WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 11, 2011) -- ”This is my first trip to Iraq as the secretary of defense,” said Leon E. Panetta. “I wanted to meet with the men and women who are putting their lives on the line for our country.”

“You are the ones I am responsible for,” he said. ”You are the ones I care about. I want to make sure you are protected, not only for yourself but for your families.”

Panetta held a town hall meeting with troops on Camp Victory, Iraq, July 11.

Expressing his deepest thanks, Panetta acknowledged the contribution the troops make with their public service of assisting with the Iraqi partnership. U.S. assistance is critical and essential to the success of Iraq’s independence, he added.

“As a result of the great sacrifice and work of the United States military this country is on a much better path. You have provided security here while this nation develops,” said Panetta.

“One of my great responsibilities is to make sure that I protect those who protect America,” he said. Panetta assured the troops, as they fight here, he intends to fight to make sure they receive the best support with training and benefits.

After Panetta’s address, he took questions and concerns from the troops. One of the many questions on the minds of troops was the status of withdrawal of forces in Iraq. Panetta said U.S. forces are responsible for assistance in providing a sense of stability.

“This is a region of the world that has a hell of a lot of turmoil,” Panetta said. “Our responsibility is to ensure whatever changes are taking place are hopefully headed in the right direction.”

Panetta was receptive to the questions of the troops, said Sgt. John M. Lockwood with Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 25th Infantry Division.

“He was very down to earth, personable and responded realistically to queries,” Lockwood said.

Panetta also met with Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commanding general, U.S. Forces - Iraq, and with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.

Before heading the Department of Defense, Panetta served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from February 2009 to June 2011. Panetta also served as an Army intelligence officer from 1964 to 1966.