Panetta thanks troops during Korea visit
October 26, 2011
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea -- The 23rd Secretary of Defense, Leon E. Panetta, marked his first visit to Korea as Defense Secretary with a Town Hall Meeting inside Collier Community Fitness Center for the Servicemembers and Families of Yongsan Garrison, Oct. 26.
Panetta, who stepped down as the Director of Central Intelligence to take the position in July, started the town hall by thanking the Soldiers for their service in the military. Panetta himself served in the United States Army, attaining the rank of 1st Lieutenant as a military intelligence officer.
"Our democracy, from its very beginnings, was designed to be dependent on citizens who are prepared to give something back to the nation," Panetta said. "Whether it was the forefathers, whether it was the pioneers, whether it was the immigrants; all of those came to understand how important our country was, what it represented to the world. They came to understand that it could only be strong if there were people willing to give something back to the country."
His discussion then moved onto the importance of serving and the strength of the nation being with its diversity. He called on his own background, both of his parents having immigrated from Italy to the U.S. in the 1930s, to give an example.
"My father would say to my brother and I, for everything America gave them, we owed something back to this country," said Panetta. "I am a believer in public service. I believe public service is what makes our country strong, because there are those willing to give something back. That is what you are all about."
After his talk on service, he turned his attention to the alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States, repeating the U.S. commitment to defend its partner. He called the United States a Pacific nation and a force of peace and prosperity, calling on the men and women of the Armed Forces to help strengthen that presence, reminding the crowd about the Korean War that took place during his childhood.
"We came here to Korea to help defend this country," Panetta said. "A lot of blood was spilled, by our forces and the Korean forces. As a result of that, we have a South Korea that is a nation that has grown strong and independent, that really represents the kind of nation that will be an important ally to the United States in the Pacific region."
He talked about America's future, in the view both the Military and the Nation. He called the last ten years a 'turning point' for America overseas and at home, noting the progress made in combating terrorist networks, the NATO mission in Libya and the drawdown in Iraq written by President Bush and followed by President Obama.
His last topic concerned the Military in light of the economic recession, and stated the President's points concerning the way ahead: Remain the best military in the world, to stop a "hollowing" of the force similar to what was faced after other major conflicts, to cut areas of inefficiency and to save as much as possible, and to keep faith with those currently serving in the Military by guaranteeing the benefits they signed up with.
"You have been asked time and time again to war zones," explained Panetta. "You have been asked to deploy away from home, to put your lives on the line. And we ask you to do that based on the promise of certain benefits for you and your families. We are not going to pull back on what we promised."
He repeated his promise, given earlier in the year, that any changes regarding retirement and benefits would not affect those already serving in the Military. He called it 'grandfathering' in the Soldiers serving, and said that the administration would stick to the promises made to the troops.
After his segment, Panetta turned over the town hall for questions from the Servicemembers who had come to see him and their concerns. Questions ranged from specifics on his plans for retirement benefits to tuition for Soldiers to continue their higher education, both inside the military and out in the civilian world.
Panetta's presentation ended with a standing ovation from the audience. After the questions were asked, the assembled were offered a coin and a handshake from Panetta as he thanked each one of them for their service to the country. Over 300 coins were passed, each with a pledge of support and the thanks of the Secretary of Defense.