United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

Defense Secretary Panetta's Message

July 14 - December 19, 2011
December 12-17, 2011

Trip Message: Djibouti, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Libya


I’ve just returned from an extraordinary week-long trip that took me to Djibouti, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and Libya. This trip gave me the opportunity to personally meet and thank more than 1,000 troops serving in harm’s way for their hard work and sacrifices, and to wish them all of the best for a Happy Holidays, including a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta speaks to troops with the 172nd Infantry Brigade aboard forward operation base Sharana, Afghanistan December 14, 2011. Secretary Panetta thanked them for their service, told them to stay safe and he would see them soon back in the States. DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

I wish I could have had the opportunity during my first Holiday Season as Secretary of Defense to personally meet and thank each and every one of you who serves in this Department for everything you do to keep our country strong and safe. With this message, I want to extend my very best for a warm, joyous, and safe Holidays to you and your families on behalf of a grateful nation.

As this year draws to a close, it is an opportunity to reflect on the significant progress we have made over the last twelve months in our mission to protect America and her interests – from the mountains of Afghanistan to the shores of Tripoli. During my recent trip, I had the chance to see first-hand how, because of your efforts, this year has been a turning point for our nation, and our military, after a decade of war. All of you are truly part of the next greatest generation that has bravely served this nation in battle.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta greets service members aboard Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti on December 13, 2011. Secretary Panetta thanked each service member for their sacrifice and wished them happy holidays. DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

We have dealt heavy blows to al Qaeda and its militant allies this year – taking down Bin Laden, Awlaki, and other top leaders and significantly degrading their ability to launch another attack on our homeland. At Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, I had the opportunity to thank those serving in one of the central locations in our fight against violent extremism. Living in austere conditions far away from home, our men and women serving in Djibouti are helping to ensure that al Qaeda and its allies have no place to hide in that part of the world.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta is greated by Lieutenant General Scaparrott, iGeneral John Allen and Ambassador Crocker after landing in Kabul, Afghanistan December 13, 2011. DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

The continued progress of our campaign in Afghanistan is also helping to ensure that al Qaeda does not regain a foothold in the country where they plotted the 9/11 attacks. During my visit to Afghanistan, I had the honor of visiting with the soldiers of Task Force Blackhawk at FOB Sharana in Paktika Province, an area of growing focus for our campaign against the Taliban insurgency. In tough conditions in the dead of winter, these men and women are taking the fight to our enemies and building up the Afghan National Security Forces. In my conversations with these soldiers, the sense of progress was palpable. I came away inspired by their profound commitment to this effort – a commitment matched by the dedicated leaders of the civil-military effort, General Allen and Ambassador Crocker.

Panetta presents a purple heart to a soldier with the 172nd Infantry Brigade aboard forward operation base Sharana, Afghanistan December 14, 2011. DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Thanks to their efforts, we are on track and are making progress in the transition to Afghan security lead throughout the country. Indeed, with President Karzai’s recent announcement of a second tranche of areas to complete transition, more than 50 percent of the Afghan population will soon live and work under the blanket of Afghan protection. I truly believe that 2011 will be seen as a critical year, having brought us closer to the common goal of an Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta speaks at the end of mission ceremony in Baghdad, Iraq December 15, 2011. Secretary Panetta told the troops that they will leave Iraq with great and lasting pride knowing that their sacrifice helped the Iraqi people. DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

From Afghanistan I traveled to Iraq, where the dream of an independent and sovereign nation has now been realized. In Baghdad, I had the profound honor of presiding over the End of Mission ceremony, where we cased the colors of the U.S. Forces-Iraq flag and brought the war to an honorable and responsible end. In the company of General Dempsey, General Mattis, General Allen and Ambassador Jeffrey, the ceremony paid tribute to the nearly 4,500 Americans who gave their lives so that Iraq could be free, and to the sacrifices of the more than 1 million men and women in uniform who have deployed to Iraq. This was a day to honor them, and to celebrate the new chapter in the history of Iraq and the United States – a chapter that they wrote oftentimes in their own blood. Iraq will be tested in the days ahead, but they now have the opportunity to forge ahead on the path to security and prosperity. For our part, the United States will now focus our energies on developing a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq, one based on mutual respect, friendship and shared interests in the region.

Panetta meets with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Minister of Defense Ismet Yilmaz in Ankara, Turkey December 16, 2011. DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

This has been a year of profound change not only in Iraq, but in the entire Middle East and North Africa, where the Arab awakening has brought with it the promise of democratic change and the prospect of turmoil and uncertainty. From Baghdad, I traveled to Ankara to meet with the leaders of Turkey, who have been among our most important partners in supporting the change sweeping the region. Turkey is a key NATO ally, and I had very productive conversations about a wide range of topics, including our efforts to support change in Egypt and Libya, to confront the Assad regime in Syria, and to better equip the NATO alliance to meet emerging threats.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta shakes the hand of a Libyan freedom fighter in Tripoli, Libya on December 17, 2011. Secretary Panetta praised the Libyan peoples courage and strength and said that they were in inspiration to the entire region. DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

The final stop of my trip, Tripoli, gave me an opportunity to visit the very heart of the Arab awakening, and to pay tribute to the successful efforts of the U.S. Armed Forces, working through NATO, to protect and support the Libyan people in their efforts to achieve freedom from a tyrannical regime. It was a deeply moving experience to be the first Secretary of Defense to visit Libya, and to do so at such an important moment of transition and hope for the Libyan people. I offered them the support of the American people in their efforts to achieve representative government, and conveyed that message directly to the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense. My experience in Tripoli, coupled with my visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, left me encouraged that after ten years of war, the United States is making gains diplomatically and militarily that strengthen the view that the best course is to encourage and entrust nations to determine how best to govern and secure themselves.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta places his coin on a U.S. service members grave in Tripoli, Libya, December 17, 2011. Secretary Panetta visited the western cemetery where Marines and Sailors who were killed in the 1800's are buried. DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

While in Tripoli, I also had the opportunity to visit the cemetery where the remains of American sailors from the Intrepid who served in the Barbary Wars more than 200 years ago are interred. The final resting place of these heroes overlooks the shores of Tripoli – a location far from home that has long been emblazoned in our nation’s conscience.

Looking over the bustling Tripoli harbor, my thoughts turned to the profound change that has occurred in the past year, and the essential role that all of YOU played in helping bring these changes about. Thanks to your efforts, and your sacrifices, the American people can gather this holiday season knowing that the world is a more hopeful and safer place.

May God bless all of you, and the nation we serve, and may all of you and your families have the happiest of Holidays and a Happy New Year.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense


November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Message to Troops, Families


For the past 10 Thanksgivings, our nation has been at war. For 10 Thanksgivings, our troops have been deployed to the battle zones and around the world, defending our freedom and putting their lives on the line.

We are thankful for your service and for your steadfast commitment to keeping all of us safe. Our thoughts and prayers will also be with your families, whose love, support and sacrifice are essential to your success.

I know that this can be a difficult time for service members and their loved ones who must spend it apart from each other. To those deployed away from home, and to their families: You are making a real difference every day and keeping our country strong and safe.

As all Americans pause to take stock of our blessings of freedom and liberty, I want you to know that we can only do so because of your willingness to bear the burden and hardship of providing for our security.

Throughout our history, America has faced serious challenges – economic, social, political and military crises. This is one of those periods. And yet, the spirit of the American people remains our greatest strength to overcome whatever crisis we confront. That great spirit is reflected in you - our men and women in uniform. Hopefully, your example of courage and bravery can inspire others to do the right thing.

On this Thanksgiving, as our nation remains at war, Sylvia and I join all of you in one simple prayer: Peace on Earth, and goodwill to all. To all our service members and their families: Have a safe, healthy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense


November 11, 2011

Honoring our Nation’s Veterans


Veterans Day is the day the American people set aside for honoring those, past and present, who’ve served our nation in uniform.

Since our nation’s founding, American service members have stepped forward to safeguard liberty for future generations. And during the ten years since 9/11, another generation has answered this call to fight and sacrifice on foreign soil. They have done all that was asked of them and more. And as a result, on this Veterans Day, we are closer to prevailing in today’s fights.

In Iraq, we are ending our combat presence this year, and Iraqis are now prepared to govern and defend their own country, which will act as a force for stability in a vital region of the world. In Afghanistan, our men and women are turning back an insurgency and building up Afghan security forces to prevent that country from ever again serving as a sanctuary for al Qaeda or its affiliates to threaten our homeland. In Libya, our forces supported a NATO operation that protected the Libyan people from a brutal dictator, who will never again be able to threaten his citizens or undermine international security. And on terrorism, we have significantly weakened Al Qaeda and its allies, decimated their leadership, and kept American safer.

This progress would not be possible without the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, and also of the families who love and support them. I’m delighted that President Obama designated November as Military Family Month, encouraging Americans to do more to recognize and support these great patriots.

This country owes a profound debt to all Veterans, and military families. In these tough economic times, we’re especially cognizant of our service members transitioning to civilian life, as well as our military spouses. And we must give them the best possible tools to succeed in professional pursuits. This week, I had the opportunity to meet with business leaders and press them to do just that – so that we ensure our Veterans will continue to positively impact our country’s future prosperity.

For serving our nation with such bravery and distinction, our Veterans and current service members deserve our country’s profound gratitude – not just on Veteran’s Day, but every day.

Thank you, and may God bless all Americans serving around the world in uniform.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense


November 4, 2011

Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea

To all Department of Defense personnel:

Last week, I traveled to the Asia-Pacific region for the first time as Secretary of Defense. I took this opportunity to reassure our many allies and partners there of the continued U.S. commitment to Asia-Pacific security. The message I conveyed at all my stops was that the U.S. is and will remain a Pacific power, that we are rebalancing to focus on the Asia-Pacific as a strategic priority, and that we are committed to sustaining and enhancing our military presence in the region.

Indonesia

The first stop on my trip was Bali, Indonesia, where we arrived after a 22 hour non-stop flight from Washington, DC aboard the “Doomsday Plane.” After that long flight, I was certainly in need of spiritual rejuvenation, and was pleased to begin my first day by attending mass with Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo. Amid the busy pace of these trips, it feels good to stop and offer a few prayers for our troops and their families.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta walks with Indonesian Minister of Defense Purnomo Yusgiantoro after meeting with defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bali, Indonesia, Oct. 23, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

Over the course of two days in Bali, I had excellent meetings with Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono and Defense Minister Purnomo during which I sought to strengthen our growing defense ties with this key partner. This year alone, the U.S. is conducting more than 150 activities, exchanges, and visits with the Indonesian military. My warm discussions with these leaders emphasized ways to further cooperation between our militaries in three key areas – humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime security, and peacekeeping. I also commended Indonesia’s leadership in the region, emphasized our commitment to assisting Indonesian efforts on defense reform and modernization, underscored the importance of military adherence to human rights standards, and listened to their views on regional security.

Indonesia has emerged as a key supporter of regional multilateral organizations, and the centerpiece of my trip to Bali was a meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) Defense Ministers. This was the first time a U.S. Secretary of Defense has met with ten ASEAN counterparts in what is called a “10+1” setting. In my session with the ASEAN Defense Ministers, I stressed the United States’ enduring commitment to freedom of navigation, and I underscored our support for a common approach to maritime security that is consistent with international law and norms.

I also reinforced our enduring commitment to the region’s emerging multilateral security architecture, and our support for the ASEAN Security Community. This gathering of Southeast Asia defense ministers was also an ideal setting in which to deliver my key message: that the U.S. is rebalancing to focus on the Asia-Pacific as a strategic priority. The ministers conveyed their appreciation, noting that my presence demonstrated tangible evidence of the renewed U.S. commitment to the region.

Japan

I then traveled to Tokyo, where I met with Japanese Prime Minister Noda, Foreign Minister Gemba, and Defense Minister Ichikawa. While I’ve had the opportunity to visit Japan in other capacities, this was my first trip to Japan as Secretary of Defense. The historic Alliance between our two countries serves not only the defense of Japan, but has proven a cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region for more than fifty years. My meeting with Minister Ichikawa afforded us the chance to build a stronger working relationship and to discuss a range of issues relating the security and stability of the region – including North Korea’s provocative behavior, China’s growing military capabilities, and the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

Regarding the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, Minister Ichikawa assured me of the Government of Japan’s intention to move forward with the steps necessary for the Futenma Replacement Facility, a critical initiative in our effort to maintain a strong forward deployed presence in the Asia-Pacific region, to realign our forces in Japan, and reduce the impact of our bases in Okinawa. We also confirmed our commitment to the establishment of an operational Marine presence on Guam.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses U.S. and Japanese troops on Yokota Air Base, Japan, Oct. 24, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

I also held two town hall gatherings with hundreds of U.S. and Japanese Self Defense Force service members. The first was on Yokota Air Base with U.S. and Japanese forces that participated in relief operations following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The event provided an excellent opportunity to not only show my appreciation for the troops, but to point out that the speed and effectiveness with which they responded resulted directly from sustained U.S.-Japan investments over the years in readiness and capability. Working closely together for these many years, our militaries have forged close bonds that proved their enormous value when disaster struck.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses sailors stationed aboard the USS Blue Ridge on Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Oct. 26, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

The second event took place on board USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet command ship, and included sailors from several ships forward-deployed to Yokosuka Naval Base, all of which supported the disaster response operation, Operation Tomodachi. On Blue Ridge, I was briefed on the extraordinary efforts of the entire 7th Fleet during Tomodachi: some 22 ships, over 150 aircraft and more than 19,000 personnel mobilized, working non-stop, for twenty seven days delivering supplies, conducting search and rescue, and evacuating injured. It was truly an impressive feat. We helped Japan, a true friend, stand back up after they’d been knocked down. Our Japanese friends are still standing, and because of their impressive resilience, and the fantastic efforts of our remarkable men and women in uniform, they will come back stronger than ever.

Korea

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta conducts a troop inspection during an honor guard ceremony with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 27, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

My final stop on our whirlwind trip through Asia was the Republic of Korea (ROK). Earlier in October, I had the opportunity to host ROK President Lee and Defense Minister Kim at the Pentagon as part of President Lee’s state visit. So it was a great opportunity to be able to visit them in their own country, and continue to deepen and strengthen our working relationship. The U.S.-ROK alliance has existed for more than 60 years, yet it remains as strong today as the day it was formed.

The main reason I stopped in Korea was to conduct the 43rd annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) with Defense Minister Kim. But I also took the opportunity to meet with the ROK Foreign Minister and President Lee to convey the U.S. commitment to ROK security and our continued presence and purpose in Asia. In all of these office calls, my central message was to reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-ROK Alliance and our continued commitment to deterring North Korean aggression. General Marty Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also present for these meetings; it meant a lot to convey these reassurances with him there, and he added his valuable military perspective to these discussions. Perhaps most importantly, we provided a path forward to reassure and gain ROK agreement that we will deal with future North Korean provocations as an Alliance.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta attends a press conference with Republic of Korea Minister of Defense Kim Kwan-jin in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 28, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

I told my Korean counterpart that I can vividly recall the moment when, as a boy, I heard the news that the United States was fighting on the Korean peninsula. It was shortly after World War II, and I remember the concern that my parents had, and that I felt myself, that America was now entering another world war. The minister told me that he was a baby at the time of the invasion, and his mother was carrying him when a plane flew overhead, and she put an umbrella over him to try and protect him as they ran for cover in a cave. Now, both of us are leaders charged with the responsibility to maintain the strong alliance between the United States and Korea, to ensure that, hopefully that kind of war never happens again.

One of my final events in South Korea was a town hall meeting with U.S. service members – and their Korean Augmentee partners – at Yongsan Post. This was a great opportunity to thank these brave men and women who serve literally on the frontlines of one of the world’s critical hotpots. I thanked them, and their families – both those on the peninsula and those at home awaiting their loved ones’ return, for the sacrifices they’ve made. I truly believe that the support and sacrifice provided by our military families is central to the strength of our military – they quietly serve as the critical foundation for our nation’s security. Questions from the troops focused on benefits and retirement – a reminder that the budget debates in Washington, DC, are very closely followed by all of our troops around the world. I returned inspired to do everything I can to fight for them and their quality of life.

In summary, this trip covered a lot of ground – both in terms of policy and actual travel – over seven days in meetings with counterparts from 12 different nations. I was able to get our messages out that we remain engaged in Asia, that we are working with our Allies to broaden our traditional partnerships, that we are supportive of regional multilateral architectures, and that we seek a constructive relationship with a responsible China.

Ultimately, the strength of these partnerships rests on our standing as the strongest military in the world, and the strength of that force rests in you, the men and women of the Department, who work every day to defend our country, and advance our interests in the world.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

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October 21, 2011

Statement on Iraq

To all Department of Defense personnel:

The United States and Iraq affirmed today that the U.S. will fulfill its commitments under the current U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement and withdraw all of our military forces by the end of 2011.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta conducts a press conference with reporters aboard a U.S. Air Force E-4B aircraft on his way to visit with defense leaders and U.S. troops stationed in the Asia-Pacific region, Oct. 21, 2011. Panetta discussed the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, NATO operations in Libya, and the importance of U.S. alliances with Indonesia, Japan and South Korea. Panetta issued a statement on Iraq as well. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

Today¹s announcement means that at the end of this year, there will be a clear end to the U.S. combat presence in Iraq. I wanted to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude and appreciation to our men and women in uniform who have served in Iraq since 2003. Our troops and their families have borne a heavy burden during more than eight years of war, and paid a great price. Yet it is a testament to their strength and resilience that we are now able to bring this war to a responsible end. Thanks to their service and sacrifice, Iraq is ready to govern and defend itself and to contribute to security and stability in a vital part of the world.

We will now turn our full attention to pursuing a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq based on mutual interests and mutual respect. Our goal will be to establish a normal relationship similar to others in the region that focuses on meeting security and training needs. Iraq is a sovereign nation that must determine how to secure its own future. Going forward, we will work closely with the Iraqi government and their armed forces to help them continue to build a stronger and more prosperous country.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense


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October 11, 2011

Trip Message Israel, Egypt, Belgium, Italy

To all Department of Defense personnel:

I've just returned from my second international TDY as Secretary of Defense - a whirlwind five day trip that took me to Israel, Egypt, Belgium and Italy. Over the course of the week, I had the opportunity to consult with key partners in a vital and fast-changing region of the world, reaffirm the commitment of the United States to a strong and vital NATO alliance, and visit with troops in Italy who have helped support the successful operations in Libya.

It was an extraordinary few days that reinforced the importance of our alliances and partnerships, and the need for continued American leadership in the world. With this trip message, I wanted to share some of my experiences with you, the men and women of the Department of Defense, because it is your efforts that make it possible for us to build these alliances and maintain America's global leadership.

Israel

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is accompanied by Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak during an Israeli Defense Honor Cordon ceremony in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 3, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

The first stop on this trip was Israel, a key security partner in a very volatile and important region of the world. I've traveled to Israel many times before, including as Director of CIA and as a member of Congress. Each time I visit, I'm deeply moved by the history and religious significance of the surroundings. With only one day in the country and a packed agenda full of meetings in three different cities, however, I had little time to soak in the sights.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the West Bank, Oct. 3, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

It was very important for me to be able to go to Israel to reaffirm the unshakeable commitment of the United States to the security of the Israeli people, especially at a time of rapid change in the region. Of course, Israel's long-term security would be greatly enhanced by a sustainable comprehensive Middle East peace - and that was a focus of my discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah. In my conversations with Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, I urged both sides to return to negotiations and told them that the United States was prepared to do whatever we can to support them in this effort. Although there remains a lot of work to be done to bring both sides together, I'm hopeful that there is shared recognition that there is no alternative to negotiations.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem, Israel, in remembrance of six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, Oct. 3, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

After completing my last meeting in Jerusalem, I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem, Israeli's memorial to the six million victims of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem stands as a monument to the extraordinary strength of the Jewish people in overcoming tragedy to establish the State of Israel, and it was an honor to be able to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony there with the American ambassador, Dan Shapiro, and museum officials. After taking part in that solemn observance, I wrote this note in the official guest book: "This has been a very moving experience for me personally. What we learn here commits all good people to work together to ensure it never happens again. May God bless those who gave their lives so we could live."

Egypt

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta meets with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi at the Egyptian Ministry of Defense headquarters in Cairo, Oct. 4, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

After resting for the night in Tel Aviv, we left early the next morning and took a 45 minute flight to Cairo, Egypt to visit another key security partner in the region - a country that has been at the leading edge of the democratic changes sweeping the Middle East. Cairo is an incredible city, brimming with excitement - and lots and lots of traffic.

Given the extraordinary political transformation Egypt has undergone this year, I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to have my first meeting with my counterpart, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who is now overseeing the country's political transition.

In my conversations with Field Marshal Tantawi, I expressed my desire to see an orderly, peaceful and legitimate transition to a democratic system of government. We also discussed our shared desire to maintain a strong defense relationship, which is important for our ability to confront common threats and ensure regional stability.

After my first meeting, I had the opportunity to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Tomb of Anwar Sadat in central Cairo. It was a privilege to be able to lay a wreath in honor of these two lives that were given to the cause of peace, especially knowing that the people of Egypt are in the midst of their own peaceful transition to a new and more hopeful future.

Following the ceremony, the Field Marshal graciously hosted me for lunch, along with Prime Minister Sharaf and the American Ambassador, Anne Patterson. Our hosts truly went out of the way to make me feel comfortable - they served American cheesecake for dessert. After lunch, the Field Marshal took me on a tour of the building where the banquet was held, and the two of us even got to enjoy an impromptu game of bowling.

We couldn't play for very long, however, because I was already late to meet with Major General Murad Muwafi, the Director of the Egyptian Intelligence Directorate. In my last meeting of the day, I had a very good conversation with Director Muwafi about how we could further cooperation against threats to regional security.

All of my conversations left me very hopeful that, despite the violence of the last few days, Egypt is trying to stay on the right path forward. I believe Egypt's continuing effort to transition to democracy will send a very strong, positive signal to the rest of the region about the possibilities for peaceful, democratic change.

Belgium

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta delivers remarks at an event hosted by the Carnegie Europe Center, part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at the Conrad Hotel in Brussels, Oct. 5, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

After wrapping up the day in Cairo, I flew to Brussels, Belgium to participate in my first NATO meeting of Ministers of Defense. Even though I had left the Middle East, the dynamic events in the region were not far from my mind, as the NATO operation in Libya figured prominently in discussions over the course of two days of meetings. Other important topics included our shared effort in Afghanistan and our common challenge of building 21st century military capabilities while facing growing budget constraints.

As a former member of Congress whose roots are in the legislative process, I deeply appreciate forums where everyone can express their views and ultimately try to find consensus, so I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to participate in my first ministerial, and also to engage with a number of my counterparts in bilateral sessions.

I began my visit in Brussels by delivering a speech to an audience at Carnegie Europe, where I underscored the importance of the NATO alliance but also pushed our European allies to shoulder more of the burden for common defense. I also urged our allies to better coordinate defense spending within the alliance, arguing that security in the 21st century will not be achieved by each nation marching to its own drummer. I really believe that the fiscal austerity our nations are facing and the pressure that these budget constraints are putting on defense spending will make it all the more essential that we have alliances like NATO.

"U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, right, announces a new strategic initiative with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, center, and Spanish President Jose Zapatero involving the basing of U.S. Navy Aegis destroyers at Rota, Spain, during a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Oct. 5, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

Later that day, I had the opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to the Alliance by joining Spanish President Jose Zapatero and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in announcing a decision to base four Aegis ships at Rota Naval Base in Spain. These ships will further bolster European missile defense capabilities against threats from Iran, and represent a critical step in implementing NATO missile defense, as our leaders agreed to do last year in Lisbon.

During my second day in Brussels, I participated in a meeting of ISAF troop contributing nations to discuss the war in Afghanistan and review the significant progress that we've made in NATO's largest effort. General John Allen, Commander ISAF, presented a briefing of the situation, and it was amazing to look around that room and see all the nations that have contributed to this effort. In listening to my fellow ministers I was really struck by their shared commitment to carry forward this mission and to build on the significant progress that we've made. It was clear that no one is rushing to the exits. To the contrary, there was a real commitment by all to a long-term enduring relationship with Afghanistan.

Another session focused on the effort in Libya, which is nearing its conclusion with the fall of the Qadhafi regime. This was a remarkable achievement and there is no doubt that this alliance has emerged stronger as a result of this effort.

Italy

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses U.S. troops on Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, Oct. 7, 2011. Panetta thanked the troops for their service and answered questions from service members. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

I was very eager to thank those involved in the Libya effort and hear directly from them about their experiences, so at the end of the Brussels ministerial I flew to Naples, Italy - the headquarters of Allied Joint Forces Command. There was also a secondary but important goal to this mission - reaffirming my heritage as the proud son of Italian immigrants and getting more great food and wine.

Luckily, we arrived in Naples just in time to have dinner with Admiral Jim Stavridis, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral Sam Locklear, the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, and Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe, the Commander of the 6th Fleet. After braving traffic conditions reminiscent of Cairo, we set out almost immediately from our hotel to a restaurant in the shadow of the famed Castel dell'Ovo - a stunning medieval waterfront fortress. It was a special opportunity for me to be able to share my native cuisine with these fine military officers. Following my advice, we ordered everything on the menu and enjoyed a family-style meal the proper Italian way.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta stands in front of a RQ-4 Global Hawk as he thanks U.S. and international troops for their service at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, Oct. 7, 2011. Panetta thanked the troops for their service. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

The next morning, we headed over to Allied Joint Forces Command (also the 6th Fleet headquarters) to receive briefings on Operation Unified Protector with top commanders from a number of countries that participated in the effort. This was an opportunity for them to talk about what worked, what areas needed improvement, and what lessons were learned. I thought the sessions were extremely productive, and the consensus I came away with was that NATO really proved itself in this mission. We were able to effectively and quickly put together a complicated operation, and share the burden across the alliance. And as a result of these efforts, the Libyan people are free from a brutal dictator.

As the perfect capstone to the week-long trip, before leaving Italy I had the opportunity to conduct two troop visits - the first in Naples with U.S. personnel, and the second at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, with coalition personnel who were flying missions over Libya. In both visits, I expressed my strong support for the Libya mission and my deepest thanks for the service of all who had gathered. In Sigonella, where around 4,000 sorties have been flown in the Libya mission, my visit on the flight line was punctuated by fighter jets and Predator UAVs taking off - testament to the power of our military alliances and the unceasing work of our military across the world.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses U.S. and international troops on Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, Oct. 7, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

From NAS Sigonella, I boarded the "Doomsday plane" for the 11 hour flight back to Washington. I came away from the week truly struck by the power of our defense relationships, and by the desire of countries across the Middle East and Europe to deepen their bonds of partnership with our military. That desire is testament to the strength of the American military, and to the outstanding quality of our all-volunteer force. I wish that all of you, the men and women of the Department of Defense, could join me on these TDYs to see the respect and admiration the world has for the American military.

Your tireless efforts make clear that the United States will do everything possible to help people secure the rights, freedoms, and opportunities that are inherent for all people to achieve. We did this after World War II in Europe, and we are working to help the people of the Middle East achieve these aspirations today. And because of these efforts, we will help achieve the goal of a safer and more secure world for our children.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense



September 2, 2011

Labor Day Message

To all Department of Defense personnel:

Labor Day is the day we pay tribute to the achievements of America's workers, the backbone of our nation's economic strength. For most Americans, this holiday is a well deserved break from work, a time to celebrate with friends and family, a holiday that marks the end of summer, a final chance to fire up the backyard barbeque. Of course, it also marks the beginning of another season of college football.

As the nation enjoys this holiday weekend, I want to remind all Department of Defense personnel who will be traveling to be safe. Please celebrate responsibly, use good judgment, and make sound decisions while on the road and when you arrive at your holiday destination. Our people are our most precious asset, and I want all of you to have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

For the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deployed on the frontlines of America's wars, Labor Day will be just another day spent in harm's way, providing for our nation's security. It is because of your service that Americans can enjoy this and other holidays in safety and comfort. My thoughts go out to you, and to all of our personnel who must spend this weekend away from loved ones. America owes you a debt for your service in defense of the freedoms and liberties that are so precious to this nation.

I want to thank all of you for your willingness to serve a cause greater than yourselves, for your willingness to give something back to this country. You are what makes this country great not just on Labor Day, but always. God bless you all.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense



August 26, 2011

Be Prepared for Hurricane Irene

To all Department of Defense personnel:

As Hurricane Irene churns in the waters of the Atlantic, I wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you who could be impacted by this storm to take all necessary precautions.

One of the best ways people can prepare for an event like this is to use the checklists provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the www.ready.gov web site.

I can’t say it strongly enough. I want all military and civilian members of this Department to ensure they are prepared for Hurricane Irene. You also need to know how to stay connected to your commands, organizations or military services after the storm passes. Accountability of personnel is extremely important.

I also want you to know that as those of you along the East Coast are making personal preparations this Department is already working closely with FEMA to provide support to the American public.

I directed U.S. Northern Command to provide support as identified by FEMA in light of the projected path of the storm. Fort Bragg, N.C.; Joint Base McGuire – Dix – Lakehurst, N.J.; and Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. have all been designated as a FEMA Incident Support Base (ISB). As such, we have already prepositioned 225 non-DoD trucks loaded with equipment, food, water, and generators at Bragg. Supplies and equipment are in the process of being moved to the other ISBs now.

For all of you who are away from home as the storm approaches, as Secretary of Defense, you have my word that I will do everything possible to take care of your families who might be in the path of the storm. Whether you are forward deployed around the globe or getting valuable ships and aircraft out of harm’s way, I understand the concerns that you have about your loved ones. And while your spouses and families are some of the strongest and most resilient people I have had the privilege to meet, I want you to know that they won’t be alone in the wake of the storm. I have directed the service chiefs to ensure that all of the appropriate organizations are poised and ready to proactively provide needed support.

Thank you for your service,

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense



August 3, 2011

Meeting our Fiscal and National Security Responsibility

To all Department of Defense personnel:

As I begin my second month in office as Secretary of Defense, I wanted to take the opportunity to share my thinking with you on one of the key challenges we face as a Department: how to ensure that our military has everything it needs to protect our national security at a time of considerable fiscal challenge in our country.

I know that many of you have been watching with concern the deficit reduction negotiations in Washington. As President Obama has said, our growing national debt, if not addressed, will imperil our prosperity, hurt our credibility and influence around the world, and ultimately put our national security at risk. As part of the nation’s efforts to get its finances in order, defense spending will be – and I believe it must be – part of the solution.

The reductions in defense spending that will take place as a result of the debt ceiling agreement reached by Congress and the President are in line with what this Department’s civilian and military leaders were anticipating, and I believe we can implement these reductions while maintaining the excellence of our military. But to do that, spending choices must be based on sound strategy and policy. In the past, such as after the Vietnam War, our government applied cuts to defense across the board, resulting in a force that was undersized and underfunded relative to its missions and responsibilities. This process has historically led to outcomes that weaken rather than strengthen our national security – and which ultimately cost our nation more when it must quickly rearm to confront new threats.

I am determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. In order to make the key decisions on how to best implement spending reductions, the President said in April when he unveiled his fiscal framework that “we’re going to have to conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world.” As a Department, we are following that approach. We are asking ourselves: What are the essential missions our military must do to protect America and our way of life? What are the risks of the strategic choices we make? And what are the financial costs? Achieving savings based on sound national security policy will serve our nation’s interests, and will also prove more enforceable and sustainable over the long-term.

We expect that the responsible transitions in Iraq and Afghanistan will help reduce total U.S. defense spending over the coming years. But I will do everything I can to ensure that further reductions in defense spending are not pursued in a hasty, ill-conceived way that would undermine the military’s ability to protect America and its vital interests around the globe. For example, the debt ceiling agreement contains a sequester mechanism that would take effect if Congress fails to enact further deficit reduction. If that happens, it could trigger a round of dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation. This potential deep cut in defense spending is not meant as policy. Rather, it is designed to be unpalatable to spur responsible, balanced deficit reduction and avoid misguided cuts to our security.

Indeed, this outcome would be completely unacceptable to me as Secretary of Defense, the President, and to our nation’s leaders. That’s because we live in a world where terrorist networks threaten us daily, rogue nations seek to develop dangerous weapons, and rising powers watch to see if America will lose its edge. The United States must be able to protect our core national security interests with an adaptable force capable and ready to meet these threats and deter adversaries that would put those interests at risk. I will do all I can to assist the Administration and congressional leaders to make the commonsense cuts needed to avoid this sequester mechanism.

Our military has always taken on and succeeded in every mission it has been assigned – from the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief at home and abroad. You – the men and women of the military – have never said “I can’t do it.” Nor have the civilians who support you. That is the military ethos – to salute and press on. The ethos of this nation’s leaders and policy makers must be to ensure that the missions assigned to the military meet critical national security priorities. It is our responsibility to determine those priorities and to ensure that you will always have the training and equipment to succeed in those missions.

I am aware that as Washington discusses strategy and policy, you and your families are discussing the implications of decisions that may be made. I promised in my first message as Secretary that I will fight for you. That means I will fight for you and your families as we face these budget challenges.

The force has been stretched by a decade of combat. We owe you and your families the support you have earned – both on the battlefield and on the home front. To be sure, the current budget constraints will make it all the more challenging to modernize and recapitalize the force. Platforms from the build-up of the 1980s are reaching the end of their shelf life and must be replaced, and units and equipment that have been stressed by a decade of combat must be reset. Going forward, we must ensure that the military gets the effective and affordable weapons it needs by redoubling our efforts to enforce procurement discipline.

We also must continue to tackle wasteful and duplicative spending, and overhead staffing. We must be accountable to the American people for what we spend, where we spend it, and with what result. While we have reasonable controls over much of our budgetary information, it is unacceptable to me that the Department of Defense cannot produce a financial statement that passes all financial audit standards. That will change. I have directed that this requirement be put in place as soon as possible. America deserves nothing less.

The United States faces a series of tough choices ahead on the budget as we seek to balance the need for fiscal solvency with the need to protect our security. We can – and must – address the budget and protect the country. As we do, we will be guided by the principle that we will do what’s right for our nation now and for its future. By better aligning our resources with our priorities, this Department can lead the way in moving towards a more disciplined defense budget. Only in that way can we ensure that we fulfill the fundamental duty for those of us in public service – which is to do everything we can to give future generations of Americans a better and safer life.



July 29, 2011

About the Debt Ceiling Negotiations

To all Department of Defense personnel:

As you know, Congress is debating how it plans to meet its obligations and raise the debt ceiling so that the country can pay its bills.

The President expects that Congress will do its job, enact an increase of the debt ceiling that he can sign into law, and end this impasse. I am sending this note to remind you that Department of Defense personnel should plan to come to work next week, as scheduled, at their normal place and time.

The patience, diligence, and professionalism that you all have shown through this challenging time in our Nation's history is something the American people can be proud of - and I am proud of as well.

As Secretary of Defense, you have my commitment that I will do everything possible to ensure that our national defense is protected.

Thank you for your service,

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense



July 8-12 AOR Trip

Trip Talk

To all Department of Defense personnel:

A week after I began my tenure as Secretary of Defense on July 1st, I travelled to visit our men and women serving in uniform in Afghanistan and Iraq. Having just returned to Washington, I wanted to share with you some personal reflections about this TDY, as I plan to do following future trips overseas.

The main purpose of this first visit was to meet with the men and women who are putting their lives on the line to defend America. In small troop lunches, operational briefings and larger group sessions, I had several opportunities to thank them for their service and hear from them directly. I could only touch a small fraction of the force on this visit, but I want everyone serving in uniform, along with this Department’s civilian employees, to know how much I respect what you do for our country and the very real difference you are making to this nation.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta walks with U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, current commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, and U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John R. Allen, the forces' future commander, at Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 10, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

My first destination was Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. There, we met with the outstanding Commander of ISAF, General David Petraeus (who has been confirmed by the Senate to succeed me as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency) and his extremely capable successor, Lieutenant General John Allen. After a brief stop at Camp Eggers, our delegation headed to the presidential palace to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Over dinner, we discussed our shared commitment to transition and the substantial progress being made in building up the Afghan National Security Forces, which is absolutely key in order for this upcoming transition to proceed. I was very taken by President Karzai’s clear admiration for the U.S. military. We talked about how the United States – going back to the days of George Washington – had maintained a military that was professional and apolitical. This is one of the major goals of the ANSF, and yet another example of how America’s military serves as a model to the world.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanks members of 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, July 10, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

The following morning, we took a short hop on a C-17 to Camp Dwyer in Helmand province. Helmand is a former Taliban stronghold that today is much more secure thanks to the heroic efforts of the Marines, who make up the bulk of our fighting forces there. At Dwyer, where the temperature was in the triple digits and the dust was thick, I had lunch with a group of Marine junior officers, visited an Army MEDEVAC unit and combat hospital, and observed partnering work being done with the Afghan Army, including IED clearance training. I then had a chance to speak to troops from USMC Combat Logistics Battalion 7, who conduct route clearance operations and move supplies out to forward operating bases throughout the area. It was really extraordinary to meet these young men and women who are making such sacrifices to protect America. To look into their eyes is to look into the heart and soul of our country.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta rides aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, over Baghdad on their way to meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani, July 11, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

After a full day at Camp Dwyer, we boarded our C-17 and headed to Baghdad, where we were met by General Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq and an extraordinary military leader. I first visited Iraq in 2006 as a member of the Iraq Study Group, when the country was in considerable turmoil. Thanks to the tremendous sacrifices American men and women in uniform have made, Iraq is on a much better path today. After spending a night at Camp Victory, I had lunch with junior enlisted troops at one of the camp’s dining facilities, and then spoke to a group of soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division, the 2/1 Advise and Assist Brigade, and the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team of the Idaho National Guard, about the importance of our work in Iraq. We are doing everything we can to help Iraq become a stable democracy that can defend, secure, and govern itself in a responsible way.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta meets with troops for lunch at a dining facility at Camp Victory, Iraq, July 11, 2011. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

In support of that goal, my visit to Iraq concluded with a series of meetings with top Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Maliki, President Talabani, and Kurdistan Regional Government President Barzani, with whom I met with in Erbil – a 45 minute flight from Baghdad. I had previously met with all of these leaders before in my capacity as CIA Director, but this was a chance for us to develop a deeper relationship in my new capacity and to talk about a range of issues critical to the security partnership we have established. At the top of that list: the need to take action against Iranian-backed militant groups that are attacking our forces and the Iraqi people, and our future security relationship. I encouraged the Iraqi leaders to continue to do everything they are authorized to do to stop these attacks – and I reiterated that I will not hesitate to use all authorities at my disposal to do the same.

From Erbil, I boarded an Air Force E-4B – the National Airborne Operations Center also known as the “Doomsday Plane” – for the 12-hour flight back to Washington. We took time on the flight to acknowledge and celebrate some birthdays and a new grandchild in the Pentagon press family. This was my first trip as Secretary, and seeing and meeting with our troops inspires me to do everything I can to make sure we prevail in these conflicts and provide our service members and their families what they need to accomplish their mission.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you and the nation we serve.


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