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Secretary Panetta Speaking to the Crew of USNS Byrd in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta
June 03, 2012

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA:  Thank you very much.  Can you hear me okay?  All right.  First of all, let me say what a great honor it is to be able to come aboard the Byrd and get a chance to see the ship up close and to be able to meet all of you.  

            Like I do everywhere I go in the world, my first responsibility is really to say thank you to all of you for the service that you provide the United States.  Whatever capacity you’re in, whether you’re in the military or civil service, we appreciate the fact that you’re willing to sacrifice, to go long distances from your families and to be able to serve this country.  And so I want to express my deepest thanks as secretary of defense on behalf of our country.  Thank you for your service.  Thank you for your sacrifice.  Thanks -- thanks for your willingness to be able to give something back to this country that in many ways has given us all so much to be thankful for. 

            We’re obviously a long way from home, but the fact that we’re on this great ship -- there’s a great line from the movie “Master and Commander,” in which the captain of the ship says, “We may be a long way from England, but this ship is England.”  Well, this ship is the United States, and it’s great to be here and great to be with all of you. 

            This is a historic trip for me.  I’m the first secretary of defense to visit Cam Ranh Bay since the war.  And, you know, as I come here and have a chance to look at this great bay and have a chance to be able to meet all of you; it reminds all of us about the great arc of history that we’re all part of. 

            Last -- last Monday, I was before the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, recognizing the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War and paying tribute to the 58,000 that were on that wall who died in that war.  And as someone who served in the military at that time -- although I never came here for duty, I had a lot of friends and served with a lot of soldiers whose names are on that wall.  The Vietnam generation is my generation.  And obviously it was a moment to remember. 

            And here I am, less than a few days later, as the first secretary of state -- first secretary of defense -- to have the chance to visit Cam Ranh Bay and recognize the fact that we are now in our 17th year of normalization with the country of Vietnam and that we are building a strong relationship, a strong partnership with Vietnam.  And the fact that this ship is here in Cam Ranh Bay and that it is being serviced by contractors here at this location and the repair work is being done by our Vietnamese friends, that is a tremendous indication of how far we have come in that relationship over these many years. 

            This was a place, where if you thought back to the time that it was at war, there were a lot of ships here, there were a lot of troops coming through and a lot of supplies coming through.  And the reality is that a tremendous amount of blood was spilled here on all sides, on the American side and on the Vietnamese side.  And I guess what I hope and pray is that as we move forward, as we build the new partnership between the United States and Vietnam that in many ways the sacrifice of all those who fought and many of whom who died in that war that that sacrifice will yield to a healing process where we can heal the wounds of the past and build a better future for both the United States and Vietnam.  And if we can do that, then all the sacrifice that was made by all of those who were here, who fought on all sides, that sacrifice will have been worthwhile if we can build a better future.  And a lot of that, again, depends on people like yourselves who are here, who are willing to serve, who are willing to do what you have to do. 

            I  -- you know, we are -- we’re kind of at a turning point in the United States as we come to the end of 10 years of war.  We’ve finished the war in Iraq.  We are clearly doing a great job at going after al Qaeda and their leadership and making clear that they will never again be able to put together the kind of plan that they were involved with when they attacked on 9/11.  And we’ve made very clear that -- to them and to other terrorists that nobody attacks the United States of America and gets away with it. 

            In addition to that, we have now got a plan put in place for the transition in Afghanistan, and we had over 50 nations in Chicago confirm that we’re on the right plan in terms of the direction there.  And we were part of a successful NATO mission in Libya to try to get the Libyan people their country back. 

            But we still face a lot of threats, and we still face a lot of challenges in today’s world.  And a lot of it is in this part of the world, and that’s why yesterday, in Singapore, I outlined the new defense strategy that we’re putting in place.  It’s a defense strategy where, yes, we’re going to have a smaller and leaner force, but it’s going to be agile.  It’s going to be deployable.  It’s going to be flexible.  And it’s going to be on the edge of new technologies. 

            In addition to that, we are going to refocus.  We’re going to refocus on the Pacific because this is an area where we confront many challenges, and we’ll also maintain a significant focus in the Middle East as well.  We’re also going to have a presence everywhere in the world because we think it’s important to be able to work with other countries to develop new partnerships and new alliances. 

            So we’re developing kind of a creative rotational presence in which we’ll have the opportunity to come to places like this and visit and engage with our allies, with our friends to try to build their capabilities, so that they can secure and defend themselves.  And we’re going to -- we’re going to develop the capability to defeat more than one enemy at a time.  That’s a responsibility we have, as the United States, is to make sure we can confront any enemy, anywhere in the world, and be able to beat them -- and we will. 

            And lastly, we’ll invest.  We’ll invest in cyber.  We’ll invest in new technologies.  We’ll invest in unmanned systems.  We’ll invest in space.  We’ll invest in Special Forces.  And we’ll invest in the ability to mobilize quickly. 

            Those are the elements of our strategy, but it’s going to play out in large measure in this region.  Our ability to be agile, our ability to deploy quickly, our presence in the Pacific, our ability to build new partnerships with countries like Vietnam -- all of that strategy will be tested in large measure here in the Pacific.  But the key to that, the key to that is not just our weapons, not just our technology, not just the latest things that we can put in place, not just ships like the Byrd.  The most important thing that we have are the men and women in uniform and the men and women like you who are willing to serve this country.  That’s the greatest strength for the United States of America.  And that’s why I’m here.  That’s why I wanted to thank you.  And that’s why I wish you all the very best as we move forward to make sure that we accomplish what my Italian immigrant parents wanted: to make sure that their children had a better life.  That’s why they came to America.  That’s why millions of others came to America is to make sure that their children had a better life.  And you know what our responsibility is: to make sure that our children have a better life.  That’s our job.  That’s our task.  That’s what we swear to do.  And that’s why I thank you for your service and thank you for your sacrifice. 

            Thanks very much to everybody.  (Applause.) 

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