Panetta Visits Military Bases in Italy
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Italy, Oct. 7, 2011 On his way home from a week-long trip to countries in the Middle East and NATO headquarters in Belgium, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made stops today at two military bases in Italy to thank U.S. and NATO troops for their service.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses U.S. and international troops on Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, Oct. 7, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
At the Naval Support Activity in Naples, headquarters of the 6th Fleet, Panetta thanked an auditorium packed with sailors for the sacrifice they make by serving the nation away from their homes and families.
“This country’s strength is based on people like you who are willing to give something back to the country, willing to sacrifice, willing to put your lives on the line and willing to fight for your country,” the secretary said. “That’s what makes the United States of America one of the strongest countries in the world.”
After briefing the crowd on progress in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the NATO operation in Libya, Panetta described his meetings with defense officials in Israel and Egypt and his participation at the two-day defense ministers conference in Brussels.
Panetta joked his new position as defense secretary.
“Having moved from CIA to the Pentagon, obviously I have a hell of a lot more weapons available to me in this job,” he said. But for all the planes, ships, submarines and other sophisticated technology in use at the department, the secretary added, “the most important weapons I have are the men and women who are willing to put on the uniform” and serve their country.
The secretary’s next stop before heading home was here, where service members greeted Panetta outside on the tarmac near one of the Air Force’s newest unmanned aerial systems, a Northrup Grumman RQ4B Global Hawk.
“Sigonella was extremely important to the mission that was conducted in Libya, and all of you know the tremendous role that each of you [played] in that mission,” Panetta said. “My understanding is that somewhere around 4,000 sorties were conducted out of Sigonella, and that’s tremendous.”
Naval Air Station Sigonella is a support base for NATO’s Operation Unified Protector, with service members from the military forces of Denmark, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, France, Turkey, Italy and the United States, Navy Lt. Tim Page said. “These countries are operating from [Sigonella] in support of the Navy air operation,” he added.
U.S. service members here are from the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. Panetta stood in front of the Global Hawk to address them.
“At a time when all countries are facing budget constraints, the ability to have a strong NATO coalition that can share these capabilities … is going to be very important to our ability to meet the threats of the future,” he said.
“So thank you very much for the service you’ve provided, thank you for this mission,” the secretary added. “All the countries of NATO owe all of you great thanks for your service. In some small way, you have contributed to keeping our country and our world safer and more secure for our children.”