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Remarks by Secretary Panetta Aboard the USS John C. Stennis, Bremerton, Wash.

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta
August 22, 2012

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA:  Thank you very much. 

            Thank you very much. 

            It's a -- it's a real honor to have a chance to be here and visit the USS John Stennis.  This is without question one of the greatest symbols of America's might, the carriers and -- (inaudible) has been outstanding in the service that it’s performed for this country. 

            And all of you deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the great job that Stennis has done in the past and will do in the future. 

            I'm also particularly honored because this ship obviously has been involved in some heavy operating tempo.  I understand that.  You've -- you've been operating almost 70 percent of the time over the last two years. 

            And I know it's pretty tough, but it's also something that makes all of us very proud – what you and what this ship is all about.  Because when you have a task that you have to respond to, you're there.  And we appreciate that.  You did it in Iraq.  You did it in Afghanistan, when you ran almost a thousand sorties that helped our troops there.  You did it in the Gulf.  And now you're returning back from the Gulf. 

            But I'm also am honored here for being with my friend, Norm Dicks, who's the congressman from this area, who was born here in Bremerton.  His dad worked here in Bremerton.  And he has been one of the most dedicated advocates for a strong defense and a strong Navy. 

            So I'd really appreciate it if you'd give him a hand for all he's done.  (Applause.) 

            He and I have known each other for over 40 years.  We were both legislative assistants in the United States Senate.  As a matter of fact, both of us served when John Stennis was in the Senate, and had a chance to not only see him when we were legislative assistants, but then both of us were elected to Congress in the same year, 1976.  Had a chance to serve in the Congress with John Stennis, who at that time was chairman of the Armed Services Committee and also chairman of the Appropriation Defense Committee. 

            He was someone who was a true patriot and committed to the country's strong defense. 

            But most of all, I'm honored to be with all of you, men and women in uniform that serve this country. 

            Your dedication to public service is what makes America strong, going back to our forefathers -- who founded this country, the fundamental principle that they founded it on was a commitment to public service, that there would be those who are willing to serve this country, give something back to this country in order to keep it strong. 

            As some of you may know, I'm the son of Italian immigrants.  My parents came to this country like millions of others -- little money in their pocket, few language skills, not much language ability.  They traveled almost 3,000 miles to come to this country like millions of others. 

            I used to ask my dad, "Why would you do that?  Why would you leave the comfort of home" -- even though he was a in a poor area in Italy -- "why would you leave the comfort of home to travel all of that distance to an unknown country?" 

            And my dad said, "Because your mom and I believed that we could give our children a better life.” 

            And that's the American dream.  That's the dream that my wife and I have for our sons.  Hopefully, it's what they have for their children.  It's what you have for your family and for your children, and for their children, to ensure that our children have a better life.  That's why you're here.  That's why all of us are here, to make sure that those who follow us in this country have a safe and secure life. 

            And that's why I thank you for your service and thank you for your commitment, and thank you for your dedication.  Because we would not be able to give our kids a better life and you not willing to put your lives on the line to serve this country -- (inaudible) -- men and women in uniform -- (inaudible) -- on the frontlines in Afghanistan, putting their lives on the line. 

            Toughest I do as secretary of state [sic] – the toughest thing I do is to have to write notes of condolence for the families who have lost their loved one.  That's the toughest thing I have to do, particularly as the father of two sons. 

            And yet, what I can say to them -- and I try to give them some degree of comfort -- is that I know that their loved one loved them, loved their family, loved life, and loved this country, and gave their life -- gave their life for everything they loved.  That is the definition of being an American hero.  It's the definition of being an American patriot. 

            And I -- I am proud of the men and women like you that are willing to serve this country and put your lives on the line.  This is -- this is a -- in many ways a challenging period and a period of opportunity for us and the world we live in.  In some ways this is a turning point.  After 10 years of war, a lot of the sacrifice that took place, deployment after deployment after deployment in many ways has paid off.  We brought the war in Iraq to an end; in the process of drawing down in Afghanistan.  We've got a plan that General Allen put in place.  We're sticking to that plan supported by NATO. 

            It's gonna be tough.  We've seen how tough it is over these last few weeks.  

            And yet it's a good plan to implement a transition for Afghan governance and security.  And that's what it's all about, to give Afghanistan the ability to secure and govern their country so we never have Afghanistan become a safe haven for Al Qaida or other terrorists. 

            In Libya, we joined with NATO in a very complicated operation, tough to coordinate the number of countries who were involved.  And as a result of that operation we brought Gadhafi down and gave Libya back to the Libyan people. 

            And on terrorism, those who attacked this country, that have been the target of our operations for 10 years -- and we have significantly weakened those who had attacked our country. 

            One of the proudest things in my lifetime as CIA director to be involved in the operation that got bin Laden.  When we target something we send a message, and that message is that nobody attack the United States of America and gets away with it. (Applause.) 

            And so after 10 years of war we have achieved an important turning point.  And now we look at the world that we're in, and the fact is we continue to face a series of threats.  Even as we face budget constrictions the reality is that it isn't as if those threats have gone away. 

            Every war we've come out of in the past the threats have gone down, whether it was World War II or Korea or Vietnam or the Cold War.  Today, as we start a drawdown process, the fact is we still confront some heavy threats in the world.   And you're the ones who are gonna face those threats. 

            We still have the war in Afghanistan that we're fighting.  We still have terrorism as a threat.  And we're fighting terrorism not just in the FATA and Pakistan but in Somalia and in Yemen and North Africa. 

            We have threats of nuclear proliferation with countries like North Korea in the Pacific; Iran in the Middle East.  We have turmoil in the Middle East, turmoil with Syria, turmoil elsewhere.  We have threats now from Iran to tankers that travel from the Straits of Hormuz. 

            And we have rising powers in the Pacific that raise challenges with regard to the international rules of freedom of navigation.  

            We've got cyber threats.  We live in a world now where we are receiving literally hundreds of thousands of cyber attacks every day.  That's the battlefield of the future.  

            A cyber attack -- we now live in a time when a cyber attack could virtually cripple this country, take down our grid system or power grid, take down our financial systems, take down our government system. 

            And that's another real threat that we confront as we face the future. 

            So as we do this, as we go through the constrictions on the budget, we face the challenge of having to reduce the budget by $487 billion dollars according to the Budget Control Act.  That was a number that was handed to us.  

            But rather than cutting everything across the board, what I've said to the service chiefs is let's develop a strategy to ensure that we are the strongest military power in the world, a strategy not just for today, but the future. 

            I gave 'em four guidelines.  Number one, I have -- I wanna maintain the strongest military power in the world.  Number two, I do not want to hollow out the force.  I don't want to cut across the board and weaken everything.  That's what happened in the past.  

            Number three, that we have to look at everything if we're gonna do that.  Look at every aspect of defense.  

            And number four, we have to maintain trust with those who have served -- you.  Deployment after deployment after deployment you've -- (inaudible) -- the promises of benefits, and we are going to maintain those benefits for those of you that have served time and time and time again.  Those were the guidelines. 

            And what we did as a result is develop a strategy that shapes a defense force for the 21st century.  Let me just give you the key principles, because as you'll see, this carrier and carriers like it are the heart and soul of that strategy. 

            Number one, we're gonna have a smaller, leaner force.  That's gonna happen.  But at the same time we have to be agile.  We've got to be deployable.  We've gotta be flexible.  We have to be on the cutting edge of technology. 

            Number two, we have to target our force projection at where we face the biggest problems.  And where's that?  In the Pacific -- the Asia-Pacific region and in the Middle East. 

            So we need to have a strong force projection into those areas because of the threats that we confront in both of those areas.  

            Number three, we gotta have a presence in the rest of the world.  We've gotta be able to maintain a presence in Latin America and Africa and Europe.  And so we're developing a rotational deployment that allows us to have troops go in, train, assist, develop capabilities of other countries, develop alliances, develop partnerships so that they can help secure the world. 

            Fourthly, we've gotta be able to defeat more than one enemy at a time.  So if we're facing a war in Korea and the Straits of Hormuz is closed, we're going to be able to confront those enemies and defeat them. 

            Lastly, we've gotta invest in the future.  This isn't just about cutting.  It's investing in the technology of the future.  Investing in ships like this.  Investing in fighter planes, in bombers.  Investing in unmanned systems.  Investing in space.  Investing in cyber.  Investing in the ability to mobilize quickly if we have to. 

            That's -- that's the strategy that we developed for the United States of America for the future.  And this carrier, the Stennis, is the heart and soul of that strategy, because it's agile, because it's deployable, because you're on the cutting edge of technology, because you can help defend the United States of America anyplace, anytime, anywhere. 

            I understand that it's tough.  We're asking an awful lot of each of you.  But, frankly, you are the best I have.  And when the world calls we have to respond.  The world has a vote.  And when we face a threat in the world, we have to respond.  And that's why we turn to ships like the Stennis to be able to do that. 

            And I know it puts pressure on your families.  Your families are as important to our ability to maintain a strong defense as anybody else.  Without our families' support, frankly, we wouldn't be worth a damn. 

            The love and support of those who are closest to us -- and God knows they have to tolerate a hell of a lot, they tolerate long absences, they tolerate pressures, they tolerate having to deal with all kinds of challenges of their own.  I understand that.  But their support and their love is what makes sure that we are a strong fighting force. 

            I've got a hell of a lot of great weapons in this position.  I've got aircraft carriers, I've got great fighter planes, I've got great technology, I've got great weapon systems of every kind.  But none of that -- none of that is worth a damn without men and women in uniform who serve this country.                                                       

            You are the heart and soul of our national defense.  You are the heart and soul of what makes America strong.  That's why I'm here, to thank you for what you do to help keep America the strongest military power in the world. 

            God bless the Stennis, God bless all of you, and God bless the United States of America.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

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