Panetta Discusses Service with U.S. Troops in Italy
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
U.S. ARMY GARRISON VICENZA, Italy, Jan. 17, 2013 Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, on a tour of Europe to talk with leaders in key allied nations, stopped here today to speak to U.S. troops about service.
Dressed in jeans and a 101st Airborne Division windbreaker rather than his usual suit, the secretary spoke to some 150 newly returned soldiers of U.S. Army Europe’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which is based here. The 173rd is in the process of coming back from its fifth deployment since 9/11, with the unit’s most recent mission taking it to Afghanistan’s Wardak and Logar provinces.
The unit has had 84 soldiers killed in action since 9/11, including 13 who died on the current deployment. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who received the Medal of Honor in November 2010, was serving with the 173rd in Afghanistan when he fought the 2007 battle that earned him the nation’s highest military honor.
“You’ve paid a high price, but you’ve served well,” Panetta told the troops. “You’ve served with distinction. I want to thank you for your service.”
The secretary said the proudest thing he does as the leader of the world’s strongest military is “to serve and to lead the men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line every day for our country.”
The young people who have come forward to serve, fight, and sometimes die for the United States of America demonstrate a dedication that, Panetta said, is “what our democracy is all about.”
As defense secretary, Panetta said, his primary mission is to keep America safe.
“I can’t do that job -- nobody can do that job -- without men and women who are willing to dedicate themselves to service,” he said.
Americans at home are “safe in their homes … because of those who are willing to go off to far places, and fight an enemy that has made clear they will not hesitate to attack our country, and to attack innocent men and women -- and children.”
Military and intelligence operations over the past decade-plus, Panetta said, have denied that enemy the kind of command and control they need to mount the sort of attack that rocked the world on Sept. 11, 2001.
The security transition in Afghanistan is on pace, the secretary said, with the Afghan army “becoming much better, operationally.” He acknowledged the Taliban are still resilient, and enemy fighters still plant explosive devices and mount other attacks.
“But … we’re on the right track,” he added. “By the end of 2014, we will have drawn down.”
The nation’s service members can take great pride, he said, “in the fact that since 9/11, we have taken the battle to the enemy, and we have taken on the mission … [of ensuring] nobody attacks the United States of America and gets away with it.”
Panetta, who has announced he will retire when the Senate confirms the next secretary, told the troops the time has come for him to be able to go home.
“I hope that when all of you go home, that you’ll have the same deep sense of pride that I have in the service that we’ve provided to this country,” he said.
Public service doesn’t pay a lot, the secretary acknowledged. “But we can have a sense that we have maintained our integrity, and that we have given something back to this country that has given us so much,” he added.
The secretary also spoke to the troops about the fiscal crisis facing the nation, citing an urgent need for responsible action from Congress. The nation’s elected leaders, he said, must “suck it up and take on some of the risks … and challenges that are required.”
Soldiers face the worst risk of all, he noted, which is that somebody may shoot at them.
“It’s a hell of a risk,” he said. “All we’re asking of our elected leaders to do is to take a small part of the risk they’ll [tick] off some constituents,” he said. “The fact is, they would be doing what is right.”
Panetta, who has spent the past half century in public service, said the greatest satisfaction in such a career is the ability to help others.
“If I can stare my fellow citizens in the face and say, ‘As secretary of defense, I was able to keep you safer, and keep your families safe,’ that’s the greatest satisfaction of all,” he said. “I’m able to do that because of you.”