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Secretary Panetta's Townhall Meeting

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - May 4, 2012

            COL. JOHNNIE JOHNSON, COMMANDER 3rd HEAVY BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM:  Take your seats, please. 

            Mr. Secretary, Congressman Bishop, Major General Brown, distinguished guests, good afternoon.  

            I have the distinct pleasure of introducing a staunch supporter of the armed forces here with us today, Congressman Sanford Bishop.  Sir, I was originally going to describe you as a frequent flyer here at Fort Benning, but my PAO told me that -- just stick with he's at this installation as often as he can. 

            Seriously, sir, on any given day, you can find Congressman Bishop on Fort Benning or in the Greater Columbus area meeting and talking to leaders, soldiers, Department of Army civilians and families. 

            Last August, he and his lovely wife, Vivian, graced us on Kelley Hill during our celebration of Women's Equality Day, and sir, it was great to have you on the hill that day. 

            Congressman Bishop's ties to Fort Benning go back to his previous Army service, completing basic training, advanced reserve officer training, right here at Fort Benning.  So he indeed has a unique understanding of what is needed to train, prepare and care for America's warriors. 

            He is -- he is serving in 10th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Georgia's 2nd Congressional District, which covers 32 southwest counties.  He is the top Democrat on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.  He is also a former member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. 

            Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a warm sledgehammer and dogface soldier welcome for Congressman Sanford Bishop.  (Applause.) 

            REPRESENTATIVE SANFORD BISHOP (D-GA):  Good afternoon. 

            AUDIENCE MEMBERS:  Hoo-ah! 

            REP. BISHOP:  Good afternoon. 

            Hoo-ah! 

            AUDIENCE MEMBERS:  Hoo-ah! 

            REP. BISHOP:  Secretary Panetta, General Brown, Colonel Fletcher, Colonel Johnson, members of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division -- 

            AUDIENCE MEMBERS:  Hoo-ah! 

            REP. BISHOP:  Ladies and gentlemen, freedom is not free. Somebody has to pay the price.  And I am so thankful that there are men and women like you who voluntarily joined up to be a part of that great fighting force, to pay the price for the freedoms that we enjoy, the price of our liberties.  You've taken upon yourselves that extraordinary duty of defending our nation.  And for that, we are so grateful.  The Scriptures tell us that greater love hath no man but that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are preparing for deployment.  You will be going into harm's way, and I want you to know that I, representing the American people, know and understand the sacrifices that you are making and that you are prepared to make.  And some indeed may make the ultimate sacrifice for the United States of America and the people and the values that we enjoy. 

            Your families also make a sacrifice because your service is their service.  And I want you to know that in behalf of the American people and the members of the United States Congress that we know and we will do everything that we can to make sure that your families are supported while you support the mission of the United States of America. 

            Though I could speak English, Spanish, German, Sanskrit, Arabic or any of the other of the thousands of languages spoken by the human race on the face of this earth, I would not have enough words combined to adequately thank you for the service and sacrifice of you and your family. 

            But today is a great day in the history of Fort Benning, the Maneuver Center of Excellence.  Today we have visiting with us a great leader, a great public servant, the highest official in the Department of Defense, the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Leon Panetta.  There is no stronger advocate for soldiers, for their families than Leon Panetta. There's no stronger advocate for veterans than Leon Panetta.   

            When President Obama made the appointment, he could not have selected a more appropriate person for the job.  He was an Army officer, having completed the Infantry School, the infantry officer course, right here at Fort Benning.   

            He was a congressman.  He was a member's member of Congress -- that is the one to whom other members go for advice and counsel -- and he held some of the most senior and responsible positions in the Congress, including chairman of the House Budget Committee. 

            He served as White House chief of staff to President Clinton, and he served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, bringing a kind of leadership and a refreshing air to the people who make sure that our war fighters and our policymakers have the best real-time information on which to base the decisions we face.   And now he is our secretary of defense extraordinaire.  

            So let's give him a great Georgia welcome, but more importantly, a great 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division welcome to Fort Benning.  Let's welcome Secretary Leon Panetta.  (Cheers, applause.) 

            SECRETARY LEON PANETTA:  Good afternoon, Hammer Brigade!  

            AUDIENCE MEMBERS:  Hoo-ah! 

            SEC. PANETTA:  It wakes me up. 

            Thank you very much for that kind introduction, Sandy.  It's always -- it's always a great pleasure to be able to -- to be with you, but in particular to be with you here at Fort Benning.  You have shown tremendous leadership in Congress in supporting Fort Benning and its soldiers and the families that are all part of our military family. 

            And I'd like to particularly recognize your work as co-chair of the Congressional Military Families Caucus.  That's an extremely important caucus in the Congress that tries to look out for the families that are so important to supporting those who serve in our military. 

            Twenty years of service -- we thank you for all you've done. 

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