. The only way I can do that is to maintain the core strength that is really behind our military power, which is the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect this country.
“In the end,” he continued, “there are a lot of pretty technological weapons from bombers to fighter planes to submarines, … but none of that is worth much without men and women who are willing to defend this country.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)