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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Camp Smith, Hawaii

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta
May 31, 2012

            SECRETARY LEON PANETTA:  Thank you very much, General.  It's always great to be here in Hawaii.  This is -- this is tough duty, and I know what you guys are going through.  But I'm glad you're here and glad that you're on the front lines of, you know, what the United States really cares about in terms of the future. 

            Hawaii has always been an historical key point for us throughout history.  And more than ever, Hawaii remains that key center for operations throughout the Asia-Pacific region. 

            And so I really want you to know how important we think Hawaii is to the defense of the United States and, more importantly, to advancing peace and prosperity and security throughout the Asia-Pacific region.  And I just -- I thank you, want to thank all of you for your service.  We've had some great units operating out of this area, have gone to Iraq and have come back.  

            We know there's some Marine outfit that just came back from Afghanistan, and I want to personally express my deepest thanks for your willingness to serve our country.  

            The great strength of the United States rests with the men and women in uniform who are willing to put their lives on the line in order to defend this country.  Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to Arlington to pay tribute to those who fought and died for the United States and then later went to the Vietnam Memorial to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and pay tribute to all of those veterans for the sacrifice that they were willing to endure for our country.  

            And we learned a lot of lessons from that.  That was my generation.  I'm a Vietnam-era veteran.  Never had the chance to go to Vietnam, but spent a lot of time working on issues related to Vietnam at the time and had a lot of buddies who went over there, and many of them are on that wall at the Vietnam Memorial.  But I can remember very well how the country responded at that time to what was happening, and I think there was a lot of pain about how the country responded to those that were willing to fight for the United States.  The fact is, whether you were for or against that war, the reality is that there were men and women who were willing to put their lives on the line in order to do what their country asked them to do.  

            We have, I believe, learned the lessons from that.  And thank God for that, because the generation that's serving now, all of you, it's a generation that really has, in my -- in my book, a generation willing to, again, put their lives on the line for this country and to fight for America. 

            And this generation, just like past generations of warriors, has done everything we've asked them to do.  And the result is that, frankly, the United States, because of you, remains the strongest military power in the world.  And because of you, we really are at a turning point.  Because of the willingness to go out there and fight for America, the reality is that we are at a turning point.  

            We brought the war in Iraq to an end.  We brought our troops back from there.  And we've given Iraq the opportunity to govern and secure itself.  And that's what that mission was about.  We're in the process of implementing a plan in Afghanistan to do exactly the same thing there, to have an Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself and make sure that it never again becomes a safe haven from which attacks can be conducted on our country or any country. 

            And so we are -- thanks to General Allen and, again, thanks to the sacrifice of so many that have been there -- we are on the right track towards ultimately being able to succeed in that mission.  It's going to be tough, tough fighting ahead.  But the reality is we are headed in the right direction, and we're doing it in conjunction with our ISAF partners and with NATO, all of whom are working together for the same mission.  

            And with regards to those that did attack the United States on 9/11, reality is, we have successfully gone after al-Qaida, we've gone after bin Laden, we've gone after their leadership, and we've made very clear -- very clear -- that nobody attacks the United States and gets away with it, nobody.  And we have weakened their ability -- (applause) -- we have seriously weakened their ability to be able to come together and organize those kinds of attacks.  They're still a threat.  They're a threat in Yemen, they're a threat in Somalia, they're a threat in North Africa, and we have to still go after them.  But we have significantly impacted on their ability to attack our country. 

            And lastly, we were part of a very successful NATO mission, working with our NATO allies, to make sure that Libya would be returned to the Libyan people.  And we've got -- we were able to bring down Gadhafi and give that country some hope for the future.  

            So you know, you look at 10 years -- 10 years of war, the longest period of war the United States has been in; you know, that we have something to point to that says because of the sacrifice of those that were willing to serve, because of those who were willing to put their lives on the line, because of those who were willing to do everything we asked them to do, that in fact we are making the world safer.  And that's what it's all about. 

            At the same time -- at the same time, we continue to face threats in today's world.  We still are fighting a war.  We still are confronting terrorism.  We are dealing with threats from Iran, from North Korea. 

            We're dealing with weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation of those weapons.  We're dealing with turmoil in the Middle East.  We're dealing with a whole new arena of attacks coming from cyber and the potential that cyber could very well be the battlefield of the future. 

            All of that and more represent the threats that we confront in today's world, and it's all happening at a time when, obviously, we confront budget challenges in the United States.  So how do we confront that? 

            Well, I think one of the things I just want to share with you is that because of leadership of the service chiefs, leadership of a lot of the good people who have to operate and manage the programs that we have at the Pentagon, we all came together, said, OK, Congress has given us a number of almost $487B to cut over 10 years; how do we do this in a way that makes sure that we protect a strong military for the future? 

            Because the last damn thing I wanted to do was to hollow out the force.  We've done this in the past.  I don't want to repeat that lesson, simply cutting across the board and hurting everything.  I want to make sure that we maintain the strongest military in the world, and I want to make sure that we don't break trust with those that have put their lives on the line, you, so that what we promised you, we stick to, in terms of the benefits that were promised to you, deployment after deployment after deployment into war. 

            So based on that, we came together to develop a strategy for the future.  And that strategy -- the key elements of that strategy are really at play here in the Asia-Pacific region. 

            One, we know we're going to be smaller but we have to agile, we've got to be flexible, we've got to be deployable and we've got to be on the cutting edge of technology.  Two, we've got to focus on where the main threats are.  That means we continue a major focus on the Pacific region and we continue a major focus on the Middle East, because that's where the potential problems are for the future.  

            Thirdly, we've got maintain a presence elsewhere in the world.  And the way to do that is to develop these kind of creative and innovative rotational movements that will allow us to go into countries -- whether it's Latin America, whether it's Africa, whether it's Europe, whether it's here in the Pacific -- and be able to work with countries to develop partnerships, to develop their capabilities, to do exercises, to give them advice and assistance, to make them partners responsible for dealing with security in today's world. 

            Fourthly, we have to make sure that we're strong enough to confront more than one enemy at a time and defeat them.  And we are.  We're convinced that we have that capability.  If we have to fight a war in Korea and at the same time have to fight a conflict in the Middle East, we can do that.  And we have to be able to do that. 

            And lastly, this isn't just about cutting.  It has to be about investments in the future.  Invest in cyber.  Invest in unmanned systems.  Invest in the new technologies.  Invest in space.  Invest in what we need in order to be agile and flexible and quickly deployable.  Invest in the ability to mobilize quickly if we have to. 

            So those are the key elements of the strategy that we put in place and the budget that we built based on that strategy. 

            But the most important point I want to make to all of you is that every one of the elements I just talked about is going to play out here, particularly in the Pacific.  It is about agility.  It's about flexibility.  It's about a focus in terms of our power projection in the Pacific.  It's a focus on our ability to be able to be able to have the latest technologies.  It's a focus on our ability to be able to develop the rotational presence that we need to do, whether it's Australia, whether it's the Philippines, whether it's other parts of the Pacific. 

            So, in many ways, the strategy I just defined is going to be in your hands and in the hands of the leadership out here in this part of the world.  So I just want to thank you for your willingness to serve and your willingness to be there.  Because let me tell you something, no strategy, no weapons systems, no technology -- and we've got the best in -- you know, of all of that -- but the most important thing to understand is that our strongest weapon is not any of that; it's you, the men and women who serve. And I also want to pay tribute to your families because your families, by virtue of their willingness to help support you in what you do, they are part of our family and they're part of those that sacrifice for this country as well.  So my thanks to all of you for what you do every day to protect our country.  

            I've often -- I've often said this because it's in my bones.  I -- I'm the son of Italian immigrants, and my parents used to say that this country provided a lot of opportunity for them.  They came with other immigrants, millions of other immigrants to our country -- no money, no abilities, no language capabilities.  And yet they were willing to travel all that distance just to come to this country.  

            And I -- when I used to ask my dad, why would you do that, he said, because your mother and I believed we could give our children a better life.

            And you know that's the American dream.  That's my dream, my wife's dream for our three sons.  It's our dream for our six grandchildren.  It's what all of us dream is that ultimately, we can give our children a better life.

            And thank God you're there.  Thank God you're doing what you're doing, because of you, America will always remain the strongest military power in the world, but more importantly, we'll always give our kids that better life for the future. 

            Thanks very much for having me.  Good luck to all of you.  (Applause.) 

            (Off-mic exchange.) 

            We're going to -- we're going to do coins for everybody.  And you know, they aren't worth a hell of a lot, but they might be able to get you a drink someplace, OK?  (Laughter.)