Remarks by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Service Members at US
We Are in a World Where
We're Facing Rising Powers
Remarks by Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta to Service Members at US Strategic Command, August 05, 2011.
Source : DoD.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta:
(Applause.) Thank you very much.
Senator Ben Nelson, someone I've had the good fortune to work
with -- actually when he started as governor -- and I think I was chief of staff
at the time -- is when we first met. And I've worked with him ever since in
Senator Johanns, nice to have you here as well. And I know
that he too provides a tremendous amount of support for the military mission
here as well.
And Senator Terry, this is your home -- or Congressman Terry,
this is your home territory.
And when I was a member of Congress, I represented several
military facilities in Monterey, California, had the Navy Postgraduate School,
the Defense Language Institute and at that time I had Fort Ord Military
Reservation, which went through a BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] process
and is now -- we converted it to a university, California State University
system, in Monterey Bay.
So I'm very familiar with the responsibilities of a member of
Congress trying to serve a military community that -- it's a tremendous benefit
to the community, but more importantly, it's an honor to be able to serve
individuals who represent the national defense of this country.
So thank you for all the support all of you in the delegation
provide for this mission. We really appreciate it and look forward to your
This is a -- it's a real treat to be able to come here to
Offutt Air Force Base and right here in the middle of Omaha. I've had a chance
to come to Nebraska a number of times. When I was a member of Congress, I was
also -- besides being on the budget committee was also a member of the
agriculture committee. So I had a chance to come out and do hearings with some
of my fellow members from Nebraska who represented the agriculture community
And as some of you may know, my father and -- who was in the
restaurant business, then bought a farm in Carmel Valley. So I spent an awful
lot of time on that farm, worked very hard because my parents believed that
child labor was a requirement. (Laughter)
And he -- we planted a walnut orchard -- this is -- it's a
great story -- I -- planted a walnut orchard, and walnuts got -- you know, as
they grew, my father used to go around with a pole and hook to shake the
branches. These days when you've got walnut trees, they now put a band around
the tree and shake the whole tree. But in those days he'd go around with a pole
and hook and shake each of the branches, and my brother and I used to be
underneath picking the walnuts.
When I got elected to Congress, my Italian father said: You
know, you've been well trained to go to Washington, because you've been dodging
nuts all your life. (Laughs)
Secretary Panetta: Still the
Anyway, I've really enjoyed the opportunity to serve now as
secretary of defense and have a chance to go around and visit some of the key
bases throughout the country. And there's no question that STRATCOM here is
extremely important to our national defense. And I want to thank the command,
who gave me some very important briefings. As I told them, the briefings were
tremendously reassuring and at the same time they scare the hell out of you,
because you recognize the threats that are out there and the responsibilities
that we all have to make sure that we confront those threats.
So my thanks to the command and my thanks to all of you for
being wonderful hosts for me and having a chance to visit out here.
As I always do, let me first and foremost thank all of you
for your public service. Our democracy cannot survive unless there are people
who commit themselves to public service. It is the nature of our country that in
order for us to have the strongest country in the world, we've got give back to
this community. We've got to give back to this country. That's why we are strong,
is because the American people are willing to do that.
My parents -- I mentioned my parents were both immigrants to
this country and, like millions of other immigrants, came here with little money
in their pocket, few skills. But they came because of the opportunities that
this country offered. I used to often ask my father: Why would you travel all of
those miles to come to a strange country? And even though they came from a poor
area of Italy, they had family there. Why would you pick up and suddenly leave,
to come thousands of miles to another country? And my father said that the
reason was because my mother and I believed that they could give their children
a better life.
And that is the American dream. That's what I want for my
three sons -- my wife and I want for our three sons, and hopefully that's what
they want for their children. It's what all of us want, is to be able to give
our children a better life. And the key to doing that is service. The key to
doing that is making sure that we provide the security and we provide the kind
of country that can provide that better life for our children. My parents used
to always say it is important to give something back to this country, because of
what this country gave to them. And I think that's the key to public service:
the inspiration to be able to serve this country so that we know that America
will remain strong.
For me, the inspiration came not just from my parents. It
came from serving two years in the Army and understanding what it meant to work
together towards a common mission. And then thirdly, it came from a young
president who said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can
do for your country." All of that inspired me to get involved in public service.
And so my wife and I both -- we have an institute now in
California that tries to inspire young people to get involved in public service,
because we think that's so important to the future of this country. And the
greatest joy I have is to meet people like all of you. When I went over and met
with the troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq and looked into their eyes, as I'm
looking into yours, and realized that these are young people who are willing to
put their lives on the line for their country, it is for me a very moving
moment, because it tells me that there are those who really do want to make this
country strong and want to give back to this country.
So first and foremost, let me thank you for your service, for
your dedication, for your willingness to put your lives on the line for your
fellow citizens. This is a challenging time for the defense of this country.
It's a challenging time for the United States. But with regards to our missions,
they really do relate to making sure that we secure this country for our
children. We've got a number of challenges and threats that are out there that
we are responsible for confronting.
First and foremost is the continuing terrorist threat that's
out there. We have confronted terrorists since 9/11, and even before that. But
since 9/11, we've been going after al-Qaida. And we have made progress in
weakening al-Qaida. We've conducted operations against them in Pakistan. We've
confronted them in Afghanistan, as well as other parts of the world. But in
particular, we have seriously weakened the ability of al-Qaida to plan attacks
on this country.
And obviously, the most significant achievement was to get
bin Laden. That was, for me, probably one of the proudest moments I've had, with
the ability to get the intelligence on where we thought he might be located, but
then to work with the military to develop the plans to actually go after him.
This was really a tremendous example of the intelligence
community and the military community working as a team to accomplish a very
important mission: to try to rid the world of this criminal. And we were
successful at that.
And I think that helped, in fact, continue the effort to
weaken al-Qaida. Doesn't mean that they're gone. They're still around, and there
are elements of al-Qaida that are still out there -- whose main purpose is to
attack our homeland. You guys, we have to keep reminding people, the main
purpose of al-Qaida is to attack our homeland.
And so we have to continue to put pressure on them, wherever
they're at. We've got to continue to put pressure on them in Pakistan. We have
to continue to confront them elsewhere. The biggest concerns we have now are the
nodes where they're located in places like Yemen, Somalia, north Africa. We've
got to continue to put pressure on them, and we will do that. We will do that
because our goal is to make sure that someday we can secure the world from the
threat of that type of al-Qaida terror.
Secondly, we've got two wars that we're confronting. We are a
nation at war. One of the most -- one of the most brutal things that I have to
do as secretary -- and I had to do a little bit of this as director of the CIA
-- but the toughest thing I have to do in this job is to write condolence
letters to families of those that have been killed in action. We are a country
at war, and we have men and women out there on the front lines that put their
lives on the line every day in order to try to protect this country.
So we've got to do everything possible to make sure that as
we draw down in Iraq, as we begin the drawdown in Afghanistan, that we do it in
a way that maintains the stability of those countries so that in Afghanistan,
they -- Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for al-Qaida so that they
can conduct attacks on this country. And in Iraq, the goal is to achieve
stability there, so that we have a country in a very important region of the
world that will reflect, hopefully, the democratic values that are so important
to all of us and that many in that part of the world are now seeking.
So my goal is to make sure that we do this in a responsible
way and we do it in a way that makes sure that the sacrifices of those who gave
their lives in that part of the world are not in vain.
We will be true to them in what we are able to achieve there.
But it means we have to continue that effort, and do it right.
We're confronting the problem of rogue nations today --
nations like north Korea, Iran, who continue to seek a nuclear capability. And
because they are rogue nations, they remain dangerous in terms of the threat to
the rest of the world. So we have to continue to focus on that threat as well.
We have to continue to focus on the threat of cyber-attacks.
We're now in a very different world, where we could face a cyber-attack that
could be the equivalent of Pearl Harbor. I mean, cyber these days -- someone
using cyber can take down our power grid system, take down our financial systems
in this country, take down our government systems, taken down our banking
systems. They could virtually paralyze this country. We have to be prepared to
deal with that. We have to have both a good offense and a good defense with
regards to the cyber-world. A lot of what you do here is aimed at our trying to
improve our abilities to confront that kind of cyber-attack.
And we are in a world where we're
facing rising powers. And we have to be in a position where we can
project our power into this kind of world, to make sure that we always check
those countries and always make sure that they understand that we are the
strongest and the best military in the world.
All of those things are challenges that we have to confront.
And my challenge in confronting those threats is that I've got to make sure that
if we are to be effective at confronting the threats I just described, I can
never break faith with the troops and the families that have to carry out these
So one of the most important things for me is to make sure
that you are always supported -- your families are supported, you are supported
-- and that we ensure that you know we're always watching your back as you go
out there and put your lives on the line. That's very important to me, because
frankly, we can't defend this country unless we have good people that are
willing to take on that job. And for that to happen, you have to know that we
are behind you 100 percent.
So I want you to know that as you go out and fight the wars
you have to fight, that I will have to fight the wars that I have to fight in
Washington to make sure that we protect your back. And you have my guarantee
that I will do that.
All of this now occurs, obviously, as we confront the budget
challenge that obviously Washington needs to -- needs to deal with. This is
going to be a difficult time and it's going to require some very difficult
choices. And I have always said that obviously with the size deficits this
country's running, that the Defense Department will do its share.
And the number that was just passed by the Congress is a
number that, frankly, we've been working with. We figured, and we've anticipated
-- I've been in the budget business most of my life. One of the goals I said
when I went there is that we've got to -- we've got to get ahead of this, not
behind it. And so we were working towards pretty much the same ballpark number
that Congress ultimately enacted. And I think we can do it. I think we can do it
responsibly. I think we can do it in a way that will ensure that we'll have a
strong defense for the future.
But concern that I registered yesterday, and I'll just share
with you, is that if, in fact, they were to go after defense more with this kind
of trigger that they've built in, that would double the number of cuts that face
the Defense Department, it would seriously weaken the national defense of this
country. And the last thing we need to do is to hollow out our force. The last
thing we need to do is to weaken the United States of America at a very
important time in our history.
Listen, people are questioning the political leadership.
People are questioning the economic situation. The last thing people should
question is the ability of the United States to defend itself. And that's why we
have to maintain a strong defense for this country.
And I think we can do that. But like everything else, it's
going to require that we continue the fight. As I said, you've got to be out
there fighting for what you have to do, and I've got to be in Washington
fighting for what we have to do.
Let me -- let me just conclude with something that's a story
I often tell because I think it makes the right point, of the rabbi and the
priest who decided they would go out together to events because if they did that,
they could talk to each other and learn about each other's religion.
So one night they went to a boxing match together. And just
before the bell rang, one of the boxers made the sign of the cross. And the
rabbi nudged the priest and said: What does that mean? The priest said: It
doesn't mean a damn thing if he can't fight. (Laughter)
Now, my friends, we bless ourselves with the hope that
everything's going to be OK in this country. Frankly, it doesn't mean a damn
thing unless we're willing to fight for it.
I want to thank you, because your presence here tells me that
you are willing to fight for that American dream that my parents came here for,
for a better life for our children, and most importantly, for a government of,
by and for all people.
Thanks very much for having me, and I look forward to meeting
each of you as you come up and get a coin. Thank you.
 See “Importance
of Interaction Between the Military and the Intelligence Community is Critical”