Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says Hawaii has always been a historical, key point for the U.S. - and will continue to be so. He made those remarks before servicemembers and civilians at Camp Smith Thursday - during a stopover on his way to Asia.
Panetta ditched the tie and formalities of Washington for a more casual speech before the Camp Smith crowd. He talked about Hawaii's central role - as the U.S. refocuses its defense and diplomatic strategies towards the Asia-Pacific region.
"I really want you to know how important we think Hawaii is to the defense of the United States, and more importantly, to advancing peace and prosperity and security throughout the Asia-Pacific region," said the Secretary.
He spoke about confronting global security threats - while, at the same time, dealing with more than $485 billion in mandated defense cuts over the next decade.
"How do we do this in a way that makes sure that we protect a strong military for the future?" he said. "Because the last damn thing I wanted to do was to hollow out the force. We've done this in the past. I don't want to repeat that lesson, simply cutting across the boards and hurting everything. I want to make sure that we maintain the strongest military in the world. And I want to make sure that we don't break trust with those that have put their lives on the line. You."
Working within that new budget, the Secretary laid out a five-point defense plan developed by Pentagon officials. It calls for a smaller, more agile, flexible, and deployable force. The military's focus lies in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East – where security threats are the greatest. Our military will develop more security partnerships with other countries and will remain strong enough to confront more than one enemy at a time. Lastly, the plan calls for investing in cyber-technology, unmanned systems, and other cutting edge capabilities.
This is Panetta's second trip to Hawaii in as many months. He did some picture-taking and handed out special coins to local troops in a show of appreciation. Next, he'll be visiting Singapore – where he'll deliver a major policy speech and meet with defense counterparts from more than half-a-dozen Asia-Pacific countries. Then, it's on to Vietnam and India. He's also been meeting with Admiral Sam Locklear - head of the U.S. Pacific Command - who'll join the Secretary for much of his week-long trip to Asia.