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Pentagon Force Protection Agency Tenth Anniversary Remarks

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Pentagon Conference Center, Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Thank you.  I’m delighted to be here.  Mike, thank you for that kind introduction.  I’d also want to thank Steve Calvery, the PFPA Director and I also want to take this opportunity to thank the Pentagon Police Chief Richard Keevil, for their leadership and for inviting me to be able to participate in this recognition day of your tenth anniversary.

It’s a pleasure to be here, to have this opportunity, to be with all of you as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency. 

You all do a remarkable job in securing this massive building.  I know I see a lot of you every day, passing you one way or another and saying, “Hello.” I know that wherever you’re stationed, I always feel a lot better knowing that you’re there.  

President Eisenhower once said that this massive building was, “apparently designed to confuse any enemy who might try to infiltrate it.”  He also quipped that in the time it takes to find your office when you’re assigned to the Pentagon, a Major can become a full bird Colonel. 

The journalist David Brinkley, whose show I used to go on when I was in Congress and at the White House, he used to tell the story about the woman who told the Pentagon guard that she was in labor and that she needed to get to the hospital immediately.  And the guard said, “Madame, you shouldn’t have come here in that condition.”  And she said, “When I came in here, I wasn’t.”

It’s a big damn building.

In all seriousness, it’s an honor to have this chance to be with you and to be here to celebrate this anniversary.  As Secretary of Defense I’ve had many opportunities to travel to military bases and posts across this country, obviously in war zones, and beyond, all over the world.   These visits give me a chance to publicly thank our service members—our men and women in uniform—for the work they do in keeping this country safe. 

Just yesterday, as we all know, the nation marked one year since the operation that successfully took down Osama bin Laden.  I hope that Americans take the time to thank the very dedicated intelligence and military professionals who planned and executed that raid that delivered justice to Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s leader.

As CIA Director, I had a chance to work on that operation, I have to tell you that to this day, it was a remarkable experience and probably one of the greatest memories in the forty years I’ve been in Washington.  To have had the opportunity to work with the SEALS, to work with Admiral McRaven and to see the great dedication that was involved in that mission, it’s the kind of stuff that makes you proud to be an American.  We will always be grateful for their service, their sacrifice and their professionalism.

Just as we honor those service members and intelligence professionals who fight every day to keep our country safe, todayI am honored to have this opportunity to publicly thank you, the dedicated men and women of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency for helping to keep us safe. 

Your mission of protecting those that protect America is critical.  It allows the roughly 23,000 employees here at the Pentagon to focus on their jobs, to do what they have to do, because they know, we all know, that there are dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect them.

And it’s not just here at the Pentagon.  In fact, personnel from the PFPA safeguard and protect occupants and visitors at about 100 facilities in the National Capital Region, including the recently opened Mark Center.  They also provide important protection for the many foreign dignitaries we host here at the Pentagon. 

The agency’s dedicated professionals include law enforcement officers, physical security personnel, investigators, and technicians, all trained to handle terrorist attacks, to handle explosives, and yes, to handle weapons of mass destruction. 

We all know that it was in response to the horrific terrorist attack on this building on September 11, 2001 and subsequent anthrax attacks, that this agency was created to provide vital protection across the board for the Pentagon.  

Those attacks threw into stark relief what many of us knew:  that there are enemies of this country who are determined to strike within our borders, to strike our people, and that they were determined to strike this building.  Because the Pentagon is much more than just an extremely large, odd-shaped building.  The Pentagon is a symbol – and as Mike said, it is an unmistakable symbol of United States’ military power.  Because of that, it is a target.  It is a target because it is a symbol of power.

So, securing this building, and protecting the people within these walls is not an easy job.  It is a monumental undertaking.  One that demands highly skilled and deeply professional individuals, a force that can stand guard 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.   

In the ten years since 9-11, this agency has faced innumerable challenges and you have proven yourselves times, and time, and time again.  You have enjoyed triumphs, and you have endured hardship and you have endured tragedy. 

On March 4, 2010, we saw a stark reminder of the numerous threats we face and the very real cost of keeping all of us safe and secure.  A lone gunman opened fire while attempting to enter the building.  Who knows how many casualties would have resulted if he had gained entry to this building.  Thankfully, he was stopped.  He was stopped by the swift reaction of our brave police officers.  Even so, Officers Amos and Carraway were wounded in the line of duty. 

The professionalism of the sentinels that guard our doors ensured that the one fatality was the shooter.  They kept us safe then, and they keep us safe now.  But it is not only professionalism that is at the heart of this agency, that makes any law enforcement officer what he or she is all about is selflessness; the willingness to put your life on the line for others.

That selflessness was demonstrated in the single fatality that PFPA has suffered in the past decade.  Officer James Feltis was killed in the line of duty seven years ago.  In January 2005, he spotted a car coming the wrong way up the exit ramp on Route 27 and without considering the risks, which is what law enforcement officers have to do, he stepped out of his booth to stop the car. 

The vehicle, which had been carjacked by an armed robber, sped up instead, and gravely wounded Officer Feltis, who died a month later of those wounds. 

Two years ago, PFPA retired Officer Feltis’s badge, #212, which now hangs on the back wall of the roll call room named in his honor – a room I had the opportunity to visit just prior to coming to this event.  All of us here at the Department are deeply grateful for that kind selflessness, that willingness to put your life on the line for others.  His widow, Mary, is with us today.  I would ask you, Mary, please stand so that we can thank you.

Mary, you are among friends.  More importantly, you are among family.  We will always consider you and your family to be a part of our DoD family.

It is that model of professionalism and selflessness that should reflect on all of us as we take this moment to celebrate this tenth anniversary, to reflect on the end of the agency’s first decade. 

As we celebrate ten years of success, and it is success when you save lives, we thank men and women, people like Officers Amos, Carraway, and Feltis, because they are what makes the Pentagon Force Protection Agency one of this nation’s premier law enforcement agencies.  We must not forget not just them, and their willingness to sacrifice their lives if necessary, we should also not forget their families and the sacrifices that their families make, so that others can keep us safe.

We don’t get the chance to thank you all enough.  So, on behalf of the men and women who work here at the Pentagon, I want to express my deepest thanks to all of you.  And I want you to know that we do not take any of you for granted and we appreciate everything you do.  Our mission is to keep America safe.  That’s my responsibility.  To make sure to keep America safe.  And I can’t do that job unless you keep us safe.  Because you are part of our mission.

I want to express again my deepest thanks to all of you.

May God bless you, may God bless your families, and may God Bless this great nation.

Thank you.

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