Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is saluted at West Point ceremony
By MICHAEL RANDALL | The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. | Published: October 5, 2018
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — A humbled Leon Panetta accepted the 2018 Thayer Award from the West Point Association of Graduates Thursday night, not for himself but "on behalf of the winner of the award 16 years ago."
In 2002, the award was presented not to an individual but to the American soldier. And Panetta spent much of his acceptance speech praising American soldiers and others who have defended the nation throughout history, as well as the West Point cadets in the audience, who are training to become the next generation of defenders.
The Thayer Award is named for Col. Sylvanus Thayer, the fifth superintendent of West Point.
Thayer is known as the Father of the Military Academy because he established many practices and traditions that continue to this day.
The award is presented each year to an American citizen whose life of service to the nation embodies the West Point motto, "Duty, Honor, Country."
Panetta was honored for a career that has included stints as the director of the federal Office of Management and Budget and as White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.
He also served as director of the CIA and secretary of defense during President Barack Obama's administration.
In his roles as CIA director and defense secretary, Panetta said his most difficult decision was sending those under him into dangerous situations.
"Every time I signed a deployment order, I said a silent Hail Mary that they would all return," he said.
Asked at a news conference before the awards ceremony which part of his career had given him the most satisfaction, Panetta cited his years representing his California district in Congress from 1977 to the end of 1992.
He said there was true bipartisanship during those years. "I wish we could get back to that," Panetta said.
Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, West Point's superintendent, said Panetta's career was clearly undertaken in response to President John F. Kennedy's call in his 1961 inaugural address to "ask what you can do for your country."
"Thank you for your example of being a leader of character," Williams said.
Panetta told the cadets they are becoming leaders at an especially dangerous time in the world — with terrorism, ISIS, a new chapter in the Cold War with Russia, increased tensions with China, and cyber attacks being among the many challenges facing America.
"If the United States fails to provide leadership in a troubled world, no one else will," Panetta said.
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