U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) - January 12, 2012
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thanks, Silver (sp), for that great, warm introduction. I really appreciate it. And I really appreciate the invitation to be able to come down to Fort Bliss and to be here this evening. I really feel honored in a number of ways.
First of all, I’m honored to be here in El Paso and to have a chance earlier to visit Fort Bliss because -- let me be clear -- Fort Bliss is the premier post in America. (Applause.) You are home to the 1st Armored Division. You’ve got a great division commander in Major General Dana Pittard, a native of El Paso. (Applause.) Military population approaching almost 32,000 soldiers, 35,000 family members, 3rd BCT of the 1st Armored is deployed as we speak to east Afghanistan, which is one of the tougher areas in Afghanistan. You have a tremendous expansion here, almost $4.9, close to $5 billion worth of program construction. You’re committed to energy conservation, renewable energy. It’s a wonderful effort that’s going on here. And for all those reasons, this is, as I said, the premier military post. And so I’m honored to be here.
Second, I’m honored to have had the opportunity to visit with the troops and the families. These are the individuals who put themselves on the line for this country, men and women who are most dedicated individuals that I’ve had the honor to meet. One of the things I do as secretary is I make it a point to go over to Bethesda and visit with the wounded warriors that are there.
And I have to tell you -- I mean, obviously, I’ve seen the dedication. I’ve seen the commitment. But I look at these wounded warriors who in some cases have suffered horrendous wounds as a result of these damned IEDs. And they are there and they look at me and basically say, Mr. Secretary, I want to get back to duty. I want to get back to duty. I want to continue to serve. I’m going to get out of here and I am going to be back in the service of this country.
That kind of spirit is what I have seen in the men and women who serve this country. We are as a country honored to have these individuals be able to give something back to this country. I want you to pay tribute to all the men and women in uniform that serve this great nation of ours. (Applause.)
I want to thank the people here at El Paso and also the surrounding communities in New Mexico and the other areas that provide support for this military installation. I know what it means to have a community that is devoted to the military and be there. Your dedication, your commitment, your service, your patriotism is incredibly important to the military and to this post. And it’s incredibly important to me to have communities like this dedicated to ensuring that we can do everything possible to try to keep this country safe.
And I’m pleased to be here because I am, as I mentioned today, the son of immigrants and the son of a family that came to this country, like millions of others, and were willing to take all the chances that went with coming here: no money, no language skills, no abilities, but they traveled thousands of miles in order to come here.
My father was the 13th in his family. And he had brothers that came here to this country ahead of him. His older brother settled -- one of his older brothers settled up in Sheridan, Wyoming, and he had another brother who settled in California. And when my mother finally came over -- (inaudible) -- it’s important that you visit your older brother -- (inaudible) -- and so they went to Wyoming and spent one winter in Wyoming. And my mother said, it’s time to visit your other brother in California. (Laughter.) And, thank God, we ultimately wound up in Monterey, California.
My father originally -- (inaudible) -- opened a restaurant in downtown Monterey. My earliest recollection was washing glasses in that restaurant. And my parents believed that child labor was a requirement in my family. (Laughter.) And then, after that bought a farm in Carmel Valley and planted a walnut orchard. And, again, I worked very hard in that walnut orchard.
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