Panetta Thanks Fort Bliss Neighbors for Support
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
EL PASO, Texas, Jan. 13, 2012 Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanked the people of this West Texas city last night for their support of service members based in the area.
“Our military has done everything we’ve asked them to do, and this community has done everything it can to ensure they can do their mission,” Panetta said during a speech to the local Chamber of Commerce.
Fort Bliss is the new home of the 1st Armored Division, and more than 200,000 troops have deployed out of the post since 9/11, Panetta said. “While the troops have deployed, their families remain here, and El Paso has stepped up to the plate.”
Panetta told the chamber that the military must change to remain the best military in the world and confront the threats that face America. With the country facing a fiscal crisis, the Defense Department must cut $489 billion over the next 10 years.
The military has gone through reductions following wars in the past, Panetta said, but this time is different because threats remain. The American armed forces dropped after World War II, but the fascist threat had been defeated, the secretary noted. The military contracted after the Cold War, he added, but the Soviet Union had dissolved.
“We still confront some major threats,” he said. “We have continuing threats of violent extremism and terrorism.”
The United States has put al-Qaida and its allies on the run, but the threat remains, the secretary said, and U.S. forces must keep the pressure on. In addition, he told the group, the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons and the means to launch them has not gone away.
“We’ve got the destabilizing behavior of rogue nations like Iran and North Korea,” he said, adding that uncertainty accompanies the rise of new powers in Asia and changes in the Middle East.
Countering these threats and uncertainties has to be governed by a strategy, Panetta said, and the department is firmly behind President Barack Obama’s new defense strategy revealed last week. That strategy reshapes the military while meeting new fiscal constraints, he explained, and Pentagon leaders are shaping a budget based on the strategy, “and not just some numbers game.”
“This will shape just what our military force will look like -- not just today, but in the future,” the secretary said.
The men and women in uniform will continue to be the country’s greatest strength, Panetta said, and those men and women will continue to need the support of communities like El Paso.
“As this new greatest generation of Americans begins to return home from war, many will need our support to recover from wounds, both physical and mental,” he said. “They will need our support as they transition either back into the force or back into civilian life. We must be there for them. We must honor their commitment to this country.”
People are the highest priority for DOD, the secretary stressed.
“We can’t do it alone,” he said. “We need your help. Defending America is a team effort. It’s a joint effort on the part of our troops and their families, but it also includes the people of communities like El Paso.”