Monterey, CA – Leon Panetta had a homecoming of sorts when he took the stage at the Naval Postgraduate School Tuesday morning. He was born and raised in Monterey and later went on to represent the region as a Congressman. Secretary Panetta recalled how as a Congressman he fought to protect NPS and the Defense Language Institute during rounds of base closures. "It isn't just important obviously for this community, but it is extremely important to the defense of this country," said Secretary Panetta.
Now in his new role as Secretary of Defense, Panetta faces $350-billion in cuts over the next ten years. Cuts that could be made worse he said if the Congressional Super Committee appointed after the debt ceiling deal can't make a decision. That could lead to across the board cuts. "That could result in as much as $500-to-$600-billion more in defense cuts, doubling the number of defense cuts that we're now dealing with," said Secretary Panetta.
The cuts seem to weigh heavily on the minds of the service men and women in the audience. During a question and answer period when asked about his stance on the military's retirement system, the auditorium erupted in applause. "Why the hell did I know I was going to get that question," said Secretary Panetta. Recently an advisory panel drafted a plan to eliminate the current retirement system. It gives lifetime payments to military members who retire after twenty years of service. Secretary Panetta stressed no decision has been made. "One of the commitment's I've made is not to break faith with the troops and their families. And those that have been deployed a number of times have been deployed on the basis that ultimately they knew they had a commitment with regards to their retirement. So if anything like that were ever to be thought of seriously, I wouldn't do it without grandfathering those that are presently in the service and making sure that they get the benefits that they're entitled to," he said. Secretary Panetta said though the decisions will be tough, he sees an opportunity to develop more agile forces and the weapons systems to support them.