U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) - August 6, 2012
Annual Conference of the Association of Defense Communities
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Monterey, California, Monday, August 06, 2012
Thank you, thank you very much. I deeply appreciate that very kind introduction, John, and the opportunity to be here and my thanks to you and the entire leadership of the Association of Defense Communities for this invitation.
It’s a real pleasure to have the opportunity to be back at this conference and to be among so many of my dear friends here in my home of Monterey. I deeply appreciate this invitation because it gives me a chance to get the hell out of Washington and come to Monterey. As many of you know, I have a very long and proud history with this Association of Defense Communities. As a member of Congress, representing this area – a number of important military instillations in this area – from that to my service in the Clinton administration as OMB Director and then as White House Chief of Staff, going through the process of various BRAC closures that took place and having to deal with those concerns from the White House perspective, and more recently, as co-chair of the California Council on Base Support and Retention during the 2005 round of BRAC.
So I have long been a big believer in the importance of this organization’s mission – and feel even more strongly about it now that I am Secretary of Defense and see it from this perspective as well – how important it is to maintain the partnership of the defense communities that do such a terrific job of supporting our men and women in uniform.
This is the fourth time that I’ve had the chance to address this conference. Much of the inspiration to do this, I have to admit, comes from two of your board members from Monterey – Fred Meurer and Michael Houlemard, who would be a pain in the ass to live with if I didn’t come here and do this. Both were instrumental in helping to encourage me to be able to come here, and I have to say both of them were remarkable in helping this community respond when we faced the closure of Fort Ord. In many ways, the work we did here, I believe, has become a national model and I am proud to call both of these talented leaders and public servants my dear friends. We went through a lot together in working through the closure of Fort Ord and then the redevelopment there, particularly with the establishment of the campus of the CSU system.
I’d also like to recognize some others that are here – Mayor Chuck Della Salla of Monterey also has been a partner and a great help in dealing with it, and Congressman Sam Farr, who succeeded me in the U.S. House of Representatives. He has continued to provide strong leadership on this issue. Last March I had a chance to meet with the House Defense Communities Caucus – which Sam co-chairs – and my message, which I will repeat today, was that close and effective partnership between DoD and defense communities is absolutely crucial, not just to the health of our defense communities across the nation, but it is absolutely crucial to the strength of the Unites States military as well. That’s why I’m pleased to be joined here by a number of my senior civilian and military leaders from the Department of Defense, including Lieutenant General Mike Ferriter, who will speak after me.
This perspective of mine – and indeed much of my perspective on defense issues – was shaped by my own experience here in Monterey.
I was born here. As many of you know, I am the son of Italian immigrants who made their way to this country, like millions of other immigrants in the 1930s – with no skills, no language ability, no money in their pocket. My father was the 13th in his family.
He had, like many of the immigrants – family here. He had some brothers who had come to this country, and settled in different areas. He had two brothers – one was located in Sheridan, Wyoming, the other was located out here in California. My parents managed to make it to visit the older brother in Wyoming – that’s what you’re supposed to do, is go and visit the older brother first. They spent one winter in Sheridan, Wyoming. And my mother said it might be time to visit the other brother in Monterey. I have nothing against Sheridan, Wyoming – it’s great, done some great hunting up there, it’s great country – but it is cold. And my family, thank God, made it to Monterey eventually.
And as a matter of fact, not too far from here, actually just as you leave the conference center if you look straight across old Alvarado Street, the main street in Monterey used to pass all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. And this whole area was an area that had a lot of history. My dad had a restaurant just on that corner across the way – Carmelo’s Café – and my earliest recollections as the young boy were working in the back of that restaurant washing glasses. My parents believed that child labor was a requirement.
And then to his credit, he worked hard but he didn’t have much education but he had a hell of a lot of street smarts, he went out to Carmel Valley and bought some land out in Carmel Valley. And planted a walnut orchard, and again, a lot of work out there working in a walnut orchard doing the irrigation and all of the hoeing that you have to do and tying the trees up. And eventually those trees grew and, you know, my wife and I are now located there. But when I was a boy, we used to go around – and I always tell this story – we used to pick walnuts. My dad used to go with a poll and a hook in those days and hit each of the branches. My brother and I used to be underneath the trees collecting the walnuts. When I got elected to Congress, my father said, “You know, you’ve been well-trained to go to Washington because you’ve been dodging nuts all your life.” Very true.
Monterey had a long history with the military community. Fort Ord was a massive training ground for soldiers going back to before World War II. But particularly, during World War II, this was an area that was jumping as soldiers came through and trained and were then assigned either to the Pacific or Europe. And the entire Monterey community was, for those GIs, their last piece of civilization before they were deployed in distant wars. My parents’ restaurant provided some good food, and I can remember my parents offering the comfort of our home to some of the soldiers who came through to try to give them at least a little bit of home before they had to go into battle. Later, when I went in the Army for two years, part of my duty was assigned to Fort Ord as well, as a lieutenant – G2. And I had the opportunity to work there at the time when it was a training post and then later as a member of Congress represented that post when it was the home for the 7th infantry division.
This community support that was provided for the soldiers is something service members and their families still depend on every day, and it’s not only true here in Monterey, it’s true across the country in every one of your communities. Especially over the past decade of war that this country has been involved in, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether it’s schools for their kids, whether it’s jobs for their spouses, whether it’s transportation infrastructure, housing, our troops could not go about their daily lives, they couldn’t do their jobs – and the Department of Defense could not fulfill its mission of defending this country – without the support and the services of our defense communities. It’s that simple.
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