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Panetta Will Put Heart into Pentagon Job, Biden Says

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 22, 2011 – Vice President Joe Biden today formally swore in Leon E. Panetta as the 23rd secretary of defense, saying it will be his most honorable service in the long list of senior government positions he has held.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Vice President Joe Biden administers the oath of office to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta during a formal ceremony at the Pentagon, July 22, 2011, as Panetta’s wife, Sylvia, looks on. The former CIA director has served as the 23rd secretary of defense since a private swearing-in ceremony July 1. DOD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Standing alongside his wife, Sylvia, Panetta took the oath to “well and faithfully discharge the duties” of secretary of defense. The Pentagon auditorium was crowded with service members, Cabinet members and members of Congress. The formal ceremony came three weeks after Panetta took office in a private ceremony.

Calling Panetta his friend of 30 years, Biden outlined the secretary’s lengthy Washington career that has included serving as a congressman from his home district in Carmel, Calif., as well as White House chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget in President Bill Clinton’s administration. Panetta was serving as CIA director when President Barack Obama chose him to succeed Robert M. Gates as defense secretary.

Panetta is known for his management and budget skills, Biden said, but like Gates, it is his sincere appreciation for service members and their families that will make him successful at the Pentagon.

“Leon, I think the Pentagon is getting something special with you,” Biden said. “Beyond all your knowledge and management capabilities, they’re getting your heart. … Just like Secretary Gates, I know how you feel about these kids.

“Thank you both for being willing to do this,” he said to the Panettas.

The vice president said Panetta “served President Clinton admirably in a moment of budget crisis” and brought the CIA back from a point of low morale and public perception, culminating with the agency’s role in the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in May. “You not only restored morale, but reminded the American people of the incredible job these folks do,” Biden said. “In every one those endeavors, I can say, you left the institution you worked with in better shape.”

Panetta’s reward for his decades of public service, the vice president said, is in leading the best military the world has ever known.

“You are leading the most awesome institution in the world,” he said. “President Obama and I, and indeed the American people, are fortunate to have a leader in this place with the skills and experience to manage, as well as the heart” to care about the troops.

“This may be the greatest honor ever bestowed on you – the privilege of leading these men and women, the greatest fighting force the world has ever, ever seen,” he added.

The job won’t be easy, Biden noted. It comes at a time of drawdown in Iraq, ongoing fighting in Afghanistan, and severe budgetary challenges.

Biden noted that in six weeks the world will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, including 184 people who died at the Pentagon.

“A lot of these [service members] were 12 and 15 and younger at the time this attack took place, and they stepped up,” he said. “Two million, eight hundred thousand service members stepped up, with the almost certain prospect that they would be deployed. Many were sent multiple times, and in some of the most horrific terrain American service members have ever fought on.

“The 9/11 generation has earned its place,” he continued. “They have stepped up, and although only 1 percent of our population is fighting these wars, … they are among the best in our history. Their accomplishments have been extraordinary.”

The United States has only one sacred obligation” Biden said: “to prepare and equip those we send into battle, and to care for them when they come home.”

Under Panetta’s leadership, Biden said, “We will renew our commitment to America’s durability to remain vigilant to old and new threats we face.” The nation also will redouble its efforts against international terrorists, he added.

 

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