Panetta Commends USO, Congratulates Outstanding Troops
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2012 Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta praised the United Service Organizations for its steadfast support of troops and their families.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks about the importance of the USO and its long history serving troops and their families at the annual USO Gala in Washington, D.C., Nov. 2, 2012. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“USO is very special to me personally,” Panetta said yesterday at the 2012 USO Gala. “As a young boy in Monterey, California, during World War II, the USO was next to my Catholic grammar school that I went to.”
“[Our nuns] grabbed us and took us over to the USO,” he said. “It was the greatest treat I ever had as a boy to greet the soldiers that were there who were destined for war at the time.”
The secretary also noted that when he was young lieutenant in the U.S. Army, he made use of the USO at “a number of stations” and that his generation “always regarded the USO and Bob Hope as one and the same.”
Panetta said the evening's event paid tribute to the “great legacy of the USO,” and it's long history of helping those serving in uniform.
“But as we pause from our daily lives to honor the USO, our thoughts naturally turn to those men and women in uniform who are working for us and fighting for us every day,” he said.
The secretary made note of the National Guard troops serving in 13 states following the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
“As we speak, something I've been dealing with now for the last few days, there are more than 7,000 National Guardsmen who are helping distressed fellow citizens dig out from the damage of Hurricane Sandy,” Panetta said.
Turning to U.S. service members who are deployed overseas in harm’s way, Panetta saluted the 68,000 troops “of America’s finest fighting force” serving “in the cold mountains and windswept valleys of Afghanistan.”
And, “there are thousands more brave men and women who are enduring tough conditions at sea, or stationed at remote posts in the Middle East, and Africa, and elsewhere around the world,” the secretary added.
America is the world’s strongest nation with the best military because of the dedication and sacrifice of its service members, Panetta said.
“We owe it to all of them -- no matter where duty calls -- to honor their service and to support them in every way possible,” the secretary said.
Panetta said he was part of the generation that “came of age during the Vietnam War,” and could always count on strong support from the USO.
“The politics of that war never changed the warm response and embrace of the USO,” he said. “Far too many troops returned home to a country that failed to give them the honor that they richly deserved.”
“It has taken many years but finally our nation recognizes the sacrifices that were made [by U.S. service members during the Vietnam War],” Panetta said. “Today, [after] more than a decade of war that we've endured, we can all be thankful that the American people are united in support of those who put their lives on the line for this country.”
The defense secretary noted the USO has been “a galvanizing force to turn that spirit of support for our military into benefits for our servicemen and women, and their families.”
“I am deeply grateful as secretary of defense … to the tens of thousands of USO staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to support our troops,” Panetta said.
The defense secretary cited USO-provided services ranging from arranging world-class entertainment to just providing a quiet space for a service member to call home, as welcome reprieves from the rigors of deployment.
“On behalf of the Department of Defense, I want to thank all of those who volunteer and work on USO tours and at USO centers here at home and around the world for all they do,” Panetta said.
Panetta also congratulated six service members for their “service and remarkable acts of bravery and sacrifice” leading to their selection as USO Service Members of the Year.
Army Staff Sgt. Jacob Perkins, Marine Corps Sgt. Clifford Wooldridge, Navy Petty Officer Second Class Gregory Gaylor, Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Beversdorf, Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Nicholas Beane and Senior Airman Evan Stevens were honored during the gala.
Panetta noted he often says the U.S. military has a great deal of powerful weapons -- the best ships, aircraft and advanced weapons systems in the world -- but they are worthless without American troops who serve.
“They are our military’s greatest strength, and that is why we must do everything we can to take care of them,” he said. “And the heart and the soul of caring for them is the USO.”
“God bless the USO, and God bless our men and women in uniform,” Panetta said.