Panetta to Troops: ‘You Carry on Nation’s Legacy’
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 27, 2011 Since leaving Washington on Oct. 21 for a visit to the Asia-Pacific region, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has emphasized that the United States is a Pacific nation and remains committed to doing its part for the common good.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta listens to a soldier's question during a town hall meeting at Collier Field House, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, South Korea, Oct. 26, 2011. DOD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In meetings with senior Indonesian officials and with Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministers, as well as with Japanese military, foreign affairs and political leaders and now here, the secretary has emphasized the U.S. commitment to furthering peace, stability and security in the Pacific.
Panetta has had another dialogue as well. In a hangar, on a ship and in a gym, the secretary has gathered with U.S. troops – and their Japanese and South Korean counterparts – to thank them for their service and share his views on why that service matters.
“As secretary of defense, these are really the best moments -- a chance to be with the men and women who are out there on the front lines, men and women who put their lives on the line … [and] represent the best of what our nation is all about,” the secretary told a sea of men and women in uniform yesterday at Yongsan Garrison’s Collier Field House here.
America is a democracy designed from its beginnings to depend on citizens willing to give something back to their nation, Panetta said. The nation’s forefathers, pioneers and immigrants all have understood that citizens’ contributions keep the nation strong, he added.
Panetta told the troops his parents came to the United States from Italy in the 1930s. Like millions of fellow immigrants from around the world, they had little money and no special skills or language abilities, he said.
The secretary told the troops he was born in Monterey, Calif., and recalled asking his father many times why he and Panetta’s mother had traveled such a long way at such risk.
“My father said the reason they did it was because my mother and he believed that they could give their children a better life,” Panetta said.
In his view, he added, that’s the American dream.
“It’s what all of us want for our children, and hopefully what our children will want for their children … so that they can enjoy the fruits of what democracy is all about,” the secretary said.
The advantages of American democracy are due to the service of people who care about the country, he said.
“That was the other thing that my father would say to my brother and I: for everything that America gave them, we owed something back to this country,” Panetta said.
Panetta has served the United States as an Army intelligence officer, congressman from California, presidential chief of staff and CIA director. Before leading the CIA, he spent 10 years co-directing with his wife, Sylvia, the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, based at California State University, Monterey Bay. The nonpartisan, not-for-profit institute seeks to instill in young men and women the virtues and value of public service.
“I’m a believer in public service,” he told the troops. “I think public service is what makes our country strong – because there are those wiling to give something back.”
Freedom is not free; it demands sacrifice like that offered by service members, Panetta said. “For that reason, I just deeply thank you for your service to the country,” he added. “We all can talk about the greatest generation coming out of World War II, [but] this is the greatest generation of our time, today -- having served 10 years in war, … a group of men and women in the military who have really provided the greatest service imaginable.”
Over that decade, nearly 6,200 of those men and women have died, and some 46,000 have been wounded, the secretary said.
“That sacrifice is what makes our country strong: … men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line in order to make this country better, in order to give our children a better life,” Panetta said.
America and its allies will continue to pressure terrorist organizations around the world, and will help nations such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya solidify their own security and governments, the secretary said.
“There’s a tremendous amount of progress that’s been made here, but obviously, it’s going to take continued vigilance [and] work,” Panetta said.
The bottom line is the successes of the past decade are because of America’s troops, the secretary said.
“We are a country that wants to promote peace and prosperity throughout the world. That’s what we’re about; that’s what we do,” the secretary said. “Take the dreams of people – all people -- and give them a chance … to reach those dreams, the way my parents were able to reach their dreams.
“You carry on the legacy of what America is all about: … service to each other, and service, most of all, to the nation that represents freedom and opportunity for others throughout the world,” he said.