Secretary of Defense visits Soldiers of U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Airborne Brigade
VICENZA, Italy -- Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addresses Soldiers from U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team during a visit to Caserma Ederle here, Jan. 17. Panetta spoke to the 173rd Soldiers about the future of the U.S. military and answered their questions during an hourlong town hall meeting before joining them for lunch.

VICENZA, Italy - Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited with Soldiers of U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team at Caserma Ederle here, Jan. 17.

While here, Panetta led an hourlong town hall meeting with members of the 173rd. He opened the session with remarks about the challenges facing U.S. forces in the coming years and the continuing need for units such as the 173rd to meet those challenges.

He noted that while Afghan security forces are improving steadily and scheduled to take on the full security mission in Afghanistan next year, America still faces many threats, including widespread terrorism, nuclear proliferation, unpredictable regimes and cyberattacks. He said the U.S. needs to maintain a robust force projection capability in the world, including Europe, and that the NATO alliance and other partnerships are vital to future missions.

"Chances are we're going to need to put you to work in a lot of places," the secretary said. "As long as we're facing these threats were going to need units like this to be able to mobilize and respond to threats like that."

Panetta thanked the brigade's Soldiers -- many of whom are still deployed in Afghanistan -- for "carrying the burden of war for the last 10 years" and helping to keep America safe.

"Thanks to you, we can look at our children and say we've given them a safer life," he said.

Following Panetta's remarks the Soldiers had a chance to ask him questions of their own before he joined them for lunch at the South of the Alps Dining Facility.

The secretary visited here as part of a weeklong trip to meet with his European counterparts in Portugal, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.

The event also was USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell's first visit with a USAREUR maneuver unit since assuming command. Campbell took the opportunity to speak with 173rd Soldiers about their assignment and mission.

"I'm very proud of the brigade," Campbell said. "Almost to a Soldier … (they told me), 'I love Italy, I love the brigade and the opportunity to serve in a brigade of such high quality with (such) a history and lineage.'"

Panetta's visit to USAREUR "Sky Soldiers" in Vicenza is a clear indication of the value of the brigade and USAREUR's multinational security cooperation mission, the general added.

"The fact that (the secretary) took the time to come to Vicenza and talk to the 'Sky Soldiers' of the 173rd, I think, sends a powerful message of the importance of not only our alliance with our Italian partners but certainly the importance of the 'Sky Soldiers' and their contributions to the national defense of our country and a whole bunch of others."

The brigade Soldiers who shared lunch with Panetta talked with him about topics of interest ranging from new facilities for the post here, to the move of brigade units from Germany to Vicenza, to proposed uniform changes.

The impressions that Sgt. Desiree Genus, an intelligence specialist with the brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Company, took away from the secretary's visit seemed to be shared by her fellow Soldiers. Those were feelings that it was a unique and special experience to meet Panetta, and that his visit means their thoughts and concerns matter.

"(The secretary is) very supportive of family, and he's definitely one who cares about the Soldiers," Genus said.

Page last updated Thu January 17th, 2013 at 00:00