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Remarks by Secretary Panetta at the Defense Language Institute, Monterey, Calif.

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta
August 23, 2011

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA:  Thank you very much, Colonel [sic -- Daniel Pick].  I deeply appreciate your kind words and I want to thank you for the service that you’re providing here heading up the Defense Language Institute. 

            This is a remarkable institution.  We’ve had some great leaders and I know that you are going to stand beside them as one of the great leaders of the Defense Language Institute and I thank you for your leadership. 

            I also want to acknowledge the presence of Congressman Sam Farr, who took my place here representing this area.  And like me, I think Sam is somebody who was raised in this area, deeply committed to the institutions that are part of this area and has been a strong supporter of all of the military institutions that we have in the Monterey area, and I want to thank him for his support.  I want to thank him for his continuing good representation for this area. 

            I also want to say a special tribute to the faculty here at the Defense Language Institute.  I know there are a lot of new technologies.  I’ve just had a chance to see some of the new technologies that have been developed here for linguistic training.  And yet, in the end, we still depend on the capabilities of a good faculty to be able to work with you and to guide you as you learn these difficult languages.  And so I want to pay tribute to the faculty.  For a long time, I’ve been very close to the faculty members that have been here.  I really thank them for their dedication, for their professionalism, but most of all their commitment to ensuring that all of you get outstanding language training as you perform your very important role defending this country.

            As you can gather, I’ve got a special relationship to this place.  It goes back a number of ways.  One, I was born and raised in Monterey, actually not too far from this location.  And even as a boy, I had a chance to come here to see what was then the Presidio, and understand both the history and the accomplishments of this great institution as it helped protect our country by providing great language training to our soldiers. 

            I also, as mentioned, had the honor to represent this area in the Congress and at that time strongly supported and continue to strongly support the mission of this school.  I think the faculty; the students that are here represent the very best in education in this country because they are providing you with the tools to be able to be better soldiers in defending your country. 

            But most importantly, most importantly I’m proud to be here because of the mission that this school is involved with, which is teaching foreign languages to our military and to our civilian personnel. 

            I have long been an advocate of strong foreign language training in this country.  I think it is absolutely vital to what the United States is all about.  At one point, when I was a member of Congress, served on a commission that President Carter appointed at that time to look at the state of foreign language training in the United States.  And at that time, we determined that the level of foreign language training in America was indeed a national scandal, that it was not supported, that students were not learning the kind of languages they should be learning, and that much more needed to be done to try to improve our foreign language training.  We’ve come a little bit further since that commission report, but frankly more needs to be done. 

            I’m a believer that foreign language training is vital to just good education.  Let’s start with that, good education in this country.  We talk about the three Rs, but there is a fourth R, which is the reality of the world that we live in.  We live in a global world.  We have to understand that world if we really are going to be able not only to defend this country, but to extend our relationships to others so that we can work together to defend the world that we live in. 

            It’s vital to our economic interests because we are a global world.  We are increasingly competitive in this world.  What happens abroad, what happens in Europe, what happens in Greece, what happens in Spain, what happens in China affects our economy.  It affects our living standards.  And so it is important for us to have the ability to speak the languages of those countries that can impact on our economic security. 

            It is vital to our diplomacy.  How can we possibly deal with other countries without understanding their culture, without understanding their language, without understanding what really is at the heart and soul of those nations?  And so having language training, language capability is important for our ability to relate to the world that we live in. 

            And lastly, it’s vital to our national security.  When I was at the CIA as director, it was my view that you could not be a good intelligence analyst; you couldn’t be a good intelligence operations individual without having foreign language capability.  So one of the things I did there as director was establish a mandate that if you’re going to be an analyst, if you’re going to be an operations officer at the CIA, you better learn a foreign language.  It was crucial to your career, but more importantly it was crucial to what you do in the intelligence business.  The reality is that we have to reflect the nation we live in and we have to reflect the world that we’re a part of. 

            Languages are the key to understanding that world, to understanding the nuances, to understanding what other people are saying, what they mean.  If we’re going to be able to advance stability in some of the countries that we’re fighting in today, we’ve got to be able to understand what motivates those countries, what motivates their people, understand where they’re coming from, their culture, their beliefs, their faiths, their ideologies, their hatreds, their loves.  And it’s only through language that you develop that kind of capability. 

            So it is crucial to our national security to be -- to be able to have a strong language ability. 

            I consider the Defense Language Institute as a treasure in the ability to be able to train you, to give you that language ability so that you can better defend this country in what you do. 

            As secretary of defense, when I was director of the CIA, one of the first things I did is I traveled throughout the world, and as I travel throughout the world now to meet with our forces is to take the time to thank you.  Thank you for your service.  Thank you for giving back to this country.  Thank you for caring enough about this great country of ours to be willing to put your lives on the line in order to defend this country and what we represent to ourselves and to the world. 

            Our democracy is dependent on those that are willing to serve this country.  That goes to the heart and soul of what a strong democracy is all about, the ability to have people, citizens who are willing to roll up their sleeves and serve this country.  It was true for our forefathers.  It’s true for our pioneers.  It’s true for the immigrants who have come to this country.  It is true for all of us today.  Throughout history, we have been blessed with men and women who’ve been willing to wear the uniform of this country, to defend this country, to put their lives on the line, many times to sacrifice their lives in order to ensure that we protect our freedoms, our liberties, our values, and what this country is all about. 

            We need to have that kind of dedication.  And for that, I thank you.  I thank you for being willing to do that.  Wherever you come from, whatever part of this country is your hometown, fact is you’ve been willing to do it.  You’re here.  And I thank you for that on behalf of the Defense Department, but more importantly on behalf of our country. 

            My story is the story of public service.  I spent 40 years of my life in some public service capacity.  The reason that I did it is because in many ways it reflected where I was coming from, reflected my parents, who were immigrants to this country.  They came to this country like millions of others -- no education, no language skills, no ability to really be able to have any skill, and yet they came here.  The reason they did, as my father would say time and time again, is because they believed that this country gave them the opportunity to give their children a better life. 

            That is the American dream.  That is what motivates all of us, the dream that we care enough about this country that we want to give our children a safer and a better life.  It’s your dream.  It’s your mission.  It’s your duty to help make sure that those that we care about, those that we love are able to enjoy a more secure America and are able to enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that we provide. 

            We face a number of challenges today, challenges that confront us throughout the world.  We’re fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And we owe it to all of those that have fought there, that have died there.  We owe it to them to make sure that we prevail in those wars, that we are able to provide stability in both Iraq and Afghanistan, so that they can govern and secure their own countries.  That’s what we intend to do and the only reason we are able to accomplish that is because of the great sacrifices that we have made -- that you have made -- in order to ensure that we provide a safer world for our children.

            We’re engaged in a NATO mission in Libya and hopefully that, too, may be drawing to a close.  It’s clear that the opposition have made significant gains.  It’s clear that the regime forces are collapsing and that Gadhafi’s days are numbered, but it still remains dangerous and our hope is that ultimately the opposition can’t succeed.  It is the Libyans that will determine their future. 

            I’m particularly proud of the mission that we performed there, working with NATO.  It is a credit to the great job of nations working together on a common mission, something that is absolutely essential if we’re to provide security in the future, particularly in that part of the world because that area, the so-called Arab Spring, is an area where we are facing increasing changes, increasing turmoil, but the chance to make that part of the world a better region, one that enjoys some of the values and some of the reforms and some of the political opportunities that we have in this country.

            We are a country that’s facing the war on terrorism and continue to be involved in that.  Even though we come to the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this September, we look back at the operations.  We look back at the efforts that we’ve made to confront al Qaeda and we have made good progress at weakening al Qaeda and terrorists’ ability to attack this country.  Those operations have been very successful, and yet al Qaeda still remains a threat.  In the effort, one of the proudest I’ve had as CIA director was the ability to put together the operation that took down Osama bin Laden.  The military and intelligence community, working together, made that happen. 

            It’s the kind of partnership, the kind of effort that is so reflective of the capabilities of those in uniform.  We still confront a threat.  We still have to put pressure on in the FATA, in Yemen, in Somalia, and wherever al Qaeda goes.  We have to make sure they have no place to hide in which to be able to threaten this country. 

            We have continuing threats in Iran, in North Korea, to make sure that they do not develop a nuclear capability that can threaten our world.  We face cyber threats, increasing challenges in cyber threats that can endanger this country, that can paralyze this country. 

            We must be prepared to defend ourselves against those kinds of attacks and be able to be aggressive at going after those countries that would try to attack us using this kind of technology. 

            And we continue to confront rising powers in the world -- China, India, Brazil, Russia, countries that we need to cooperate with.  We need to hopefully work with.  But in the end, we also need to make sure do not threaten the stability of the world. 

            We’ve got to be able to project our power in a world in which we make clear that we are a force to be reckoned with.  All of this comes at a time when we are facing budget challenges in this country, challenges that all of us have a responsibility to confront.  We are facing the largest deficit in the history of this country, a debt that now approaches $14 trillion, an annual deficit of $1.4 trillion.  We do have to roll up our sleeves and discipline our budget for the future.  And defense has to play a role in that.  I understand that.  But we do not have to choose between fiscal responsibility and protecting our national security. 

            The Congress has enacted some budget savings in the debt ceiling agreement.  Secretary Gates and the president pretty much were talking about a number that was in the ball park that was passed by the Congress.  It’s my view that while those decisions are going to be tough, that we have the opportunity to make some very important decisions that not only shape defense for today, but the future; that make us an agile force, a deployable force, a force that can confront the threats in the world that has the weapons to be able to do that effectively, that we can project our presence throughout the world and make clear to others that we care about peace in the world.  But most importantly, that protects our troops and protects their families.  All of that is essential. 

            The key strength in our military is a strong volunteer force.  That’s you.  What we have to do is make sure that we never break faith with you or with you families and the commitments that we make to you. 

            I think we can do this.  I’m confident that we can shape this defense for the future and it can be one that will protect this country, protect our core security interests, make us the best military in the world, and protect our troops and their families. 

            The greatest danger that I share with you is the danger that perhaps Congress, as it tries to struggle with additional deficit reduction, fails and the mechanism that they put in place called sequester suddenly requires additional cuts across the board.  If that happens, we could face almost $500 to $600 billion more in cuts, and that would be devastating to defense. 

            We’ve seen this happen in the past and we must not make the mistakes of the past.  We don’t want to hollow out our force.  We don’t want to weaken our defense.  We do not want to undermine our ability to create alliances that defend the world.  And most importantly, we do not want to break faith with the troops and with their families. 

            This is a difficult time.  It’s a time in which all of us are going to be called on to fight for what we believe in.  You, you’re called on to fight to protect this country.  You’re being trained here with the abilities to be able to go out there and do what’s right in order to defend America.  In turn, we, those who have leadership positions in Washington, have to fight to protect you.  That’s my job and that’s what I commit to you, that I will do everything necessary to make sure that the right decisions are made in order to protect our national defense. 

            The toughest things that I have to do as secretary of defense is write condolence letters to those families whose sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands have been killed in action.  That’s the toughest thing I do. 

            I’ve had a chance in these last few months as secretary of defense to go to the war zone, to look into the eyes of those that are fighting there, and to appreciate the sacrifice that they’re making. 

            I’ve gone to Bethesda and Walter Reed and seen our wounded warriors -- sometimes the most horrible wounds you can imagine.  And yet they have the spirit of wanting to move on.  They know that they’re going to make it.  Many of them want to return to duty.  That kind of drive, that kind of inspiration is incredible, and it’s something we have to remind ourselves of. 

            I’ve been to Dover to greet the bodies of those who were killed in the helicopter crash and meet with their families.  And I’ve gone to Arlington.  In every situation, families of those who have lost loved ones come up to me and say, do me one favor, Mr. Secretary.  Do not give up on the mission that my loved one gave his or her life for.  Do not give us on that mission.  And I have committed to them that I will not because what all of those who serve this country, all of those who sacrificed to this country represent is duty and honor, but most of all sacrifice. 

            On behalf of the United States, it is an inspiration, an inspiration to see those who are willing to commit their lives on behalf of this country.  And it is an inspiration that ought to inspire all of us, all of us -- leaders in Washington, those of us who have a responsibility for running agencies and departments, those who serve in elective office -- it ought to be an inspiration to everyone to exercise the same leadership and make the same sacrifices to ensure that our country is safe for the future. 

            It is only through that kind of commitment, through that kind of fight that we will ensure that the American dream that my parents came here to achieve, the American dream of giving our children a better life, is achieved.  But more importantly, to ensure that we always have a government of, by, and for the people. 

            Thanks very much.  Carry on the fight.