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Portrait Unveiling for Secretary Leon Panetta

Good morning, everyone. What a beautiful morning!

As you all know, I like to go out and walk the halls of the Pentagon.  I do it to get exercise, I do it to get out of the office, and I walk around to see how the place is doing – and how you all are doing.  On those walks, I see a lot of portraits.  Every hallway here serves as a reminder of the men and women who have served our great nation.  Some of the faces are well-known…we have, in fact, Mel Laird to thank for the portraits that line the Secretary of Defense’s corridor.  And some of the portraits are of long ago soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

This morning, it’s my honor to help unveil the latest addition: the portrait of Leon Panetta…the 23rd Secretary of Defense.  Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the Pentagon. 

And I’d like to extend a warm welcome to the many Panetta friends and family and colleagues here today – including Jimmy…Jimmy, thanks for your service to this country.  And thank you for your love and support for your dad. 

And thank you, distinguished guests and former leaders of the department who have joined us here on this beautiful and festive morning. 

Leon’s beloved golden retriever Bravo is also here today.  Now much to Secretary Panetta’s dismay, his press secretary once mistakenly told a Washington Post reporter that Bravo is an Irish setter.  Once the staffer was himself out of the doghouse, he gave Leon a shirt for Bravo that read: “Hi, I’m Bravo, and I’m working undercover as an Irish setter.”

Bravo, your cover – I fear – is blown for good now, but I’d like to thank you also for your support for Leon.

Today, we recognize the affable and able son of Italian immigrants who has done so much to secure the American dream for so many, for so long; an American whose service to this country spanned more than forty years in roles from soldier to statesman; and a Secretary of Defense who led DoD at a time of great change for our military, the United States, and the world.

I have worked for eleven secretaries of defense, and each brought his own unique traits to this challenging office.  Secretary Panetta’s unparalleled political acumen served him – and all of DoD – well in that time of change.  His infectious laugh made difficult meetings – even those about sequester – far easier to manage.  And his sense of openness and inclusion, at all levels of DoD, brought out the best of those who work here.  And behind all of that formidable ability, you always knew there was a big heart for the troops – and for the welfare of America.

Leon more than met his commitment to protect our servicemembers, and the nation.  During his tenure, he helped bring our combat mission in Iraq to an end, begin the drawdown in Afghanistan, and continue to hand Al-Qaeda debilitating losses, following on his signature achievement at CIA: the raid that brought an end to Osama bin Laden.

Recognizing the contributions of gays, lesbians, and women to the nation's security, Leon made sure that the military lived up to the values of our society, making it more respectful and inclusive.  He completed, as he said, the successful repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” and was the first Secretary of Defense to speak directly to gay and lesbian service members in public remarks.  And in one of his final acts in office, he lifted DoD's combat ban on women. 

Recognizing the Asia-Pacific’s growing importance and its dynamic security environment, Leon announced that 60 percent of our Navy would be homeported in the region.  He bolstered relationships with friends and allies.  And he paved the way for Marine Corps rotations to Darwin, Australia.

Recognizing the need to adapt our military for future challenges, Leon envisioned ways to confront emerging threats.  He oversaw the development of a new defense strategy that marked, as he said, “an historic shift to the future.”  And he helped DoD take seriously the challenges that both we, and the nation, face in cyberspace.

When I served as his deputy, we had the chance to work very closely together – just about as closely as any Secretary and Deputy could.  Leon said that he wanted me to be his “alter-ego,” but I liked to say that while Leon worked the bridge, I manned the engine room. 

Leon, now that I’m up on that bridge, I value the strong foundation you built on all of these issues – in the past few weeks I have focused on building the force of the future, implementing the next phase of the rebalance, and leading DoD’s approach to cybersecurity – and many others things.  Through all that, I am reminded how well you were served by a robust sense of humor.  And I am beginning to understand – beginning to understand – why your language was so salty…or so frickin’ salty.

I often said that having Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense was like going to a big Italian family dinner and the table stretched on for miles and miles and miles.  And down that table were the millions and millions of men and women who served this great department.  And at the end of that table sat a big, proud, comforting leader and father, Leon Panetta.  All of us – from the senior leaders on the E-Ring to the most junior servicemembers around the world – felt palpably just how much he cared for this Department and the men and women who serve in it.  And we now have the family portrait to remember him by.

Leon, we thank you for your service, your vision, and your leadership.  And I look forward to seeing your portrait on my walks – a daily reminder of your friendship and your contributions to the Department of Defense.

Thank you.