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United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

Defense Secretary Panetta's Message

February 26, 2013
February 26, 2013

Farewell Message to the Department
From Secretary Panetta

To All Department of Defense Personnel:
Tomorrow morning, Chuck Hagel will be sworn in to succeed me as Secretary of Defense. It's been the privilege of my life to serve with and lead the men and women of this Department, and I am grateful that President Obama selected such an outstanding leader to take my place.

As my final act in this position, I want to express my deepest gratitude to each and every one of you who are fighting and working every day to keep this country safe. I also want to share with you my pride in what we've been able to accomplish together as one team and one family at the Department of Defense.

First and foremost, I'm proud that because of all of your hard work, your sacrifice, and your dedication, we've kept this country safe. I'm proud of the courage and commitment you've displayed in combat, and for your determination to defeat our enemies, prevail over significant challenges in two wars, and give the people of Iraq and Afghanistan a chance at a much brighter future.

I'm proud of the gains we've made in weakening Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. At all levels in this Department, you've shown the ability to work together closer than ever before with our partners in government and abroad. Your skill and teamwork are undermining and frustrating our enemies' designs to attack this country.

I'm proud of the defense strategy that we've developed and started to implement, which sustains the world's strongest military and helps meet the Department's obligations to fiscal discipline. Together we're keeping our military agile, flexible, and ready; we're rebalancing our force posture; we're building new partnerships and investing in new technologies.

I'm proud of expanding opportunities for everyone in the military, because I believe everyone deserves a chance to serve. And I'm proud of what we've done to help and care for returning service members, veterans, and their families, who've sacrificed so much especially over this past decade of war.

Most of all, I'll always remain proud and honored to have led brave warriors who are risking their lives on behalf of the American people.

Everything our military has been able to accomplish is because of dedicated people like you - it is because of your willingness to deal with extended absences from loved ones and deploy in harm's way.

I'll never forget, honoring our fallen to whom our nations rendered final honors, and I'll keep their families in my prayers. In my time as Secretary of Defense, I've seen the profound difference that each of you has made in the life of this nation and our world. You have responded to the call of the bugle with courage and with selfless dedication to country.

My prayer as I leave is that we all share the same courage and dedication to protecting the United States of America, the home of the free and the land of the brave.

God bless America, God bless you, and God bless the men and women of the Department of Defense.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

February 20, 2013

Preparations for Potential Sequestration
On March 1 and Furlough Notifications

To All Department of Defense Personnel:
For more than a year and a half, the president, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I have repeatedly voiced our deep concerns over the half a trillion dollars in automatic across-the-board cuts that would be imposed under sequestration and the severe damage that would do both to this department and to our national defense.

The administration continues to work with Congress to reach agreement on a balanced deficit reduction plan to avoid these cuts. Meanwhile, because another trigger for sequestration is approaching on March 1, the department's leadership has begun extensive planning on how to implement the required spending reductions. Those cuts will be magnified because the department has been forced to operate under a six-month continuing resolution that has already compelled us to take steps to reduce spending.

In the event of sequestration we will do everything we can to be able to continue to perform our core mission of providing for the security of the United States, but there is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force.

I have also been deeply concerned about the potential direct impact of sequestration on you and your families. We are doing everything possible to limit the worst effects on DOD personnel – but I regret that our flexibility within the law is extremely limited. The president has used his legal authority to exempt military personnel funding from sequestration, but we have no legal authority to exempt civilian personnel funding from reductions. As a result, should sequestration occur and continue for a substantial period, DOD will be forced to place the vast majority of its civilian workforce on administrative furlough.

Today, I notified Congress that furloughs could occur under sequestration. I can assure you that, if we have to implement furloughs, all affected employees will be provided at least 30 days' notice prior to executing a furlough and your benefits will be protected to the maximum extent possible. We also will work to ensure that furloughs are executed in a consistent and appropriate manner, and we will also continue to engage in discussions with employee unions as appropriate.

Working with your component heads and supervisors, the department's leaders will continue to keep you informed. As we deal with these difficult issues, I want to thank you for your patience, your hard work, and your continued dedication to our mission of protecting the country.

Our most important asset at the department is our world-class personnel. You are fighting every day to keep our country strong and secure, and rest assured that the leaders of this department will continue to fight with you and for you.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Message

This week, as Americans everywhere gather to recount the blessings of freedom and prosperity that we enjoy as citizens of the greatest country on earth, I want to extend my deepest thanks to you, the men and women of the Department of Defense, and your families.

Whether serving in uniform or as a civilian, whether deployed abroad or stationed here at home, you are fighting and working every day to secure for all Americans the blessings that we celebrate on Thanksgiving. I hope that wherever you are, you take a moment on Thanksgiving to reflect on the vital role you play in defending our nation and our values, and take pride in the contribution you have made to help make America more safe and secure.

I know that for service members on deployment and for their families back home, this time of year is especially difficult to be away from loved ones. But I also know that what you are doing, on this day and every day, is making a profound difference for the country. America is blessed that there are those who are willing to fight and die for all of us, and I know that all Americans will keep you in their thoughts and prayers this Thanksgiving.

You give this country its spirit and strength, and you give me hope and confidence in a better future. We are thankful to God for his blessings on our nation, our families, and our men and women in uniform. Thank you again and best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

November 11, 2012

Veterans Day Message

Since our nation's founding, brave young Americans from every generation have answered the call to serve in uniform and put their lives on the line to defend this country. Today, we honor all of those who've added new chapters to that very proud legacy of selflessness and sacrifice.

On this Veterans Day I recall how, as a boy in California, I had the great privilege of greeting and thanking soldiers that were stationed near my home and destined to fight in World War II. In the years that followed, I knew veterans of the Korean War, who fought bravely in unimaginably difficult conditions.

During the Vietnam era, I served in the Army and I remember how our nation failed to fully recognize the costs and sacrifices made by those who served in that war. Our nation has learned from that failure, and as we mark the 50th anniversary of that war, we honor our Vietnam veterans for all they have done for our country.

The United States is now emerging from the longest continuous time of war in its history, and a new generation of veterans is returning home. They have carried a very heavy burden. They've dealt with multiple deployments, long separations from loved ones, and the tragic consequences of war. Some have sustained grievous, life-altering injuries, and they are dealing with significant challenges, both seen and unseen.

Our veterans are also much stronger because of their hard won experiences in the deserts of Iraq, the mountains of Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world. They are leaders who take responsibility and initiative, who think independently, and who inspire others. They are trained to operate some of the world's most sophisticated technical equipment. Above all, they love the country that they've served so well in uniform, and they are already giving back to their communities here at home.

Over the next five years, more than one million service men and women will leave the armed services and transition back to civilian life. Some will finally be able to marry the person they love and start a family. Others will be reunited with husbands, wives, and children after years spent apart. By pursuing the dream of giving their children a better life, our nation's veterans will help shape the future of this country. They will be doctors and lawyers, teachers and nurses, mayors and members of Congress.

America owes each of our veterans — from every generation — gratitude and support. November is Military Family Month, a time for all Americans to do more to recognize and support the members of their community who have fought on our behalf. For those who are transitioning out of military service, in particular, we must do everything we can to help them find a job, start a business, or obtain a quality education. These veterans are national assets who stand ready to contribute to our economic recovery and to a stronger America.

Let us all renew our pledge to fight for those who fight for us with such bravery and distinction. In some small way, today and every day, find a way to thank a veteran. Nothing means more to them than knowing that their service and sacrifice is appreciated right here at home. Thanks to our veterans, the American dream is safe and secure for us and our children.

Thank you, and may God bless all Americans serving around the world in uniform.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

November 7, 2012

Message on the 2012 Election

This week, millions of Americans exercised their most important responsibility as citizens and participated in the electoral process.

Throughout the campaign season, we at the Department of Defense have been squarely focused on our mission of defending the nation. Now that the campaign is over, we will stay just as focused on that critical mission.

America's elected leaders, in turn, now have the responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that we succeed in our mission.

As the country moves beyond the 2012 election, DoD personnel should take heart in one thing that will always unite the American people, and that is their strong support for the millions of men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line to keep our country safe.

Let us renew our pledge as a Department to keep fighting for a safer and stronger future for the United States, and to ensure this always remains a government of, by, and for all people.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

October 5, 2012

Panetta Encourages DOD Members, Families to Vote

On November 6th, Americans will have the opportunity to exercise the most important responsibility we have in a democracy – the right to vote. Voters will choose from candidates at every level – from the Commander-in-Chief, to legislative representatives, to county commissioners, city council members and others.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sends a message to troops, telling them it's not too late to make their voice heard by requesting an absentee ballot.

I don't have to tell you that your vote can determine the future. It really counts. And that's why it's so important to participate in this process – no matter where you are in the world, no matter who you plan to vote for. Please exercise the very privilege that you're willing to fight and die for in order to protect.

But there isn't much time. If you're overseas or away from home, request your absentee ballot immediately, and mail it back in time so that your vote will count. And if you need help, visit your Installation Voter Assistance Office, or see your Unit's Voting Assistance Officer, or visit the website

Every day, your efforts make this country safer and its people more secure. You have more than earned the right to vote. So please participate in the democratic process that sustains the blessings of liberty that we work so hard to protect. This Election Day I encourage you and your family to play an important part in our great democracy. Your vote will help determine the future of our nation, and the future of a government of, by, and for all people. Thank you.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

September 15 - 22, 2012

Trip Message: Japan, China, New Zealand

To All Department of Defense Personnel:
This week I returned from a week-long trip to Japan, China, and New Zealand, my third trip to the Asia-Pacific region as Secretary of Defense. The underlying purpose of the trip was to support our new defense strategy, which calls for the Department of Defense to increase our focus on the Asia-Pacific region. This strategy is part of a government-wide effort that includes increased economic, diplomatic, development, and security efforts – all in order to renew and revitalize America's role in a region that is becoming more critical to our future security and prosperity.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta walks with Japan's Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto in Tokyo, Sept. 17, 2012. DOD photo by Erin Kirk-Cuomo

My first stop was Tokyo, a city that I have visited a number of times in previous capacities, and on my first trip to Asia as Secretary of Defense last year. I am always appreciative of the warm hospitality and genuine friendship that the people of Japan extend to me and all their American visitors. It reflects the fact that Japan is a very close ally in the region, and that our Alliance has served as the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific for more than 50 years.

This trip took place during a time of increased tensions between China and Japan over competing claims to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea – an episode that serves as a reminder of the important role the United States military continues to play in ensuring peace and security in the region. My message to the Government of Japan, which I would later repeat in China, was simple: the United States doesn't take a position on competing sovereignty claims but we urge both sides to exercise calm and restraint, and we have an interest in seeing this dispute resolved peacefully and through diplomatic means.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks to service members on Yakota Air Base in Tokyo, Sept. 17, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

While in Japan, I had very productive meetings with Foreign Minister Gemba and Defense Minister Morimoto that allowed us to make progress on two key issues for our Alliance. First, we agreed to pursue an additional ballistic missile defense radar, directed at protecting the people of Japan, U.S. forward-deployed forces, and the U.S. homeland, from the North Korean missile threat. Second, we set the stage for an agreement, announced later in the week that reconfirmed the safety of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft, enabled the commencement of flight operations, and paved the way for the deployment of the aircraft to in Okinawa. The Osprey is an important new capability that will greatly enhance our ability to defend Japan and respond to crises in the region – with twice the speed, three times the payload, and four times the range of the platform it replaces.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta receives a plate as a gift to commemorate his visit to China from Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie after an official dinner in Beijing, Sept. 18, 2012. DOD photo by Erin Kirk-Cuomo

Before departing Tokyo, I had the opportunity to visit with several hundred American service members stationed at Yokota Air Base – a critical hub for our activities in the region. I had the chance to describe our new defense strategy and point out that the key to our strength rests with them – the men and women in uniform serving our Nation. It's always a highlight for me to have the opportunity to interact with service members wherever I travel in the world.

My next stop was Beijing, a visit that marked my first trip to China as Secretary of Defense. The goal of this visit was to build on the progress we have made toward establishing a military-to-military relationship with China that is healthy, stable, reliable, and continuous. Our two nations have had a series of high-level interactions this year – from the visit of Vice President Xi to the Pentagon earlier in the year to General Liang's visit in May – that have helped to build sustained and substantive interactions between our leaders. My visit continued this trend. One of the highlights was an elaborate welcome banquet General Liang hosted in my honor at the State Guest House in Beijing, which even included a magic show and a few hundred toasts that we all survived.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has lunch with cadets from the People's Liberation Army's armored forces engineering academy in Beijing, Sept. 19, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

In my discussions with key military and civilian leaders, the thing that most impressed me is that we are building the kind of relationship where we can talk openly and candidly about our disagreements. At the same time, we are increasingly able to identify areas where our militaries can cooperate more – such as counterpiracy and maritime security, humanitarian relief and disaster assistance, and peacekeeping operations. In that spirit, I invited China to send a ship to RIMPAC 2014 – the world's largest multilateral Naval exercise.

I was also encouraged by my interactions with young officers and cadets at the Engineering Academy of PLA Armored Forces, where I gave a speech focusing on the United States rebalance to Asia-Pacific region and had the opportunity to join students for lunch in the cafeteria. The questions that I got from the young cadets were candid and thoughtful, and it was clear that they appreciated my message that a stronger defense relationship between the U.S. and China is critically important to security and prosperity in the 21st century.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta walks with Chinese Vice Adm. Tian Zhong, commander of the People's Liberation Army's Navy North Sea Fleet, in Qingdao, China, Sept. 20, 2012. DOD photo by Erin Kirk-Cuomo

On my third and final day in China, I was able to fly to the coastal city of Qingdao and visit the headquarters of the North Sea fleet. There, I toured a PLA frigate and a diesel powered submarine. I was impressed with the professionalism and discipline of the PLA sailors, and it is clear that they are working to modernize their military. Throughout my visit, I stressed the importance of increasing their transparency as they undergo this modernization, so it was a positive step for me to be given a tour of these ships.

From Qingdao, we boarded our plane for the final time in China and took an overnight flight down to Auckland, New Zealand, the final stop on this trip.

It was the first visit I've ever made to New Zealand, and I was struck by the similarities in landscape between Auckland and my native Northern California. It was a special honor to be in Auckland because I was the first United States Secretary of Defense to visit New Zealand in 30 years.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is issued a wero, or challenge, by Maori warriors during a Powhiri ceremony while visiting Auckland, New Zealand, Sept. 21, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Soon after I arrived, New Zealand's Defence Forces hosted a welcome ceremony for me that befitted the historic nature of this visit. During the ceremony, a group of Maori tribesman approached me with a ceremonial challenge. My job was to pick up a dagger while not smiling and maintaining eye contact in order to signal that I came in peace. Luckily, I passed the test.

My broader purpose in traveling to New Zealand was first and foremost to recognize that New Zealand has been a stalwart friend over the past decade of war. In Afghanistan, New Zealand has made a variety of contributions to the war effort and continues to lead the Bamiyan provincial reconstruction team. During my visit, I paid tribute to New Zealand's war heroes at their National War Memorial Museum, and I had the opportunity to recognize five individual soldiers from the New Zealand Defence Forces with Army Commendation Medals.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta presents a commemorative medal to New Zealand Army Lt. Col James Kaio in Auckland, New Zealand, Sept. 21, 2012. Panetta presented the U.S. military medals to New Zealand troops for different accomplishments while serving with U.S. forces. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

New Zealand also plays an important role as a provider of security in the South Pacific, and as the United States rebalances to the Asia-Pacific region we are looking for new ways to partner together to enhance regional security. To that end, I was pleased to be able to announce while in New Zealand that the U.S. government is changing some policies that govern interactions with New Zealand's military, which were put into effect after New Zealand passed nuclear-free legislation in the mid-1980s. Specifically, we have eliminated restrictions on discussions and exercises between our two militaries, and we have established a mechanism to authorize individual visits by ships of New Zealand's Royal Navy to U.S. military and coast guard facilities, both in the United States and around the world.

These changes sent a strong signal that we are entering into a new era of defense cooperation with New Zealand. More broadly, my entire week-long trip sent the message that the United States is following through with our strategy to rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region. Throughout the week, it was heartening to hear Allies, friends and partners in the region welcome the Department's renewed focus on Asia-Pacific. The high regard they have for the U.S. military is a reflection of the dedication and professionalism of all our men and women in uniform, and the civilians who support them. I am proud of what we have accomplished together and grateful for your continued service to a strong and secure America.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

July 29 - August 2, 2012

Trip Message: "Arab Spring" – Challenge and Opportunity

To All Department of Defense Personnel:
Last week, I took a four-day trip to the Middle East and North Africa – my 13th international TDY as a Secretary of Defense. Now that I am back in Washington, I wanted to share some of my experiences from the trip with you.

My visit to Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan took place during a critical moment for the region. Amidst a great deal of turmoil, a real confluence of challenges and opportunities is emerging. We've seen peaceful democratic transitions in Tunisia and Egypt, brutal violence in Syria, and a continued threat to regional stability posed by Iran and violent extremism.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta conducts a press conference after a wreath-laying ceremony at the North Africa American Military Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia, July 30, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

As we left Washington on the way to Tunisia, it was clear that this trip would encompass many of these challenges and opportunities. Our first stop was Tunis, the capital of Tunisia and the site of the ancient city of Carthage. Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring, and one of the main purposes of the visit was to commend Tunisia's leaders, and the people of Tunisia, on the success of their revolution. In meetings with President Marzouki, Prime Minister Jebali and Minister of Defense Zbidi I told them that the United States strongly supported Tunisia's democratic transition. We all agreed that Tunisia's emergence as a democracy provides an opportunity to build an expanded relationship across a range of issues – including economic and security cooperation.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lays a wreath at the North Africa American Military Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia, July 30, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

After a series of bilateral meetings, I had the opportunity to pay my respects at the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in Carthage, where nearly 7,000 U.S. personnel who were killed or missing during the North Africa campaign in World War II are memorialized. It was an incredibly moving experience to lay a wreath at the cemetery, which is immaculately maintained thanks to the dedication of the American Battle Monuments Commission. I paused beside the grave of Foy Draper, an American gold medalist who ran with Jesse Owens during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Draper was killed in the battle of Kasserine Pass in 1943. Like thousands of others who perished during that campaign, he will never be forgotten.

After visiting the cemetery, we made a brief stop to see the ruins of the old forum at Carthage, situated atop Byrsa Hill overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean. During a brief tour of the Carthage National Museum, I paused to look at beautiful, ancient mosaics – testament to the rich culture and history of the region.

My visit to Tunisia ended with an Iftar dinner graciously hosted by Minister of Defense Zbidi. It was an honor to break the Ramadan fast with the Minister and Tunisia's senior military leaders, who have played a very positive role in the revolution. Tunisia still faces a number of challenges as it continues its democratic consolidation, but I came away from my time their impressed with its leaders courage and vision, and pleased to be able to assure them that the United States supports Tunisia's democratic change.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, left, walks with Egyptian Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi in Cairo, July 31, 2012. Panetta is on a five-day trip to the region to visit leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Our next stop on this trip was Cairo. Egypt is also undergoing a peaceful democratic transition, and the main purpose of this visit was to meet with their newly elected leader, President Morsi, and with Field Marshal Tantawi, who has been instrumental in leading the historic transition to democratic, civilian rule. The U.S.-Egypt security relationship has been the bedrock of regional stability for more than 30 years. President Morsi affirmed his commitment to that partnership. In private and in public, my message to Egypt's leadership and the Egyptian people was simple: the United States strongly supports Egypt's democratic future through an orderly, peaceful and legitimate transition to a democratic system of government.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak brief the press at an Iron Dome anti-missile site in Ashkelon, Israel, Aug. 1, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

From Cairo I took a quick flight aboard a C-17 to Tel Aviv for my second visit to Israel as Secretary of Defense – and my fifth since joining the Obama administration in 2009. I have built a strong working relationship with my counterpart, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, and he joined me at my hotel in Jerusalem for a private dinner soon after I arrived. Our conversation focused on the range of pressing security challenges confronting Israel and the United States in the region – most notably Iran's nuclear ambitions and the violence being perpetrated by the Assad regime in Syria, on Israel's northern border. The challenges facing the U.S. and Israel are significant, but in the face of those challenges we have reached what Minister Barak has called the strongest levels of defense cooperation in our history.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak speak with Israeli soliders at an Iron Dome anti-missile site in Ashkelon, Israel, Aug. 1, 2012. Panetta is on a five-day trip to the region to meet with leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

One tangible sign of that cooperation is the $275 million we have provided Israel to acquire the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system. During my time in Israel, Minister Barak and I had the opportunity to travel to the outskirts of Ashkelon – about 45 minutes south of Tel Aviv – to tour an Iron Dome battery. Iron Dome has had a better than 80 percent success rate at hitting rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli population centers, and it has successfully intercepted more than 100 rockets. We can be proud of this system's record of saving lives and preventing wider conflict in that region.

At the Iron Dome battery, I spoke publicly of the United States's rock solid commitment to Israel's security, which extends to dealing with the threat posed by Iran. The United States shares Israel's commitment to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, and I carried that message to President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu. While we are focused on increasing diplomatic pressure on Iran through sanctions, I also made clear, publicly and privately, that all options are on the table.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta meets with Jordanian King Abdullah in Amman, Jordan, in Aug. 2, 2012. Panetta is on a five-day trip to the region to meet with leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

From Israel, I made the short trip to Amman, Jordan, to consult with King Abdullah. This was my first trip to Jordan as Secretary of Defense. The situation in Syria, and its impact on Jordan, dominated our discussion. I told the King we appreciate Jordan's efforts to keep his country's borders open to those fleeing the violence in Syria, and that we will work closely with the Government of Jordan to provide humanitarian assistance in support of those affected by the violence in Syria. We both agreed that strong international pressure needs to be sustained to make clear that Assad must go, and that the Syrian people deserve to determine their own future.

After my meeting with the King, I returned to the airport and boarded the Air Force E4-B for the twelve and a half hour flight back to Washington. On the flight, I reflected on the many challenges and opportunities that are facing the region.

In each country, there was a clear desire for closer partnership with our military, and once again I was struck by the deep respect foreign leaders have for our Department of Defense. That is a tribute to you – the millions of men and women who support our mission of protecting the country, and advancing U.S. security interests around the globe. In a time of challenge and turmoil, your efforts are helping American play a positive role in supporting change throughout the region.

You will always have my gratitude, and the gratitude of the American people, for your work in helping us achieve a safer and more secure future.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

July 23, 2012

To all Department of Defense personnel

"Flags at Department of Defense installations across the world are being flown at half-staff to honor the victims of last week's tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. All of us in the Department of Defense community are deeply saddened by this senseless act of violence, which has hit our military family especially hard.

"Four of the victims served in the military -- including Air Force Staff Sergeant Jesse Childress, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class John Larimer, Jonathan Blunk, a former Sailor, and Rebecca Wingo, a former Airman. Other DoD personnel and family members were also injured in this cruel attack.

"I know that many are struggling to understand why these innocent lives were taken from us, and how such a tragedy could occur in this country. Even as we try to make sense of this evil act, we are also moved to learn more about the actions of men and women like SSgt. Childress, who threw himself in front of his friend in the movie theater to shield her from the gunman. His selflessness saved her life, at the cost of his own.

"These acts of heroism and sacrifice are the essence of what military service is about -- putting your life on the line to defend those who are part of the American family.

"Let us all honor the victims of this tragedy by committing ourselves to the hard work and sacrifice of protecting this country. Bravery, courage, and dedication are the hallmarks of our men and women in uniform -- our heroes.

"May God bless each and every one of you, and the United States of America."

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

July 4, 2012

Independence Day Message

"On this Independence Day, I would like to extend my gratitude and best wishes to our entire military family: our men and women in uniform who serve around the world, and their families, and our Department of Defense civilians who support them, and their families. On this day, we honor all of you for your service and the many sacrifices you make to defend our freedom.

"While many Americans will spend this holiday with family and friends enjoying summer weather, fireworks, and outdoor barbeques, others will be on the front lines defending our country. Today, in particular, the American people pay tribute to those of you deployed overseas for your strength, your courage, and your willingness to put your lives on the line to protect this country.

"It was 236 years ago that our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. Since then, succeeding generations of Americans have stepped forward to safeguard the liberties that our foundersfought to give us. That was true 200 years ago during the War of 1812, when we first defended our young nation from attack, and has remained true whenever freedom has been threatened in the generations since.

"Today, our brave men and women in uniform continue to protect our freedoms that were first outlined in that Declaration. They serve our nation proudly and they are willing to put their lives on the line so that our children can have a better future.

"As we celebrate the birth of our nation, it is a time for our leaders and every American to recognize that the blessings of freedom we enjoy are not free - they come from a legacy of sacrifice, courage, and leadership. That legacy is now our responsibility to fulfill - so that our children can enjoy a better life.

"May God bless you, may God bless our military, and may God bless this great nation."

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

June 15, 2012

Father's Day Message

As we mark Father's Day this weekend, I'd like to convey my thanks and gratitude to the fathers and grandfathers in our military family. This is a time for all of us to recognize and show our appreciation to fathers for everything they do in bettering our military, securing our nation, helping to raise and nurture our families, and inspiring future generations of Americans to serve.

To all fathers in uniform: thank you for your loyalty and dedication to our country, and for your willingness to balance the demands of military and family life. Over the past year as Secretary of Defense, I've had the opportunity to meet many of you deployed around the world. I've seen how you focus on the mission while enduring extended periods away from loved ones. Through it all, you've shown courage on the battlefield and tenderness to your families at home.

To fathers and husbands of those who serve: we simply could not do our jobs without your love and support. It is never easy to deal with the challenges and concerns of a deployment, just as it is always hard to take care of everything back at home.

To all of you, I join your families in saluting you and offering my most heartfelt thanks. You are true heroes in the eyes of your fellow citizens and most especially in the eyes of your children. We honor you as fathers and we will always be thankful for your leadership and your love of family, of service, and of America.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

June 15, 2012

Pride Month Message

As we recognize Pride month, I want to personally thank all of our gay and lesbian service members, LGBT civilians, and their families for their dedicated service to our country.

Before the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. And just like your fellow service members, you put your country before yourself.

And now -- after repeal, you can be proud of serving your country, and be proud of who you are when in uniform.

The pursuit of equality is fundamental to the American story. The successful repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" proved to the Nation that just like the country we defend, we share different backgrounds, different values, and different beliefs -- but together, we are the greatest military force in the world.

It also reminds us that integrity and respect remain the cornerstones of our military culture. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force implemented the repeal with a focus on respect and individual dignity.

As Secretary of Defense, I am very proud of how we implemented repeal. Going forward, I remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make America's military a model of equal opportunity, to ensure all who are qualified can serve in America's military, and to give every man and woman in uniform the opportunity to rise to their highest potential.

Diversity is one of our greatest strengths. During Pride month -- and every month -- let us celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

May 30, 2012 - June 7, 2012

Trip Message: Hawaii, Singapore, Vietnam, India, and Afghanistan

I have recently returned from a nine day trip to the Asia-Pacific region. The trip took us westward around the world, from Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii; to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore; to Cam Ranh Bay and Hanoi in Vietnam; to Delhi in India; to Kabul in Afghanistan; and back over Europe to the United States. The purpose of the trip was to visit with our troops in Afghanistan, and explain to our allies and partners our new defense strategy and its emphasis on our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.

My first destination was Pacific Command (PACOM) Headquarters in Hawaii, a natural first stop on this trip across Asia. There, I met with Commander Admiral Locklear and addressed leaders and staff who oversee military operations across PACOM's vast Area of Responsibility. It's clear that PACOM will play a key role in guiding our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leone E. Panetta opens the plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore with remarks on how the Department of Defense will implement a new strategy in Asia, June 2, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

From Hawaii we continued on to Singapore and the Shangri-La Dialogue, a forum that brings together leaders from around the world to discuss security issues in the Asia-Pacific. My goal at Shangri-La was to define what the United States military's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region – a key element of our new defense strategy – will mean in practical terms. My speech outlined our rebalance that is based on enduring principles, building partnerships, maintaining a constant presence and ensuring our ability to project power – including details on our intention to shift 60 percent of naval assets to the Pacific and investments in new platforms and technologies.

I also emphasized our efforts to build better military-to-military ties with China, our commitment to a rules based order in the region, and the need to settle the region's territorial disputes peacefully, and without intimidation. Later, I held bilateral and trilateral meetings with key partners and allies from the region including Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. Admiral Locklear and Chairman Dempsey joined me for many of these meetings. Our renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific is being very well received by our many friends and allies there who look forward to opportunities for more joint training, exercises, port calls and other engagements with U.S. forces.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leone E. Panetta is escorted by Military Sealift Command, Chief Mate Fred Cullen, in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, June 3, 2012. Cullen took Panetta on a short ride out to the USNS Richard Byrd which, to date, is the only U.S. ship to dock in Cam Ranh Bay since the normalization of the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

The next stop was Cam Ranh Bay and Hanoi in Vietnam. This was an amazing experience. I was the first Secretary of Defense to visit Cam Ranh Bay since the end of the war. As a Vietnam era veteran and part of the Vietnam generation, this was an especially moving occasion for me. At Cam Ranh Bay, I visited the cargo ship USNS Robert E. Byrd and spoke to the crew, thanking them for their service to our nation. That ship – docked in a Vietnamese port and serviced and repaired by local contractors – is a tremendous indication of how far our nations have come in our relationship in such a short time. Looking out at that serene bay, which reminded me of San Francisco bay, it was hard to imagine there was a time some 40 years ago when it was filled with grey hulls offloading supplies to American troops fighting in that long, bloody war.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leone E. Panetta presents Vietnamese Minster of Defense, Phung Quang Thanh, with the diary of a Vietnamese soldier dating to the Vietnam War during his visit to Hanoi, Vietnam, June 4, 2012. The diary had been in the United States since the end of the war. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

My goal in Vietnam was to take stock of our partnership and make strides to strengthen it on the military-to-military level. I also thanked Vietnam for its longstanding assistance in our efforts to identify and locate the remains of our fallen service members and those missing in action in Vietnam. Our commitment to the accounting mission embodies principles that are critical to our personnel serving today – that we stand by our pledge that we leave no one behind.

One of the most moving moments of my visit to Vietnam came in an historic exchange of war artifacts with that country's Minister of Defense, General Thanh. I returned a diary from a fallen Vietnamese Communist soldier found in March 1966 by a young U.S. Marine. In turn, General Thanh returned letters from a fallen American soldier, Sergeant Flaherty, who was killed while fighting with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam in March 1969. Exchanges like this help us to remember, and help us pay tribute to all those who have fought and died for our countries.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta signs the log book after placing a wreath in honor of fallen Indian military members at India Gate in Delhi, India, June 6, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

The next leg of the trip took us to India, a very important strategic partner of the United States. I was honored to place a wreath at India Gate in New Delhi, in honor of fallen Indian military members. In meetings with Indian officials, we all noted the rapid transformation in the U.S.-India defense relationship. Our military-to-military engagement has increased steadily over the past ten years and now includes a robust slew of dialogues, exercises, defense trade, and personnel exchanges. We also discussed the transition in Afghanistan, and the common challenges both our countries face in South Asia and the Indian Ocean.

The final destination on this trip was a brief but important stopover in Afghanistan, my fourth visit there since becoming Secretary of Defense, to meet with General Allen, Ambassador Crocker, and Afghan Minister of Defense Wardak. This was another opportunity for me to hear first-hand the progress we are making on the ground there as we take the fight to the enemy. Thanks to the hard fighting of coalition troops, we have weakened the Taliban and they have been unable to regain lost ground. This success has enabled us to proceed steadily with transition to Afghan security lead in districts and provinces across the country.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leone E. Panetta walks with Afghan Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 7, 2012. Panetta visited with NATO and Afghan leadership as well as troops on the ground. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

I also had the opportunity to address our troops from ISAF's Joint Command located at Kabul International Airport. On behalf of a grateful nation, I thanked our brave men and women there for their service and sacrifice, and for their dedication to the mission in Afghanistan. I also thanked their families for their support and for the many hardships they endure during long deployments and the absence of loved ones. These are all true heroes providing for the security of all Americans and helping to provide a better future for the Afghan people.

During my visit to Asia, it was important to bring closure to some of the past chapters of America's military involvement in the region. Vietnam's decision to open three previously restricted areas to our Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command was an important step in the healing process. Along those same lines, the Indian government's support for resuming remains recovery of U.S. personnel lost during World War II seeks to deal with a long term wound that can finally be addressed.

As I flew home after this lengthy trip around the world, it was clear that the nations I visited have tremendous respect for our great military – I hear it again and again in my meetings with foreign leaders. That's why it is such a source of pride for me to have the opportunity to serve as your Secretary of Defense. It is an enormous honor to lead this Department and to work with all of you every day who do so much to protect our country. Because of you we will help give our children a better life and a safer and more secure world.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

June 14, 2012

Army's 237th Birthday Message

"As we mark the birthday of the United States Army, I want to congratulate this great American institution for 237 years of distinguished service in defense of this country. The proud story of the American soldier is one of honor, valor, patriotism, and sacrifice in the service of their countrymen. From those earliest volunteers who stepped forward to join the ranks of the Continental Army to those who fought at Gettysburg, in the Argonne Forest, at Normandy, Bastogne, in Korea and Vietnam, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American soldier has shaped the course of world history.

"I am proud of the opportunity I had to serve in the ranks of the United States Army. I'll always cherish those memories of Army life, and the honor I felt in being part of an extraordinary team.

"For ten long years the Army has shouldered a heavy burden, fighting in Iraq's city streets and in the mountains of Afghanistan. And through it all, American soldiers stepped bravely forward, marched off towards the sound of the guns, and gave everything to provide for our security, to give all Americans a better, safer future. They have done everything this country has asked of them and more.

"I have been deeply fortunate in my position as Secretary of Defense over this past year to have visited many Army installations and thousands of soldiers serving around the world, including those on the front lines. These soldiers, and their families, carry forward the proud and distinguished legacy we celebrate today, and because of their dedication, the United States Army will remain the strongest in the world."

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Message

"For many Americans, Memorial Day is a welcome break from work, a time for outdoor barbeques or a day at the beach. But today is above all an opportunity for Americans to come together and pay tribute to all those who have fought and died in defense of our freedom. It is a day to reflect on the service and sacrifice of these heroes, and to honor those American families for whom Memorial Day is another day of longing for their loved ones.

"This Memorial Day, the American people pay particular tribute to the generation who stepped forward after the attacks of September 11th, and volunteered to put their lives on the line in far-off lands to protect our nation. Today, we remember the more than 6,400 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have paid the ultimate price for us to live in safety over the last ten years of war. They and their families have paid a heavy price so that we could be more secure, but because of their sacrifice the torch of freedom burns bright.

"Since taking this position, I have written hundreds of letters of condolence to the families of the fallen. It is the hardest part of my job. There are no words that can heal, no sentences that can lessen that loss. I keep the fallen and their families in my heart and in my prayers, and I tell those families that their loved one died to give their fellow Americans a better life. That is the price they paid for us. Let us never forget them and what they have done for this country.

"As we emerge from a decade of war, we must renew our pledge on this Memorial Day to do all we can to ensure that the sacrifices of our service members and their families are honored, and that those who fell in battle are remembered. They fought for us. Our duty is to fight to make sure they are never forgotten. As Americans, that must be our charge and our sacred mission not just on Memorial Day, but every day."

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

May 19, 2012

Armed Forces Day Message

"Let me take this opportunity to wish all of our troops and their families the very best on this Armed Forces Day. I hope you know that all Americans join me in gratitude for everything you do to keep us safe. Wherever and however you serve, you are an inspiration to me and to millions of your fellow Americans.

"President Truman was right to recognize this day, and even more right when he said that it is 'not enough to yearn for peace. We must work, and if necessary, fight for it.

"You fight for peace so that others don't need to. You work for peace, at home and abroad, so that others may know a better life. Your families share in that labor and in that sacrifice, so that other families need not endure the pains of separation and of strife. There is perhaps no more admirable calling.

"In keeping with that same spirit of service and leadership, heads of state from across the world are joining together at the NATO Summit in Chicago to affirm our shared commitment to work and to fight to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

"Our goal is clear: to ensure that Afghanistan will never again serve as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against our homeland. To do that, we have to build an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself.

"Thanks to your service and that of your international and Afghan partners, we are closer to achieving these goals than we ever have been before. Al Qaeda's leadership has been decimated, the Taliban's momentum has been thrust back, and the Afghan National Security Forces are increasingly in the lead.

"In the past year, I have had the opportunity to meet thousands of you at installations across the globe. As the war in Afghanistan draws towards its conclusion, you still face difficult tasks ahead. But every day I serve as Secretary of Defense, I have been amazed and impressed by your grit and determination, and your resilience. It's the same grit that won the day at Gettysburg, that scaled the cliffs at Pointe Du Hoc, that sunk four enemy carriers at Midway, that broke the enemy's back at Inchon and broke through the Berlin blockade.

"You stand on broad shoulders -- a legacy of courage going back to this nation's founding. Yet you have set a new standard while carrying a heavy burden over the last decade of war.

"As Americans take this Armed Forces Day to reflect on your service and that of your loved ones, I hope they also find new ways to show you the admiration and the respect you have so rightly earned. You have made our nation stronger and safer over the past decade of war, and whether in uniform or out, I know that you will continue to lead this country and never stop working to fulfill the dream of giving our children a better life."

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

May 11, 2012

Military Spouse Appreciation Day and Mother's Day

"America's military spouses are a key part of what makes our armed services the strongest in the world. All Americans should be grateful for the support they offer to our heroes in uniform. The love and encouragement our service members get from their spouses helps our military to fulfill its mission of protecting this country.

"For that reason, we celebrate today as Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

Just like their loved ones, military spouses serve our country– whether it's by helping family and friends through the stress of a deployment, caring for wounded warriors, or supporting each other when a loved one has made the ultimate sacrifice. They give new meaning to the word "family."

"As Mother's Day approaches, I'd like to express my particular gratitude to all mothers and grandmothers in our military family. Mother's Day is a day to celebrate the extraordinary importance of mothers in our lives and the lives of this nation. America's mothers have shaped our values, and they have taught us all the meaning and importance of making sacrifices to give our children a better life.

"To all mothers in uniform: I am deeply moved by your determination to serve our country, even while balancing the demands of raising a family. Over the past year, I've had the opportunity to meet with thousands of service members in the war zones, many of whom were mothers. I know the challenges our mothers in uniform face in managing a home and family from thousands of miles away, and I am in awe of the tremendous pride that these mothers take in sacrificing so much to their country to help give their children a better life.

"To all mothers with a husband, son or daughter in uniform: We could not do our mission without your love and support. Every day you juggle enormous responsibilities, often working full-time outside the home while doing the job of two parents and caring for the needs of your children. At the same time, nearly all of you still find the time to give more by volunteering in your neighborhoods and communities.

"This department owes you a tremendous debt for your service and sacrifice, and I am committed to providing you and your families the support you need. Know that the American people will always honor and support you, because you are what makes this country great."

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

March 20, 2012

Trip Message: Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates

I've recently returned from my seventh international trip, and my third trip to Afghanistan as Secretary of Defense. As I always do upon returning from international travel, I wanted to share some observations and reflections on the trip directly with you, the men and women of the Department of Defense.

Left to right, Kyrgyz Defense Minister Taalaibek Omuraliev, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Busurmankul Tabaidiev, secretary of Kyrgystan defense council pose for photos after a counterpart meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgystan, March 13, 2012. DOD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

My first stop was Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, which is also host to the International Transit Center at Manas. The visit to Bishkek gave me the chance to meet with Kyrgyz leaders for the first time, and my goal was to affirm our relationship and thank them for their support of the Manas Transit Center. That transit center is critical to sustaining our efforts in Afghanistan, and provides us with the ability to move personnel in and out of the war zone, to execute aerial refueling sorties, and to transport air cargo in and out of theater. Kyrgyzstan and its Central Asian neighbors serve as key links in the logistical supply lines into Afghanistan known as the Northern Distribution Network, which has proven extremely important in recent months. For me the visit underscored that the United States shares a number of important interests with our Central Asian partners, chief among them a secure and stable Afghanistan so that the broader region can be peaceful and benefit from expanded trade and development.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta greets service members at transiting into or from Afghanistan at the Manas Air Base Transit Center, Kyrgyzstan, March 14, 2012. Panetta met with counterparts and troops during his visit in the country. DOD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

We had dinner at a local restaurant and stayed at a hotel in downtown Bishkek. The next morning, I was able to greet American troops at the Transit Center who were waiting for flights home or into Afghanistan. As I met with each of them individually, I was on the lookout for anyone bound for California and managed to greet a few from my home state. I was energized to meet doctors and nurses who had volunteered for service at the war front. I thanked all of the men and women I met for their dedication and sacrifice to their missions. Each received Secretary of Defense coins in recognition of their excellence while serving our nation in uniform.

I departed Kyrgyzstan from Manas in a C-17, traveling onward to Southwest Afghanistan, where I landed at Camp Bastion Airfield in Helmand Province. My trip to Afghanistan took place against the backdrop of a series of challenges that have tested our relationship with our Afghan partners as well as our resolve to focus on achieving the mission there. An unfortunate incident at the airfield as I landed only served to heighten tensions but as I told the press, this is a war zone and it is important to keep our eye on the mission.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta holds a meeting with Afghan provincial leaders at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, March 14, 2012. Panetta is on a four day trip to the region meeting with counterparts, leaders and service members. DOD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

We are making strong progress in our military campaign by reducing violence and continuing a process of transitioning security responsibility to Afghan lead. Enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan in early 2012 are down about 24 percent compared to last year, and half of the Afghan population now lives in areas that are transitioning to Afghan-led security control.

My basic message to U.S. and coalition troops and to our Afghan partners was that we all needed to stay focused on our fundamental mission to ensure not only that we defeat al-Qaida and their militant allies, but that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists to conduct attacks on the United States or our allies. To do that we must support efforts that will enable Afghanistan to secure and govern itself.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Marine Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, commanding general, NATO Regional Command-South West exit a U.S. Marine V-22 Osprey at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, March 14, 2012. Panetta is on a four day trip to the region to meet with counterparts and visit troops. DOD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

After a short ride over to adjoining Camp Leatherneck, I was honored to meet with several Afghan provincial government leaders, including the Governor of Helmand, as well as commanders from the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. I told Governor Mangal that on my way from the United States to Afghanistan I had been reading more about the rich history of Afghanistan. I said that I appreciated how in many ways the history of Afghanistan is the story of leaders seeking peace and stability in the face of conflict.

At the same meeting I also heard from Major General Malouk who commands the Afghan National Army 215th Corps in Helmand Province. He told me his men know how to fight and are willing to take risks against the enemy, but that they also continue to need help from the international community as they mature into a professional force. I assured him that the U.S. is committed to assisting him and his units as we work together toward transitioning security responsibility to them. I came away from this discussion encouraged that Afghan forces are truly taking charge of operations and leading them in this part of the country, and that Afghanistan has brave leaders who are determined to build a better future for their country.

After meeting with these local Afghan officials and military commanders, I had the opportunity to address U.S. Marines, and other ISAF and Afghan troops. I emphasized my message to focus on the mission even in the face of challenges. As these troops know well, we have been tested, time and time again, over a decade of war. That's the nature of war: to confront every obstacle, to face every barrier, to fight through every challenge in order to accomplish a mission. It is important that all of us – the United States, Afghanistan, the ISAF forces – all stick to the strategy that we've laid out.

It was an honor to meet with this motivated group of Marines, Afghan, and international troops, for it's their dedication that offers the chance at a better life for us and our children, and for the Afghan people and their children as well.

We then boarded an MV-22 Osprey and flew from Camp Leatherneck to Forward Operating Base Shukvani, the remote and dusty operating location for the Georgian 31st Battalion and their U.S. Marine Corps partners.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses Georgian soldiers at deployed to Forward Operating Base Shukvani Afghanistan, March 14, 2012. Panetta is on a four day trip to the region meeting with counterparts, leaders and service members. DOD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

At FOB Shukvani, I thanked the Georgian troops for their important contributions to the campaign, and read them a letter from their former commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Alex Tugushi, who was grievously injured during operations in December 2011. In the letter Lt Col Tugushi called the troops "Georgian heroes" and said it was a great honor for Georgian troops to partner with American and international troops in Afghanistan. I told the Georgian troops that Lt Col Tugushi's letter reflected my feelings exactly: the U.S. is privileged to stand together with Georgia.

That afternoon, we flew to Kabul for meetings that night with my friends and colleagues Minister of Defense Wardak and Minister of Interior Mohammadi. The focus of our discussion was on the progress being made by the Afghan National Security Forces. Minister Wardak hosted me at the ministry for a traditional Afghan meal, and I was grateful for his hospitality. Both of my meetings with the ministers went very well, reaffirming our shared commitment to the mission, progress in achieving greater security in Afghanistan, and the continued development of Afghan security forces.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks with Afghan President Hamid Karzi after counterpart talks in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 15, 2012. DOD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

The following morning I met with President Karzai at his palace. President Karzai and I have met several times over the years, and I told him that we seem to get tested almost every other day by incidents that challenge our leadership and our commitment to our shared goals. I know that tragedies like the incident in Kandahar weigh heavily on President Karzai's heart and create problems for him as the leader and the protector of the Afghan people. They weigh heavily on all of us. That's why I told him that we are sparing no effort to hold those responsible accountable and to make sure this does not happen again.

Still, our discussion largely focused on the future as the United States and Afghanistan seek to build an enduring partnership. We have made significant progress on reaching this kind of agreement, and were recently able to sign an MOU with Afghanistan that establishes a way forward to transferring detention operations to Afghanistan. In spite of recent challenges, I am confident that we will reach an agreement with President Karzai on a strategic partnership.

After finishing this meeting and heading to the Kabul Airport, I reflected on the fact that in past trips to Afghanistan, whether as CIA Director or Secretary of Defense, I was invariably concerned about the differences with regards to the strategy ahead and how to try to get better agreement on how we would proceed in the future.

In this trip, everyone I talked to absolutely agreed with the strategy that NATO nations and the Afghan government have laid out: to support an Afghan-led transition process leading to Afghan responsibility for security across the country by the end of 2014. As the Afghans increasingly take on leadership through the transition process, we expect ISAF to shift naturally in 2013 from a primarily combat to a primarily support role, while remaining fully combat capable. At the same time, we will continue to talk about the kind of post-2014 presence we need to maintain. Everybody is absolutely committed to this strategy.

There is no doubt that the Afghan people are tired of war. They've suffered through years of conflict, and they're hoping for peace and the opportunity to raise their families so that hopefully their children will have a better life. The American people share some of that tiredness after 10 years of war as well, and all of that's understandable.

But I think the American people also understand that we came here with a mission to accomplish. The mission was to make sure that those that attacked our country on 9/11 will never be able to use Afghanistan as a base to do that again and that Afghanistan needs to be able to govern and secure itself. That's our mission, that's our goal, and we have never been closer to accomplishing that.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrives in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to meet with counterparts, March 15, 2012. DOD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

From Afghanistan I continued on to the United Arab Emirates, which is a very important partner in the Middle East. The U.S. continues to work closely with our Emirati partners, including the missions in Libya and working with the international community on Syria, as well. I had good discussions with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed about regional issues and also the importance of our relationship with the UAE, particularly at this point in time.

As I headed home from this trip, I reflected on the fact that our troops are heroes and patriots, and that we can never forget your sacrifices. Those of you in uniform are doing the job of trying to protect this country, and doing it magnificently with courage and with dedication. Your skill and mission focus have always been the key to our ability to overcome any challenge – and that enables all of us to pursue that fundamental American dream of giving our children a better life.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

February 1-5, 2012

Trip Message: NATO-Munich

I've recently returned from a trip to Europe where I had a series of very productive meetings with my NATO counterparts in Brussels, Belgium, uplifting visits with patients and troops at Ramstein Air Base and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, and then attended the Munich Security Conference.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta welcomes counterparts from the Balkan nations at a meeting of NATO defense minsters in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 2, 2012. DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

This was the second occasion I've had to meet with the NATO Ministers of Defense at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Over two days of meetings, I took this opportunity to personally brief the defense ministers on our new strategic guidance and recent budget decisions, forthcoming changes to U.S. forces in Europe, and to reassure our allies of the continued U.S. commitment to a strong and forward-looking NATO alliance.

It was important to make clear to our European allies that even as our posture there evolves, we remain committed to NATO – the most successful military alliance in history – and we'll continue to maintain an innovative, robust, and visible presence in Europe. As part of that robust presence, I told our allies that we will soon begin rotating a battalion-sized task force to Germany for exercises and training, as part of the rapidly deployable NATO Response Force, and we will also establish an aviation detachment in Poland to provide better training opportunities. We are also moving ahead with European missile defense – establishing land-based SM-3 missile sites in Romania and Poland, deploying Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense ships to Spain, and a radar in Turkey.

Now is a time for every NATO nation to make the most of the fiscal and security challenges we face to become more united as an Alliance and to strengthen our collective capabilities through such initiatives as Smart Defense. We took a big step forward on this front with an agreement to fund the Alliance Ground Surveillance system – consisting of five Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles and a ground control station. AGS has been in the works for many years, and is the first ISR capability NATO has ever purchased as a pooled resource. As I said in Brussels, it's a good deal, it's a big deal, and it's a done deal.

Most importantly, the NATO meetings provided an opportunity to bring together all ISAF troop contributing nations to discuss where things stand in Afghanistan, and the ongoing transition to an Afghan lead for security by the end of 2014. General Allen gave a progress update on the incredible efforts of our troops engaged in winter operations, always a challenge in that country's mountainous terrain. He said we are clearly making progress in Afghanistan – violence is down, the insurgents have lost momentum, and fissures have opened between insurgent foot soldiers and their leaders. General Allen also noted that half the Afghan population now resides in areas in which Afghan forces have the security lead, and the transition is progressing smoothly.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta speaks with U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, Commander, International Security Assistance Force at the meeting of NATO defense minsters in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 2, 2012. DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

I emphasized to my fellow ministers the importance of close consultation on force levels as we continue along this transition. Our goal all along has been to help the Afghan National Security Forces take the lead for security, and we hope that as the final transitions are made in 2013, the Afghan forces will take the lead in combat operations with ISAF in support and fully combat capable through 2014. During this transition process, we'll continue to consult with our allies and Afghan partners about the best way to accomplish our goals.

One thing I made clear in all my meetings was that even as Afghans assume the security lead, ISAF will continue to be fully combat ready – and we will engage in combat operations alongside our Afghan brothers as necessary. We also discussed the need for an enduring partnership, and presence in Afghanistan, post 2014, as well as the need to sustain the ANSF with international support. Failure to support the Afghan forces longer term risks everything we have fought for during the past ten years.

The fact that we can discuss these next steps now is a sign of progress and a recognition that our strategy is working. Above all, it's a testament to the commitment and sacrifice of all those who have deployed to support Operation Enduring Freedom. There is undoubtedly much hard fighting ahead, and we need to keep the momentum up. We need to keep the enemy on its heels.

The message I came away with from my meetings in Brussels, and that I want to share with you, is that our Alliance remains strong, and fully committed to finishing the job in Afghanistan. Our bottom line is in together, out together. We are fully committed to the transition framework we agreed to in Lisbon in 2010, whereby the Afghan people assume responsibility for their own security by 2014. There is total unity on the transition plan and timeline. I look forward to working further with our allies on the details of this plan when we meet at the Chicago Summit in May, the first U.S. hosted NATO summit since 1999.

From Brussels, I traveled to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where I had an opportunity to meet with and thank some of our incredible service members who care for and transport our wounded warriors. These dedicated professionals, including medical evacuation crews, ground transporters, mortuary affairs specialists and USO volunteers, are a critical link between the "downrange" aid our injured receive, and transporting them to care back home at Walter Reed or Bethesda. Because of the work they do, because of their skill and expertise, lives are saved, and loved ones reunited.

I also thought it important, while at Ramstein, to thank some of our mortuary affairs service members. These dedicated professionals have one of the toughest, and most important, jobs out there: to bring our fallen men and women home. It's one they perform with dignity, respect and reverence.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks with U.S. Army Capt. Jennifer Corey a physician at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, Feb. 3, 2012. Panetta visited Ramstein Air Base and Landstuhl to visit patients and thank service members directly involved with the transportation and care of wounded warriors. DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

From Ramstein, we drove the short distance to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where I had the opportunity to visit some of our wounded warriors, as well as those from some of our coalition partners in Afghanistan. I'm always impressed by the spirit of our wounded warriors, and the incredible strength and fortitude they show even in the face of huge obstacles. They want nothing more than to recover and rejoin their units. As always, I was honored to be in their presence.

I also thanked members of the Landstuhl staff for their service and the care they provide, and had the good fortune to celebrate the 111th birthday of the Army Nurse Corps. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for nurses, because I married one. These selfless healers nurture the most helpless and vulnerable and offer courage and hope to those in despair. They deserve our everlasting thanks.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton answer questions during a panel session at the 48th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 4, 2012. DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

I ended my trip to Europe by delivering a speech to an audience at the Munich Security Conference, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Held in the historic Bayerischer Hof Hotel, the conference brings together heads of state and military leaders from both sides of the Atlantic. In my remarks, I again emphasized the importance of the NATO military alliance, one that over the past decade of war, from Afghanistan to Libya, has proven its relevance to the security challenges of the 21st century.

I came away from this trip struck by how important the American guarantee of security and partnership is to so many. Our great country remains a beacon of hope for those who seek a better and safer world, and for those who seek to give their children a better life. That we are the security partner of choice is a testament to the incredible dedication and professionalism of America's service men and women. Thank you all for what you do every day to make this a better world.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense

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