Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today thanked a Bremerton-based aircraft carrier that accelerates its deployment schedule to meet threats in Persian Gulf nations such as Syria and Iran.
"You're the best I have," he told the crew of the USS John C Stennis."
His trip marked his first visit to the Puget Sound as defense secretary. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, greeted him. Panetta called the retiring congressman a champion for the country's defense.
The Stennis returned from its last deployment to the Persian Gulf in March and anticipated another mission at the end of this year. Panetta in July expedited the deployment because of the uncertain security situation across the Middle East.
The ship will play a role in monitoring events in Syria and in protecting shipping lanes from Iranian threats. He said the Defense Department does not plan to send more resources to the region at this time.
In Syria, he said the Pentagon's priorities are supporting humanitarian efforts to help refugees, monitoring Syrian chemical and biological weapons and assisting the opposition with nonlethal resources.
Panetta said he understood he was asking a lot of sailors who only recently returned from a seven-month mission. They also spent two of the past five months at sea.
"I know it can be tough, but it's also something that makes us proud," know the sailors are ready to deploy.
Panetta used his remarks during the Stennis all hands call to put the sailors' work in the context of continuing security threats abroad during a period of budget cuts at home.
He said the Stennis should thrive in the years ahead because it's "agile, deployable, at the cutting edge of technology."
In remarks to reporters, he said the Puget Sound is well positioned as the Defense Department prepares to reduce spending while reorienting to face challenges in the Pacific.
"I would assume Bremerton is going to stay busy for awhile to come," he said.
Panetta said he is waiting for more recommendations about how to address complaints about behavioral health diagnoses at Madigan Army Medical Center and across the Army. The Army has reinstated Madigan commander Col. Dallas Homas, and eliminated the widespread use of forensic psychiatrists at Madigan who checked and sometimes changed post-traumatic stress diagnoses among war veterans.
Panetta asked each service branch to review and standardize its procedures for PTSD diagnoses. He said those reviews are ongoing.