Aircraft carriers will continue to be important to U.S. military strategy, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the crew of the USS Enterprise yesterday.
Enterprise is underway in the Atlantic Ocean in preparation for the ship’s 22nd and final deployment following 50 years of naval service.
“Carriers play a major role in our military, not only today, but they will play a role in our future,” Panetta said. “You are part of what keeps our force agile, flexible, quickly deployable and capable of taking on any enemy anywhere in the world.”
Following his arrival on the carrier’s flight deck via helicopter, he was greeted by Navy Rear Adm. Walter E. Carter, commander of Carrier Strike Group 12, and Navy Capt. William C. Hamilton Jr., Enterprise commanding officer.
Following a brief meeting, Panetta ate lunch with enlisted sailors on the mess decks and held an all-hands call for the more than 1,700 sailors and Marines aboard the ship.
“Even after 50 years of service, because of your tireless work on ‘the Big E,’ there is no other nation that can match this ship,” Panetta told the crew. “This is a great ship, and all of you are a great crew.”
The secretary administered the re-enlistment oath to 21 sailors and presented awards to 10 more in the ship’s hangar bay.
“It’s an amazing feeling, and it’s something I never thought would happen,” said Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Ramous K. Fleming, one of the sailors who re-enlisted. “It fills me with pride to get to stand in front of someone as high-ranking as the secretary of defense and renew my commitment to my country.”
Following the all-hands call, Panetta presented 200 sailors with his personal coin.
“It was one of the coolest things I’ve done in my military career,” said Petty Officer 1st Class James Holman, the reactor labs leading petty officer. “It’ll be cool to show my parents the SECDEF coin I received and the picture I took with Mr. Panetta, because how many people can say they’ve met the secretary of defense?”
In the evening, Panetta ate dinner in the Enterprise wardroom with junior officers before heading to the flag bridge to watch evening flight operations.
“I’ve had a really good tour,” Panetta said. “I enjoyed every aspect of the ship, but the greatest thrill was watching the aircraft takeoffs and landings — a thrill I will never forget.”