Service Members Urge Panetta to Follow Through on Mission

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)

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