News: Panetta talks future of the force with troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Ashley Curtis
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Kandahar Airfield Dec. 13, to discuss progress in the war in Afghanistan, the challenges the Defense Department faces and what changes service members can expect for the future of their careers in the military.
Panetta opened his speech to a multinational group of service members by commending them on their efforts in Afghanistan and contributions to the mission, which he believes is headed in the right direction.
“The fact is that because of what you’ve done this campaign is in the right place,” he said. “We’re moving in the right direction towards completing the mission that we’re here to achieve, which is an Afghanistan that ultimately can secure and govern itself. And we’ve made tremendous progress.”
He marked 2011 as the war’s “turning point”, noting a drastic reduction in violence in the area and the inability of the Taliban to reclaim lost territory after that year’s fighting season.
In addition to commenting on Afghanistan’s progress, Panetta also spoke frankly with service members about the upcoming changes in the Department of Defense.
He said the department will trim its budget by $487 million over the next 10 years and will include a reduction of Soldiers from 560,000 to 490,000.
Despite these cuts, he said the military must remain strong enough to deal with potential threats.
“In the past when we’ve cut across the board, weakened everything and hollowed out the military. We’re not going to repeat that mistake.” Panetta said. “We’re going to be smaller. We’re going to be a leaner force.”
Panetta said the Department of Defense’s focus remains on an agile and deployable force on the cutting edge of technology in regards to training, equipment, and cyber threat mitigation.
“In a world in which we’re dealing with a myriad of threats, we’ve got to be flexible enough to respond to any of those threats,” Panetta said when asked about future deployments. “We have to respond to whatever crisis occurs in the world.”
Because of the unpredictability of future conflicts, Panetta said it is important to maintain a presence in key locations around the world to deal with potential threats that could arise from any number of countries including Iran, North Korea, Yemen and Syria.
Panetta acknowledged the concerns of the service members who may potentially deal with those future threats, as his parting words to the gathered troops assured them that while the Department of Defense is looking at cutting future costs, the benefits will not be altered for service members who are or have been deployed or active duty troops.
“The benefits that you receive now, that your families receive, the healthcare benefits and the retirement benefits -- those are going to be maintained,” he said.
After answering the group’s questions, the Secretary shook hands with each troop in attendance, and expressed his gratitude for what they have accomplished.
“The greatest joy that I have in all the positions that I’ve been in, is the opportunity to be able to work with people like you to help protect our country. We’ve kept America safe and that’s what counts.