Leon Panetta became defense secretary Friday. He has just sent a message to U.S. troops around the world, including the 150,000 in combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq:
Today, I was honored to take the oath of office to become the 23rd Secretary of Defense. I am mindful of the great responsibility the President has entrusted to me, and I will work with you — America’s men and women in uniform and this Department’s civilian employees — as I lead the Department of Defense in its mission to protect our citizens and our nation’s interests around the world. My long career in public service began in the 1960s when I proudly donned the uniform of this country as a young Army intelligence officer. In the decades since, my respect for the military has only grown stronger…This July 4th weekend, we celebrate our independence, the freedoms we enjoy, and America’s promise. My parents, immigrants from Italy, came to the United States to seek a better life. They taught me that it was important to give something back to the country they adopted. I will never forget my father’s words: “to be free, we must also be secure.” As Americans come together to commemorate what we and those before us have accomplished, and as I take on my new role, my thoughts are with you and your families. You are making personal sacrifices to preserve our liberty, serving on front lines around the world. You are fighting to keep America safe. Rest assured that I will fight with you and for you.
Bob Gates — who must be floating on air right now at his Washington state lakefront home — will be a tough act to follow, but Panetta has the skills and gravitas to follow in his footsteps.