Panetta says benefit changes shouldn't affect those serving
October 7, 2011
NAPLES, Italy — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday that he doesn’t think the benefits of troops currently serving will be changed as part of defense budget cuts, but that those who join the ranks in the future may be affected.
“The line that I’m drawing is to say we are not going to impact those who are in the service,” he told sailors at the Navy’s Capodichino base in Naples, Italy, the home of U.S. 6th Fleet. “It’s really important we protect the benefits that were promised.”
But in order to cut a congressionally mandated $350 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade, all aspects of how the military does business will need to be assessed, he said.
“We think it’s tough but it’s manageable,” Panetta said.
But he cautioned that it will be a “disaster” if Congress can’t agree on cuts and a debt-reduction contingency goes into effect that would cut $600 billion from defense and security spending.
The U.S. must keep an “agile, effective and capable force” and avoid hollowing out the military via troop reductions as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and the world faces other challenges, Panetta said.
Panetta’s stop in Naples came near the end of a tour that has taken him to Israel, Egypt and NATO headquarters in Brussels, where on Wednesday he announced that four Navy ships will be stationed at Naval Station Rota in the coming years as part of the European missile defense program.
He thanked the sailors for their service and noted that, since becoming defense secretary after being CIA director, “I have a hell of a lot more weapons available to me.”
But for all the technology, Panetta said, “the most important weapon I have are the men and women who put on the uniform.”
He noted that his parents immigrated from Italy in the early 1930s.
“As an Italian, I thought it was important to come to Naples and get some good food,” Panetta said.
During a question-and-answer session, one sailor said his unit was overworked and undermanned.
“You’re telling me you’re working your ass off,” Panetta told the sailor.
“Always, every day,” the enlisted sailor replied. “I hope my senior chief’s not here.”
The military is busy worldwide, Panetta said, and 6th Fleet in Italy’s been especially busy since this spring with Libya operations.
“But that’s what makes you the best military in the world,” he said. “There are times when I’m going to ask you to do a hell of a lot more.”