BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AFNS) – The nation’s top military advisor visited Barksdale Air Force Base, Feb. 17, getting a first-hand look at the Air Force’s strategic deterrence capabilities.
With more than 300 people in attendance, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta began his visit with a town-hall meeting, stressing the importance of Barksdale to the nation.
“[Barksdale] is one of our premier air bases, and I wanted to stop here and tell you all how important this base is,” he said. “It’s a key priority for us, and it will remain a key priority in the future.”
He also thanked the men and women of Barksdale for their service and dedication.
“The most important weapon we have is you – the men and women who wear the uniform,” he said. “This country has asked a lot of you over the last 10 years, and everything we’ve asked of you, you’ve done, and done well.”
During his remarks, Panetta addressed the challenges faced by all those in the Department of Defense, as leadership works to identify nearly half a trillion dollars in spending cuts.
“This is a historic and challenging time,” he said. “We’ve had some great successes, and now we face some tough choices.”
When deciding on a military strategy for the future, Panetta told the Airmen that he and his top service chiefs identified several focus areas. First, they highlighted the need to maintain the strongest military in the world. They also wanted to concentrate on making smart force structure choices, so as not to hollow out the force. Finally, the department wanted to keep faith with the troops and their families.
“All of that represented the guidance we needed as we developed the strategy for this country,” Panetta said. “We know we’re going to have a smaller force, but that force is going to be agile, quickly deployable, flexible and technologically advanced.”
He concluded his remarks by acknowledging the impact of the changes facing the military as a whole.
“If I have to take a half a trillion in cuts, it’s not going to come without pain and impact,” he said. “This is not going to be easy. It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re doing the right thing, and we’re putting a strategy in place for the future.”
Following his speech, the Defense Secretary held a brief question-and-answer session with Barksdale Airmen, covering topics ranging from force structure and the defense budget to the development of a new long-range bomber.
Panetta then re-enlisted six Barksdale Airmen, and presented medals to five Barksdale Airmen for their service during recent overseas deployments.
One of the Airmen receiving a medal from Panetta was Maj. Emil Rebik, Air Force Global Strike Command Installations and Mission Support directorate. Rebik received the Bronze Star from Panetta for his service as the executive officer for an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Battalion in Afghanistan. During his nearly six-month deployment, he was responsible for 15 joint Navy, Army and Air Force EOD teams.
While Rebik is honored to receive the Bronze Star, he said it is really a testament to the personnel he worked with, and those who were lost along the way.
“It’s an honor to be presented the medal by the SECDEF because it exemplifies the sacrifices so many of our EOD brethren have undertaken,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Craig, 2nd Security Forces Squadron, was presented the Air Force Commendation Medal for service during a seven-month deployment to Oman. During that time, he was responsible for training, validation and certification of every Military Working Dog team, kept all records pertaining to the MWD program and oversaw the construction of the first MWD kennel facility.
“I’m very pleased and honored to be awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal,” Craig said. “I also appreciate those who noticed my hard work in Oman and who felt I deserved the honor of it being presented by the Secretary of Defense.
“Having [the medal] presented by one of your top superiors who takes the time to visit Barksdale makes it even more special,” he added.
Following the medal ceremony, Panetta presented the 2nd Bomb Wing with the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for its exceptional meritorious service.
The Defense Secretary wrapped up his visit with static tours of the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-2 Spirit and the B-1B Lancer, followed by a briefing on the strategic deterrent capabilities within Air Force Global Strike Command.