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Panetta Thanks Troops in Japan for ‘Keeping America Strong’

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan, Sept. 17, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told a crowd of about 350 service members and civilian employees here yesterday that while the nation faces some daunting tasks, America’s military has logged great achievements in the 11 years since 9/11.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks to service members on Yakota Air Base in Japan, Sept. 17, 2012. DOD photo by Erin Kirk-Cuomo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“The challenges that face our country are huge,” he said. “But whatever those challenges are, the great confidence I have in the ability of the United States to confront any challenge, anywhere, is because we have men and women in uniform that are willing to serve this country.”

The secretary noted that military service is never easy, but those who perform it are vital to the nation.

“Our fundamental strength, going back to our forefathers, … has been the fact that we have always had citizen-warriors: people who have been willing to serve this country, to give back to this country, and to keep us strong,” he said.

That tradition has made America the strongest country on Earth, he said, and built the U.S. military into the greatest the world has ever seen. He credited not just service members, but also their families, for the foundation of service and sacrifice on which  the nation’s military might rests.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our families,” the secretary said. “So I pay tribute not only to you, but to all of your families … who deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their loyalty, and for their constant support, and for their love.”

Panetta said the second decade of the 21stcentury is a historic time for America.

“We have on one hand achieved a great deal,” he said, noting the end of the war in Iraq, the ongoing transition to Afghan-led security in Afghanistan and the killing or capture of many of al Qaida’s top leaders. He added, “We have, as a result of 10 years of war and the sacrifice of a lot of men and women in uniform, been able to achieve some very important successes.”

At the same time, the secretary said, the nation faces continuing threats around the world and financial challenges at home. The defense strategy that rebalances to the Asia-Pacific -- placing U.S service members in Japan at a point of great national focus – was designed to both meet those challenges and help manage the nation’s fiscal resources, he added.

“Congress handed me the number of $487 billion to take down the defense budget over the next 10 years,” Panetta said. In developing a defense strategy that meets that figure while maintaining an effective 21st-century defense, he added, he and other defense leaders focused on sustaining a highly capable though smaller force, and on protecting service member pay and benefits.

“We have got to make sure that we hold true to the commitments we’ve made to you and to your families,” he said.

The secretary said the military’s mission is clear: focus on the Asia-Pacific; maintain an effective response capability in the Middle East, and engage around the world to partner with and develop other nations’ forces.

The U.S. defense strategy contains all the elements needed to confront a time of historic change, the secretary told the troops, adding, ““I believe we have a strategy that is very effective ... in a very complex world.”

He warned that further defense cuts threatened by sequestration would “take that strategy I just talked about and throw it out the window.”

Sequestration is a mechanism to slash government spending, built into the Budget Control Act and set to take effect in January. It would cut an additional $500 billion from the defense budget over the next decade.

“The key, of course, is that we will need to have the strong support of the Congress,” he said. “ … The one thing that I can’t have happen is to have the Congress fail to deal with the sequester mechanism they’ve out in place.”

Panetta ended his remarks as he had begun, by thanking the troops.

“I am very proud of the great weapons and technology that we have,” he said. The United States has the best weapons, ships and planes in the world, he added.

“But you know what our greatest strength is?” he asked. “The men and women in uniform that serve our country.”

Panetta concluded by thanking the troops for their service, sacrifice and “most of all, for keeping America strong.”

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Leon E. Panetta

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Special Report: Travels With Panetta

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