Trip Talk: Panetta Provides Insights on Recent Travels

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2011 — To all Depart­ment of Defense employ­ees:
A week after I began my tenure as Sec­re­tary of Defense on July 1st, I trav­elled to vis­it our men and women serv­ing in uni­form in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hav­ing just returned to Wash­ing­ton, I want­ed to share with you some per­son­al reflec­tions about this TDY, as I plan to do fol­low­ing future trips over­seas.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks to troops at Camp Victory, Iraq
Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta speaks to troops at Camp Vic­to­ry, Iraq, July 11, 2011.
DOD pho­to by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bai­ley
Click to enlarge

The main pur­pose of this first vis­it was to meet with the men and women who are putting their lives on the line to defend Amer­i­ca. In small troop lunch­es, oper­a­tional brief­in­gs and larg­er group ses­sions, I had sev­er­al oppor­tu­ni­ties to thank them for their ser­vice and hear from them direct­ly. I could only touch a small frac­tion of the force on this vis­it, but I want every­one serv­ing in uni­form, along with this Department’s civil­ian employ­ees, to know how much I respect what you do for our coun­try and the very real dif­fer­ence you are mak­ing to this nation.

My first des­ti­na­tion was Kab­ul, the cap­i­tal of Afghanistan. There, we met with the out­stand­ing Com­man­der of ISAF, Gen­er­al David Petraeus (who has been con­firmed by the Sen­ate to suc­ceed me as Direc­tor of the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency) and his extreme­ly capa­ble suc­ces­sor, Lieu­tenant Gen­er­al John Allen.

After a brief stop at Camp Eggers, our del­e­ga­tion head­ed to the pres­i­den­tial palace to meet with Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai. Over din­ner, we dis­cussed our shared com­mit­ment to tran­si­tion and the sub­stan­tial progress being made in build­ing up the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces, which is absolute­ly key in order for this upcom­ing tran­si­tion to pro­ceed. I was very tak­en by Pres­i­dent Karzai’s clear admi­ra­tion for the U.S. mil­i­tary.

We talked about how the Unit­ed States – going back to the days of George Wash­ing­ton – had main­tained a mil­i­tary that was pro­fes­sion­al and apo­lit­i­cal. This is one of the major goals of the ANSF, and yet anoth­er exam­ple of how America’s mil­i­tary serves as a mod­el to the world.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, we took a short hop on a C-17 to Camp Dwyer in Hel­mand province. Hel­mand is a for­mer Tal­iban strong­hold that today is much more secure thanks to the hero­ic efforts of the Marines, who make up the bulk of our fight­ing forces there.

At Dwyer, where the tem­per­a­ture was in the triple dig­its and the dust was thick, I had lunch with a group of Marine junior offi­cers, vis­it­ed an Army MEDEVAC unit and com­bat hos­pi­tal, and observed part­ner­ing work being done with the Afghan Army, includ­ing IED clear­ance train­ing. I then had a chance to speak to troops from USMC Com­bat Logis­tics Bat­tal­ion 7, who con­duct route clear­ance oper­a­tions and move sup­plies out to for­ward oper­at­ing bases through­out the area.

It was real­ly extra­or­di­nary to meet these young men and women who are mak­ing such sac­ri­fices to pro­tect Amer­i­ca. To look into their eyes is to look into the heart and soul of our coun­try.

After a full day at Camp Dwyer, we board­ed our C-17 and head­ed to Bagh­dad, where we were met by Gen­er­al Lloyd Austin, the com­man­der of U.S. Forces-Iraq and an extra­or­di­nary mil­i­tary leader. I first vis­it­ed Iraq in 2006 as a mem­ber of the Iraq Study Group, when the coun­try was in con­sid­er­able tur­moil.

Thanks to the tremen­dous sac­ri­fices Amer­i­can men and women in uni­form have made, Iraq is on a much bet­ter path today. After spend­ing a night at Camp Vic­to­ry, I had lunch with junior enlist­ed troops at one of the camp’s din­ing facil­i­ties, and then spoke to a group of sol­diers from the 25th Infantry Divi­sion, the 2/1 Advise and Assist Brigade, and the 116th Cav­al­ry Brigade Com­bat Team of the Ida­ho Nation­al Guard, about the impor­tance of our work in Iraq. We are doing every­thing we can to help Iraq become a sta­ble democ­ra­cy that can defend, secure, and gov­ern itself in a respon­si­ble way.

In sup­port of that goal, my vis­it to Iraq con­clud­ed with a series of meet­ings with top Iraqi offi­cials, includ­ing Prime Min­is­ter Mali­ki, Pres­i­dent Tal­a­bani, and Kur­dis­tan Region­al Gov­ern­ment Pres­i­dent Barzani, with whom I met with in Erbil – a 45 minute flight from Bagh­dad. I had pre­vi­ous­ly met with all of these lead­ers before in my capac­i­ty as CIA Direc­tor, but this was a chance for us to devel­op a deep­er rela­tion­ship in my new capac­i­ty and to talk about a range of issues crit­i­cal to the secu­ri­ty part­ner­ship we have estab­lished. At the top of that list: the need to take action against Iran­ian-backed mil­i­tant groups that are attack­ing our forces and the Iraqi peo­ple, and our future secu­ri­ty rela­tion­ship.

I encour­aged the Iraqi lead­ers to con­tin­ue to do every­thing they are autho­rized to do to stop these attacks – and I reit­er­at­ed that I will not hes­i­tate to use all author­i­ties at my dis­pos­al to do the same.

From Erbil, I board­ed an Air Force E-4B – the Nation­al Air­borne Oper­a­tions Cen­ter also known as the “Dooms­day Plane” – for the 12-hour flight back to Wash­ing­ton. We took time on the flight to acknowl­edge and cel­e­brate some birth­days and a new grand­child in the Pen­ta­gon press fam­i­ly. This was my first trip as Sec­re­tary, and see­ing and meet­ing with our troops inspires me to do every­thing I can to make sure we pre­vail in these con­flicts and pro­vide our ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies what they need to accom­plish their mis­sion.

Thank you for read­ing. May God bless you and the nation we serve.

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

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