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June 29 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - June 29, 2012

            SECRETARY LEON E. PANETTA:  Good afternoon. As you know, it's now been one year since I was sworn in as secretary of defense. It truly has been an honor for me to lead the men and women of this department, and to do so during a very historic time for the United States military and for the country.

            And I've been very fortunate to have an outstanding partner in the chairman, the vice chairman, all of the chiefs, the service secretaries and the combatant commanders, and all of my civilian leadership.

            Let me, if I can, recognize some of the highlights from the past year.

            Thanks to the leadership of the president, the commanders in the field, the Iraq war ended with the safe return of United States troops. We began a responsible drawdown of the U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, and we're making a transition to Afghan security lead, which is ongoing.

            We concluded the NATO mission in Libya with the fall of Gadhafi. We've maintained a relentless focus on decimating Al Qaida's leadership.

            We developed a new defense strategy, which reshapes the force to meet the challenges of the 21st century, with a focus on investing in new capabilities and rebalancing towards Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

            We've put forward a budget that implements the strategy and achieves mandated savings of $487 billion over the next 10 years. We continue to focus on saving taxpayer money here and improving business practices at the Pentagon. We've eliminated another $60 billion in overhead spending over the next five years, and are accelerating by two years the time to obtain auditable statements of budgetary resources.

            We've affirmed our commitment to those who serve, maintained faith with them by protecting pay and benefits for active duty and reserve troops, and by improving employment opportunities for veterans and military spouses.

            And we implemented the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We've also opened up 14,000 military positions to women, and we've put in place enhanced measures to prevent sexual assault.

            This has clearly been a historic year for the department and for the country. In the past two weeks in particular, I've been focusing on the overall health of our all-volunteer force. I visited wounded warriors at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio this week, sharpening our focus on the stresses that lead to suicide and PTSD. And we've been reaching out to those who work with our military families and have continued to work on ways to try to boost veterans hiring.

            There is a very strong commitment by military leaders, by community groups and by families to ensure that servicemembers have everything they need. After visiting these men and women who have come home, there's still a great deal that they need and will continue to need in the years to come.

            But let me be frank: The biggest risk to everything I've talked about -- to the health of our force, to the well-being of our servicemembers and their families -- is the threat of this sequester.

            The biggest risk to everything I've talked about -- to the health of our force, to the well being of our servicemembers and their families -- is the threat this sequester.

            The sequester will cut another $500 billion across the board from our national security budget, and do it in a way that threatens to hollow out our national defense.

            I've seen extraordinary examples of courage and sacrifice over the past year in the men and women I've met in the war zones, in the wounded warriors that I've met here at home. They are willing to put their lives on the line in order to protect our country. They deserve better than the threat of sequestration.

            Too often today the nation's problems are held hostage to the unwillingness to find consensus and compromise. And in the face of that gridlock, artificial devices like sequester are resorted to in order to somehow force action.

            But in the absence of action, sequester could very well threaten the very programs critical to our national security, both defense and domestic.

            Let's not forget that sequester would also involve drastic cuts in domestic programs, as much as 12 percent across the board on vital programs that Americans rely on.

            Congress can't keep kicking the can down the road or avoid dealing with the debt and deficit problems that we face. The men and women of this department and their families need to know with certainty that we will meet our commitments to them and to their families.

            Our partners in the defense industry and their employees need to know that we are going to have the resources to implement the strategy that we've put forward, and that they are not going to face the threat of layoff notices.

            Ultimately, the success of all we do to try to protect America, the success of any defense strategy that we try to put in place, the success of any effort to try to support the men and women in uniform and their families depends on a political system prepared to make the decisions and the compromises necessary to govern the nation and protect our national security.

            This next week we celebrate the birth of our nation. It is a time for our leaders and for every American to recognize that the blessings of freedom are not free. They come from a legacy of sacrifice, of courage and of leadership.

            That legacy is now our responsibility to fulfill, so that hopefully our children can enjoy a better life in the future.

            GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY:   Thanks, Mr. Secretary.

            Good afternoon, everybody.

            I share the secretary's perspective on the remarkable achievements of our men and women in uniform over -- over this past year.

            I was with some of them this week. As some of you know, I just returned from a trip to Offutt Air Force Base visiting our Strategic Command, where my wife, Deanie, and I participated in a town hall meeting -- although I prefer to call them family meetings -- with members of our joint military family at U.S. STRATCOM [Strategic Command].

            And like the secretary, we also traveled to Grapevine, Texas, to chat with military kids and educators, and then we wrapped up our trip yesterday discussing leadership with soldiers and family members at Fort Hood.

            And at every stop, it won't surprise you to know, I was struck by their tremendous sense of pride and commitment. They're courageous, they're selfless, they're smart, they're dedicated, they're irrepressible. They'll do anything to take care of this country.

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