Panetta’s Trips Home

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DoD Photo / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Panetta waves goodbye as he prepares to depart Andrews Air Force Base Tuesday morning for a trip to Brussels aboard the E-4B "Doomsday" plane, a modified 747. When he heads home for the weekend, he usually flies aboard a much smaller C-37, the Air Force's version of the Gulfstream business jet.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is checking out Kayak or Orbitz — or whatever is defense secretaries check — to see if there is a cheaper way to get home for the weekend.

All this because of a recent news story noting he has spent $860,000 jetting between Washington and California since becoming defense secretary last July. That’s 42 seconds of Pentagon spending.

“For 40 years that I’ve been in this town, I’ve gone home because my wife and family are there and because, frankly, I think it’s healthy to get out of Washington periodically just to get your mind straight and your perspective straight,” he told reporters Monday. “I am trying to look at what are the alternatives here that I can look at that might possibly be able to save funds — and at the same time be able to fulfill my responsibilities, not only to my job, but to my family.”

This is the defense-spending equivalent of the Summit of the Americas that has collapsed into non-stop speculation and outrage about the Secret Service’s secret services. Meanwhile, Central and Latin America feel like chopped liver as their hopes for U.S. attention toward their concerns disappear amid breathless coverage of the Bobbsey Twins of tabloid journalism: sex and guns, with the President tossed in for good measure. In large part, that’s the press’s fault.

Same way with Panetta’s trips. Battleland has traveled around the world with several defense secretaries, and seen them in action up close, around the globe and inside the Pentagon. It is a grueling, relentless job. If Panetta wants to jet off to his California walnut farm to tend to a different kind of nut than those he has to deal with daily in the capital, he should. A clear-headed defense secretary – one who is making life-and-death decisions constantly – is worth the investment.