By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan, July 10, 2011 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta picked a perfect forum to speak about the benefits of public service here today.
The new defense secretary spoke to more than 250 Marines and sailors in the chapel of this camp. Here in the deserts of Helmand province the temperature outside was well over 110 degrees. Inside, it was a relatively cool 88 degrees.
The young Marines and sailors put up with the heat, dust, bugs, snakes and enemy activity.
Panetta thanked them for choosing country over comfort and spoke of his own journey toward public service.
“I’m a believer in public service,” Panetta told the service members. “My whole life has been dedicated to public service.”
He started on the journey as an Army 1st lieutenant during the Vietnam War era. He was elected to the House of Representatives from California in 1976 and was reelected nine times. President Bill Clinton appointed Panetta as the director of the Office of Management and Budget and later as White House chief of staff. President Barack Obama nominated Panetta as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a post he held until he became defense secretary July 1.
“I think it’s important that people give something back to this country,” Panetta said. “I am the son of immigrants. Both my parents came from Italy. They made it clear to me that because of what this country was able to give them in terms of opportunity, it was important for their two boys to give something back to the country.”
The secretary said he used to ask his father why he had come to California from Italy when he didn’t have any money and spoke little English.
“My father used to say it was because ‘your mother and I thought we could give our children a better life,’” he said. “I think that’s the American dream. My wife and I want it for our three sons. It’s what you want for your children. It’s what your children will want for their children – to be able to say you gave them a better life.”
“Through public service I think we can make a difference to try to make sure that the lives of our children are better,” he said.
He told the Marines and sailors that they were doing a great job in Afghanistan.
“You have my commitment that I will fight for you in Washington,” he said. “You are willing to fight for that American dream, fight to give our kids a better life, but most of all fight for a government of, by and for all people.”