The VFW was on hand yesterday afternoon at the National Press Club, where Defense Secretary Leon Panetta outlined his vision for the future of the U.S. military.
Panetta, who succeeded Robert Gates as Defense Secretary nearly 18 months ago, appeared at the press club exactly one year after the final U.S. troops convoyed out of Iraq, officially ending American involvement in the conflict. In his remarks, the secretary outlined his five-part plan for how the military should evolve to meet the challenges of a post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan global landscape.
To view Panetta’s visit to the press club in its entirety, click here.
For a full transcript of Panetta’s remarks, click here.
Panetta believes that the military must first become a leaner, agile, and technologically-advanced force, capable of deploying when needed. Second, the military must be able to project power in volatile regions like the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Third, the U.S. must continue to be a global military leader through “innovative partnerships” in places like Europe and Latin America, helping to develop allied capabilities to ensure stability. Next, the military must retain the capability to respond to more than one crisis at a time, such as aggression on the Korean peninsula or threats to cut off the Straight of Hormuz. Finally, Panetta said that the military must not strictly cut back on defense, but invest wisely for the future.
While Panetta acknowledged that each of the military services will be smaller, he reiterated that the force must not be hollowed out, and must retain the ability and capability to respond to global crises on a moment’s notice. To the secretary, this means that readiness for each component will become a strategic imperative moving forward.
“Our outstanding men and women in uniform are the foundation of everything we do,” he said. “As I've often said, I've got great weapons, I've got great ships, I've got great bombers. None of that is worth a damn without the U.S. men and women in uniform that serve this country.”
However, Panetta acknowledged that the Pentagon would be forced to make difficult decisions in a budget-constrained environment. To the secretary, this means that nothing is off the table, including personnel benefits like military pensions, retiree health care and prescription drug benefits.
Panetta clarified that he would not cut benefit programs for any current service members or retirees, but that proposed changes would only affect new service members once implemented.
While Panetta did not offer specifics in yesterday’s speech, the VFW has vocally disagreed with the Pentagon’s long-held stance on overhauling the military retirement system and drastically increasing TRICARE fees. Over the past three years, Pentagon budget requests for health care have proven to be wildly off the mark, which is why the VFW has called on the Pentagon to improve its budget processes before changing military retiree and health care benefits.
During the question-and-answer session, Panetta addressed a variety of questions ranging from the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, to the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden, the specter of budget sequestration, and procurement reforms.
Even though sequestration over the defense budget looms, the VFW knows that the argument over personnel policy reforms will continue well into the next Congressional term. Your VFW will continue to fight to protect all quality-of-life programs that benefit our military, our veterans and all their families. Check back regularly with this blog for updates.
(Image: Top: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivers remarks during a National Press Club luncheon. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett. Bottom: Head table guests look on as Panetta speaks at the press club. Photo by Ryan Gallucci.)