Panetta: U.S. presence in Pacific is 'here to stay'
Published: October 26, 2011
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – If Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit with 150 troops Wednesday on the USS Blue Ridge did nothing else, it reassured one young sailor he’d probably be able to hang onto his job.
“It was good to hear a vote of confidence in us, and especially good to hear about the continued presence in the Pacific,” said a junior lieutenant who asked his name not be printed. “We sort of started wondering where we were going after the rumors about the (decommissioning of the) George Washington.”
But Panetta, standing with sailors crowded around him on the ship’s deck under a breezy blue sky, had proclaimed, “We are here to stay.”
Indeed, Panetta sounded the same familiar note heard at every stop on his first trip to the Asia-Pacific region as secretary of defense: He said the United States will strengthen its presence here to deal with the challenges of North Korea and China. And despite Pentagon fiscal trimming, the United States would maintain the world’s best military, he promised. Panetta specifically warned Iran not to stir up trouble in the Middle East, thinking the U.S. would lack the reach to respond.
Finally, Panetta promised to personally guard the benefits that servicemembers and their families have been promised. None of it was new, but it was the first time sailors on the Blue Ridge had heard it, and many seemed to eat it up.
A young man waiting in line to shake Panetta’s hand and receive a commemorative coin leaned over to his buddy and enthused, "That was awesome."