Town Hall by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta aboard the USS Enterprise
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Thank you very much. This has been a real honor for me, to have a chance to be able to come aboard this ship. She looks great. This was -- this was the first nuclear-powered ship in our fleet and it obviously has had a(n) historic record, starting with the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan. And now you're going back to the Persian Gulf.
It is -- this is -- this is a great thrill for me to have the chance to be here. And I've had a great tour, have gone up and been able to view every aspect of the ship. But the greatest thrill is to watch those takeoffs and landings. That's a thrill I'll never forget, to have a chance to do that.
This is -- this is a great ship, and all of you are great Americans who are serving in defense of this country. Even after 50 years of service, I have to tell you, because of your tireless work on the "Big E," that there is no other nation that can match this ship. This is a great ship, and all of you are a great crew.
And I also (suspect ?) that you're all pretty smart, and that as a result of that, you're all supporting the '49ers. (Cheers, boos.) All right. (Laughs.) All right. Let me -- let me just check this crowd out. How many of you are '49 fans? (Cheers, whistles.) All right. How many are Giants fans? (Cheers, whistles.) How many are Patriot fans? (Cheers, whistles.) And how many are Raven fans? (Cheers, whistles.) All right.
Well -- well, look, may the best team win. But I just want to say that, for the Giants, Patriots and Raven fans: Better luck next year. (Laughter.)
Let me -- let me say this. Speaking of winning, you're all winners, and you're all the best. And I know you're going through some tough work here as you prepare for deployment, but this is a historic moment for this very legendary ship. And this is going to be the last deployment, but you're going to a critical part of the world in this last deployment and you're going to perform a very important role to defend this country, to protect our interests and keep Americans safe.
That's what it's all about. There's a famous line that a ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships were built for. And that's true for the "Big E." The Enterprise, throughout its 21 deployments, has always been on the front line for this country. It is a symbol of American power, and it's a symbol of where the action is. You're making a difference. You're making a difference for America. You do great work. And I hear it all the time from the Marines and soldiers. You're making a difference on sea but, more importantly, you're making a difference on the ground as well.
So I want to thank you. I want to thank you on behalf of the American people. On behalf of the Department of Defense, I'm here to express my deep respect for your willingness to serve this country, put your lives on the line in defense of the United States.
This is a total team effort, by every aspect of involvement in the ship. Whatever you do, whatever aspects you're involved with, this is a total team effort. And everywhere I've gone today, everything I've seen is a reflection that this is about team work.
So I want to commend you and thank you for your service and thank you for your sacrifice -- this is not easy -- as you embark on another deployment. But this is about what this country, what America, is all about. It is defending our country; it's keeping it safe; it's giving something back to this country and it's ensuring that our kids have a better life. That is the American dream.
I'm the son of Italian immigrants. I used to ask my parents: Why would you come to this country, all of those thousands of miles -- no money, no skills, no language ability? Why would you do that? And although they came from a poor part of Italy, they had the comfort of family. Why would you do that? And my father said the reason was because my mother and he believed they could give their children a better life in this country.
That's the American dream. It's the dream we have for our children. It's the dream that our children, hopefully, have for their children. That's what this country's all about.
So my thanks to you. My thanks to you for your service, for your sacrifice, for what you do to protect this country, but more importantly, what you do to make sure that our kids have a better life.
And I also want to thank your families. They are very much a part of our family. Their support, their love, their being there is absolutely essential to our ability to protect this country. So again, to you and to your families, thank you.
This has been a historic moment, and you're part of history. I know we're being challenged on a number of fronts, even as we draw down after 10 years of war, the end of the mission in Iraq and beginning to transition in Afghanistan, and hopefully we'll be able to succeed in that effort by the end of 2014 and to have an enduring presence there for a long time. But we're in the -- we're in the right direction. We're moving the right way.
In Libya we were able to work with NATO to bring down Gadhafi and give Libya back to the Libyans. And on terrorism, we have made remarkable progress going after the leadership of al-Qaida, have took down bin-Laden, we have taken down most of the leadership of that terrorist group. We've undermined their command and control. We've undermined their ability to be able to put together the kind of plan they did on 9/11, and it's because of you.
Our success is because of all of you. You've done everything you've been asked to do. Now as we face the challenge of going through budget restrictions and face a huge deficit in this country, we have a responsibility, a responsibility, obviously, to do our part, but more importantly, a responsibility to protect the strongest military power in the world.
There are four principles that I care about, in working with the chiefs, in working with the secretaries, in working with others. The most important thing is that we have to ensure that the United States of America remains the strongest military power on Earth.
Number two, we've got to ensure that we never hollow out the force. In the past when we've had to make cuts, those cuts have been made across the board and they've hollowed out the force. They've weakened every area. We are not going to make that mistake. That means we have to look at all areas. That means we have to do it in a balanced way to make sure that we're going after efficiencies, we're going after the effort to make the Defense Department more effective in doing its job. And we can do that. We can do that.
But most importantly, we have to keep faith with all of you. You've been asked to deploy time and time again, and we have a responsibility to ensure that we stand by the promises that were made to all of you.
We're going to be able to do this. We've developed a strategy that, frankly, all of us at the Department of Defense are supportive of, which is an opportunity to (build a defense system ?) not just now but in the future. Yes, it's going to be smaller, but it's going to be agile. It's going to be effective. It's going to be deployable. It's going to have the latest in technology.
We're going to be able to focus on where the potential problems are in the world. We're going to maintain a strong presence in the Pacific. We're going to maintain a strong presence in the Middle East. And we'll continue to maintain a strong presence elsewhere. We'll do rotational deployments. We'll work with other partners throughout the world to make sure the United States has a presence everywhere -- Latin America, Africa, Europe, wherever -- and make sure that we can confront any aggressor who tries to challenge us.
And most importantly, we will continue to invest in the future. We'll invest in new technologies. We'll invest in cyber. We'll invest in space. We'll invest in special forces. We'll invest in the capability to mobilize if we have to, and that means a strong Reserve and a strong National Guard.
But most importantly, it means that we maintain a strong Navy and a strong carrier force. Carriers play a major role in our force, not only today, but they will play an important role in the future. We are part of what keeps our force agile and flexible and quickly deployable and capable of taking on any enemy anywhere in the world. A strong navy provides our country with the power, projection and the presence we need to confront anyone anywhere any time.
And it's for that reasons -- for that reason that the president of the United States and all of us working at the Department of Defense -- the service chiefs, the undersecretaries -- all of us have decided that it is important to maintain our carrier force at full strength. And that means that we'll be keeping 11 carriers in our force. (Applause.)
We're doing that because we think it's right for our national defense, it's right for our capabilities that are so essential to defending this country, and it's right for our children, so that they can have that better life.
But none of this would be possible without you and without your dedication and without your service. And so today, most importantly, I'm again here to thank you for what you do and the service you provide.
There's a -- there's a great story I often tell that makes the point about what America really is all about, about the rabbi and the priest who decided they would get to know each other a little better. So one evening they went to a boxing match, thinking that if they went to events together, they would talk about each other's religions and understand each other a little better. So they went to a boxing match. And just before -- just before the rounds, before the bell rang, one of the boxers made the sign of the cross. The rabbi nudged the priest and said, what does that mean? The priest said, it doesn't mean a damn thing if you can't fight. (Laughter.)
Let me tell you something. We bless ourselves with the hope that everything's going to be fine in this country, but it doesn't mean a damn thing unless we're willing to fight for it. You, by virtue of what you do here on this ship, "the Big E," tells me and tells the world that you're willing to fight, fight to keep America safe, fight to make sure that our kids have that better life, but most importantly, fight to make sure that we always have a government of, by and for our people.
God bless you, and God bless this great ship that will continue to protect America. See you later. (Applause.)
I'm supposed take some questions. If there are questions out there, I'm happy to answer some questions. I don't know where the hell the mics are.
All right. Go ahead.
Q: Good afternoon, Senator. Senator -- Senator?! -- anyway --
SEC. PANETTA: Whatever.
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. PANETTA: (Chuckles.)
Q: I am Gunnery Sergeant Tuttle from VMFA-251. And my question is, why do the military use civilian air and companies to transport military personnel when there are assets for us to do it ourselves?
SEC. PANETTA: You know, obviously, the determination about what's available and what flights are available and how to move you around are not made at my level; they're made at a lot of other levels. But you know, I understand -- I understand your concern. I understand, you know, the need to be able to move you quickly enough that frustrates you. But a lot of this depends obviously on how you deploy resources, where you deploy them and what has to move and what doesn't move. But I hear what you're saying; let me look into that.
Q: (Off mic.)
SEC. PANETTA: I'll repeat your question.
Q: (Off mic.)
SEC. PANETTA: The question up here was, you know, can I give you an update with regards to what's going on with Iran? Obviously, you're headed to -- for that part of the world.
And you know, we are -- we are fully prepared to deal with any contingency in that part of the world. The Middle East is an area obviously where there is a lot of tension and a lot of turmoil. And some of it frankly is heading in the right direction. What some of these countries have been through hopefully gives their people the opportunity to establish new democracies for the future so that their people can vote and determine who their leaders will be. So there's a lot of change going on.
The one area that always concerns us is Iran and what they're doing in that part of the world. They continue to try to provide assistance to terrorism. They continue to try to undermine governments. They're continuing to work on the effort to develop a nuclear capability.
But one thing for sure is that the international community is unified in saying to Iran: Don't do it. Don't do it. You know, if you want to become a member of the international family, fine. If you want to, you know, abide by international laws and international regulations, fine. But you're not going to develop an atomic bomb, and you're not going to block the Straits of Hormuz. Those are red lines for us.
And the world community is unified in putting sanctions on Iran and sending those very clear signals to them. We will hopefully continue to work with the international community to continue to put sanctions on them, to continue to make those messages clear. But the most important way that we make those messages clear is to show that we are prepared and that we are strong and that we will have a presence in that part of the world.
And that's what this carrier is all about. That's the reason we maintain a presence in the Middle East is because we want them to know that we are fully prepared to deal with any contingency, and better for them to try to deal with us through diplomacy and through international rules and regulations and not other ways, because they ain't going to win.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Information Assistance Technician Tim (inaudible) --
SEC. PANETTA: (Inaudible.)
SEC. PANETTA: Gotcha.
Q: With the drawdown of forces in the Middle East and President Obama's greater emphasis on a stronger Pacific presence, how will this affect the Navy in the near future?
SEC. PANETTA: Sorry -- (off mic). Say it again.
Q: OK. With the drawdown of troops in the Middle East and President Obama's greater emphasis on a stronger force in the Pacific, how will this affect the Navy in the near future?
SEC. PANETTA: Let me -- let me ask you, this is about the Middle East and President Obama's approach to the Middle East?
Q: I was asking about -- since we're drawing down in the Middle East, and President Obama just recently announced that he also wanted to emphasize a stronger U.S. presence in the Pacific, how would this affect the Navy?
SEC. PANETTA: Oh, OK. Yeah. Look, one of the things we've done in our new strategy, looking at the world, is to look at where the potential problems are going to be for the future. And so for that reason, we decided that we have to maintain a strong presence in the Pacific and in the Middle East because those are the two areas where potential problems and potential conflicts could arise.
In the Pacific, obviously, North Korea remains a concern, and so we have to be fully prepared to deal with that stress. The nuclear proliferation continues to be a problem. Providing for humanitarian needs continues to be a problem in that part of the world. Continuing to work with China to hopefully maintain open lanes in the -- in our seas so that we can have free commerce and free trade -- that's important. We're a Pacific power; we're going to remain strong in the Pacific.
In the Middle East, obviously, what I just talked about with Iran, what's going on with the turmoil in the Middle East -- the problems that are there obviously have to be addressed from us So for that reason, we're going to maintain a strong naval presence there, and we're going to maintain a strong military presence as well. We've got over 40,000 troops in that region, and we will maintain that.
So the goal here is to focus on those areas that involve the greatest concern. And that means, frankly, that we need a strong Navy, a strong Navy in both the Pacific, a strong Navy in the Middle East, a strong Navy across the world. And that's why we're keeping the 11 carriers, and that's why we're going to keep the Navy in -- continuing to have a presence throughout the world, but particularly in those two regions we talked about.
This is -- the strategy we are developing is developed in order to ensure that we can focus on the threats that we are going to confront in the future. Yes, we're drawing down after 10 years of war, but we continue to face a threat from North Korea. We continue to face a threat from Iran. We continue to face turmoil in the Middle East. We continue to face concern about weapons of mass destruction. We're continuing to fight a war in Afghanistan.
All of that, plus fearing, frankly, cyber warfare, which is now a whole new battlefront when it comes to warfare -- all of those represent threats that we're going to have to confront in the future. Rising powers in the Pacific -- all of that represents threats to the United States that we're going to have to confront in the future.
So we have to develop a smart, agile military force that can confront those threats wherever they appear and wherever they occur. And we're confident that we put that kind of strategy in place. That's what the president supports, that's what I support, and I think that's what the country will support.
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. PANETTA: Yeah. One more.
Q: ETSM Birdsall with the engineering division.
SEC. PANETTA: Talk up as loud as you can. It's a little hard to hear you.
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. I'm ETSM (Electronic Technician Seaman) Birdsall with the engineering division. I was just wondering if you had any advice for anyone in the Navy looking to join the CIA afterwards.
SEC. PANETTA: Well, the first thing is you shouldn't ask that question in front of 2,500 people. (Laughter, applause.) But having said that, the -- you know, the CIA is a -- is a challenging area as well. As director of the CIA, I found, you know, that to be -- you know, the whole intelligence effort in this country is extremely important to our national defense. And the CIA in particular is obviously much smaller than the Defense Department. But at the same time, it deals with operations. It deals with analysis. It deals with developing intelligence. We can't do -- this ship can't do -- the Defense Department can't do our mission without good intelligence, so that's why it plays a crucial role.
Obviously, the most rewarding experience I had was to develop the operation that got bin Laden. And that was done in conjunction with the military. What has happened today -- it's a little different from the past -- is that the CIA and the military have really developed a strong relationship in which both are working together. Whether it's going after terrorism in Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia or North Africa, whether it's the effort to try to confront other challenges in other parts of the world, we are working together as a team. And so it makes sense for those that -- those that are interested, in coming out of the Navy, to go, you know, to check out the CIA because it does provide some great opportunities across the world if that's what you're interested in.
It's -- you know, I enjoyed it because it's a self-contained operation -- a self-contained operation. And you're given a mission, and you do it. And going from the CIA to the Defense Department is a little bit like going from the corner hardware store to Home Depot. You know, I've got 3 million people now that I'm responsible for in the Defense Department.
But I have to tell you this: The dedication and commitment of people in the CIA to getting the job done is the same kind of commitment and dedication that I see at the Defense Department. The most important thing we can do, whether you're working in intelligence or whether you're working in national defense, is when you have to take the hill, you better damn well take the hill. And that's what both do.
And so I encourage you, if that's what you're interested in, get involved, because it too plays a very important role in protecting our country and in giving our kids a better life for the future.
Thanks very much, guys. Good luck to all of you. (Applause.)