Panetta Calls on Navy
Grads to Focus on Asia-Pacific
May 31, 2012
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta
called on the U.S. Naval Academy’s class of 2012 at its graduation and
commissioning ceremonies here to help restore America’s maritime
presence and power with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
Panetta, speaking under a brilliant blue sky at Navy Marine Corps
noted that the 1,099 new officers are joining the fleet and Corps at a
“strategic turning point after a decade of war.”
He cited key accomplishments: the return of U.S. forces from Iraq,
NATO’s approval last week of a plan to transition full security
responsibility in Afghanistan to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, and
the successful NATO effort to free Libya of Muammar Gadhafi’s brutal
regime, among them.
In addition, the secretary said, the U.S. “has successfully gone after
the leadership of al-Qaida to send a clear message that no one -- no one
-- attacks the United States and gets away with it,” drawing loud
“And yet we still face challenges and risks,” the secretary said, from
violent extremism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,
to the destabilizing behavior of Iran and North Korea, military
modernization across the Asia-Pacific, turmoil in the Middle East,
piracy and cyber-attacks.
“Our nation now looks to you, the next generation of military leaders,
to confront these challenges, to protect our nation and to ensure that
America always has the strongest military force in the world,” the
secretary said. “That is the way it has always been. And that’s the way
it always will be.”
Panetta recognized the Navy and Marine Corps’ legacies of leading the
military and the nation and called on the graduating class to keep the
tradition strong. “It is up to your generation to ensure that our fleet
remains unrivaled by any other nation on earth,” he said.
Adaptation has always been one of the Navy’s hallmarks throughout its
history, Panetta noted. It remains important, he said, as the Defense
Department implements new strategic guidance to meet the challenges of
the 21st century at a time of fiscal constraints at home.
The new strategy calls for agile, flexible, deployable and
technologically advanced military forces and puts emphasis on the
Asia-Pacific as well as the Middle East. It calls for strengthening key
alliances and partnerships and protecting investments in new
capabilities ranging from cyber to unmanned systems to space to special
operations. It also ensures that the U.S. military “can confront
aggression and defeat any opponent anytime, anywhere,” the secretary
“The Navy and Marine Corps are fundamental to every element of that
strategy,” the secretary said. He called on the new officers and their
generation to sustain and enhance American strength across the vast
Asia-Pacific maritime region.
“America’s future prosperity and security are tied to our ability to
advance peace and security along the arc extending from the Western
Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean and South Asia,” he said.
“That reality is inescapable for our country and for our military, which
has already begun broadening and deepening our engagement throughout the
“Your charge,” Panetta told the midshipmen, “is to help ensure the peace
and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific for the 21st century.”
“We need you to project America’s power and to reflect America’s
character” as you operate throughout the region," he said, strengthening
historic alliances and building robust new partnerships.
also need you to strengthen defense ties with China,” he told the class.
“China’s military is growing and modernizing. We must be vigilant. We
must be strong. We must be prepared to confront any challenge. But the
key to peace in that region is to develop a new era of defense
cooperation between our two countries -- one in which our militaries
share security burdens to advance peace in the Asia-Pacific and around
Panetta thanked the graduates for choosing to serve their country in
wartime. “You have set yourselves apart in a profound and in an
honorable way,” he said.
“No one can tell you what challenges you will face in the future,”
Panetta added. “But one thing is sure. You must be prepared to respond
to whatever threats we confront in the future -- with courage, with
creativity, with leadership.”
The secretary also recognized the diversity of the class, the first to
graduate and accept commissions since repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t
Tell” policy that banned gays from serving openly in the military.
“You are men and women from every state in the union and 12 foreign
countries: rich and poor, secular and religious, black, white, Latino,
Native American, Asian, straight and gay,” he said. Panetta called this
diversity a tribute to retired Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Brown, the first
African-American to graduate from the Naval Academy, who died last week
at age 85.