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Published: 10/5/2012

A transformation has taken place over the past decade in the Western Hemisphere, where countries are doing more than they ever have to advance peace and security within and beyond their borders, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.

In a briefing with reporters on his way to meet with leaders and defense ministers in South America and at NATO in Brussels, the secretary said the U.S. goal for the Western Hemisphere is to help nations in the region develop military capabilities and provide for their security.

“We think that we are now in a different era when it comes to security in the Americas,” Panetta said. “The United States is no longer the sole provider of security in the hemisphere.”

In advance of the secretary’s visit this week to Peru and Uruguay, the Defense Department released the Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement, a framework for implementing the 2012 DOD Strategic Guidance in the region.

Panetta said the efforts of the nations there promote “security and stability not only in the Americas but across the globe,” and give the United States a historic opportunity to strengthen its defense partnerships across the region.

In Peru, Panetta will meet with President Ollanta Humala and with Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano and other military officials.

“Peru is a very strong democratic partner for us in South America,” the secretary said.

“The purpose of the visit,” he added, “is to pursue close cooperation between our militaries and our two countries on a range of bilateral and regional defense issues such as counternarcotics, counterterrorism, humanitarian operations and information sharing.”

In Uruguay, Panetta will attend the 10th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas.

An important goal in Uruguay, the secretary said, “is to deepen our bilateral defense relationship … to enable greater cooperation between our militaries.

At the conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay, the defense ministers will discuss a range of important topics, Panetta said, including an important proposal to more effectively coordinate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the region.

“This is a very important step for the conference to take,” Panetta explained. “It’s the first time all of the defense ministers will have come together on taking a step towards implementing humanitarian relief.”

The United States wants to encourage these and other efforts in the region “through forums such as the defense ministers’ forum and by developing innovative, low-cost, small-footprint approaches to our shared objective,” he added.

Despite budget cuts that are taking place in the United States, including in the Defense Department, Panetta said DOD has an array of programs that can help develop capabilities in Latin America.

“At this point we feel that, as a result of not only the budget we’ve submitted but the budget that’s making its way through Congress, that we’ll have sufficient resources to … follow through on the agreements we’re making with these various countries,” the secretary said.

“I do think that there is legitimate concern about cuts that could be made in foreign aid and in programs the State Department administers,” he said.

“The best way to approach our effort at developing these new partnerships,” he added, “ … is [through] a broad-based effort that not only includes what the Defense Department can do but also what the State Department can add to that.”

During the trip, Panetta’s final stop is in Brussels at NATO headquarters for the NATO Ministers of Defense Meeting and the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council. This will be the secretary’s fifth meeting with the defense ministers.

At the meetings, Panetta said he’ll offer U.S. support for enhancing alliance capabilities, missile defense, cybersecurity, counterterrorism and countering weapons of mass destruction.

“I’ll also reassure our allies of our strong commitment to finishing the job in Afghanistan alongside [them],” the secretary added.

Cybersecurity is a growing concern across the world, Panetta said.

“Cyber is increasingly being used in ways that can undermine the security of countries,” he said, “and for that reason I think it’s important for NATO to take steps to discuss what can be done to provide cybersecurity and … what steps can be taken to ensure that we do everything possible to deter those countries that engage is cyber warfare.”

The growing number of insider attacks in Afghanistan also will be discussed at the NATO meeting, Panetta said.

Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces in Afghanistan will attend the meeting, the secretary said.

Allen “has put a number of steps in place to confront the insider threat issue and he’s done that alongside the Afghans to try to make sure we do everything we can to protect against insider attacks,” Panetta said.

“My goal is to make clear to NATO and to our allies that we are taking all steps necessary to confront this issue and that it should not be allowed to deter us from the plan Gen. Allen has put in place,” the secretary said.

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Published: 10/5/2012

In a video message released today, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta urges the men and women of the Defense Department and their families to vote in the upcoming election.

Here is the text of the secretary’s message:

On November 6th, Americans will have the opportunity to exercise the most important responsibility we have in a democracy – the right to vote. Voters will choose from candidates at every level – from the Commander-in-Chief, to legislative representatives, to county commissioners, city council members and others.

I don’t have to tell you that your vote can determine the future. It really counts. And that’s why it’s so important to participate in this process – no matter where you are in the world, no matter who you plan to vote for. Please exercise the very privilege that you’re willing to fight and die for in order to protect.

But there isn’t much time. If you’re overseas or away from home, request your absentee ballot immediately, and mail it back in time so that your vote will count. And if you need help, visit your Installation Voter Assistance Office, or see your Unit’s Voting Assistance Officer, or visit the website

Every day, your efforts make this country safer and its people more secure. You have more than earned the right to vote. So please participate in the democratic process that sustains the blessings of liberty that we work so hard to protect.

This Election Day I encourage you and your family to play an important part in our great democracy. Your vote will help determine the future of our nation, and the future of a government of, by, and for all people. Thank you.

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Published: 10/5/2012

During this week’s trip to meet with leaders of Peru and Uruguay and his counterparts at a conference of defense ministers of the Americas, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will implement elements of the 2012 DOD Strategic Guidance related to the Western Hemisphere, a senior defense official said yesterday.

In articulating priorities for a 21st-century defense, the guidance document described pursuing new partnerships in Latin America through innovative, low-cost and small-footprint approaches to achieving security objectives.

Yesterday, in advance of Panetta’s visit, the department released the Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement.

The statement “seeks to explain how that strategic guidance will shape our engagement in the region, how it’s applied to the region, and so will add further detail as to how we will implement that strategic guidance in the Western Hemisphere,” the defense official told reporters who are traveling with the secretary.

“It articulates our goal as consistent with the strategic guidance,” he added, “and I think it’s important that the secretary will not just be … releasing it but in fact will be implementing it while he’s there.”

Panetta will do this, the official said, by working with nations there on efforts that involve bolstering humanitarian assistance and disaster response, strengthening multilateral defense institutions in the region, and supporting the growth of mature, professional defense institutions.

To fine-tune the disaster-response process, at the 10th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas this week in Punta del Este, Uruguay, the Chilean government will put an initiative before the ministers, the defense official said.

The Chileans, he added, will propose creating an online database that militaries in the region can use to coordinate in real-time the provision of assistance to countries affected by a natural disaster.

“One of the lessons learned from Haiti was not a lack of assistance … but there was very little coordination, a lot of duplication, and we didn’t do as good a job as perhaps we should have in saving lives,” he explained. “With this mechanism that Chile is proposing, we will be able to do that better.”

If the project is approved, the official said, it will be the first time since the conference began in 1995 that the meeting produces “something tangible, concrete and actionable and that is about saving lives.”

The United States, he added, very much supports the Chilean effort.

DOD officials also seek to help strengthen multilateral defense institutions in the region, where many countries, including Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, Brazil and others, are what the defense official called “security exporters.”

Such countries, he said, contribute in significant ways to regional and global security, including by acting as U.N. peacekeepers, and by helping build capacity and train armed forces and police in Central America and other nations.

“On the margins of the Summit of the Americas [in Cartagena in April], Colombian President [Juan Manuel] Santos and President Barack Obama signed an action plan to coordinate efforts forward,” the defense official said.

“We will be leveraging that experience, that capability, those lessons learned from many countries in the region to coordinate our efforts in a way that will avoid duplication in Central America,” he explained.

“In October,” he added, “we’re building a detailed action plan where we and the Colombians will coordinate who does what … so we leverage … the resources and capabilities we have to effectively do capacity building and training and other things in Central America and in other places.”

The United States and Canada also have a work plan involving Central America, he said.

“We’re doing more of this and it’s consistent with the secretary’s vision in the guidance and in the Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement to develop innovative approaches and innovative partnerships to deal with what are essentially very complex challenges that we face in the hemisphere,” the official added, including illicit trafficking and transnational organized crime.

As part of the effort to support the growth of mature, professional defense institutions, in Peru Panetta will offer the government participation in a program called Ministry of Defense Advisers, or MODA.

The MODA program is active in Afghanistan and now the department is expanding it to engage countries outside Afghanistan, like Peru and Montenegro.

If Peru accepts, MODA will embed a technical expert in the ministry of defense for up to two years. The expert will provide consistent technical advice on issues like budgeting, acquisition, procurement, planning and strategic planning, the defense official said.

MODA is offered to countries that have participated and have had success in another program called the Defense Industrial Reform Initiative, or DIRI. For this program, teams travel to and work for a week or two at a time with ministries of defense on similar technical issues.

In Peru, the official said, “the Secretary … will explain [the MODA program] to his counterpart, and then it will be up to us to follow up and make sure that we can tailor the program to exactly what the Peruvians think is most appropriate and effective for them.”

In the Western Hemisphere, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Guatemala now participate in the DIRI program, the official said.

Besides humanitarian assistance and disaster response, other topics to be discussed at the defense ministers’ conference include peacekeeping, the Inter-American Defense System, and security and defense, meaning the role of the military in nondefense situations like drug trafficking.

“Peacekeeping is an area of mutual interest and where there is a huge demand signal on the part of the United Nations,” the senior defense official said. “We recognize the importance of having troops and capabilities available to respond to those demand signals.”

The U.S. Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative, or GPOI, works with countries like Peru, Uruguay, El Salvador and others to train and equip peacekeepers and refurbish peacekeeping training centers “to help them ramp up and be ready to deploy if … requested by the United Nations and the government decides it wants to participate,” he added.

Since 2007 the United States has provided $7 million in GPOI funds to the Peruvian government -- a good example, the official said, of a low-cost, high-impact project “that yields quite a bit in strengthening our partnerships in the region to achieve common objectives.”

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Published: 10/4/2012

The United States stands with its NATO ally Turkey in Ankara's response to a Syrian cross-border mortar attack that killed five Turkish civilians yesterday, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

During a news conference, Little said Defense Department officials are outraged by the Syrian government’s actions along the Turkish border.

“We hope that this doesn’t escalate into a broader conflict; we hope that the situation de-escalates,” he said.

Turkey responded to the attack with artillery fire directed against Syrian military targets.

“It is absolutely inappropriate, wrong and deplorable for the Syrian regime to conduct this kind of activity along the border, which has led to the loss of life of Turkish civilians,” Little said.

NATO officials released a statement following an emergency meeting called after the cross-border incident, saying “the alliance continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law.”

It is time for Bashar Assad and his regime to step down, Little emphasized during today’s news conference.

“They continue to kill innocent civilians in Syria, and it’s time for the Syrian people to be able to determine their own future in a country that’s free of this kind of brutality,” he added.

Little said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has not had any contact with Turkish officials since the incident, but that Pentagon leaders “respect the inherent right of self-defense displayed by Turkey.”

According to media reports, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay announced today that Syria had admitted responsibility for yesterday’s mortar shelling and apologized for the deaths, pledging "such an incident will not occur again."

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Published: 10/4/2012

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will leave tomorrow on a weeklong trip to South America and Europe, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

The secretary will visit officials in Peru and then participate in the Defense Ministerial of the Americas in Uruguay, Little said.

The secretary will then fly to Brussels for a regularly scheduled meeting of NATO defense ministers.

The trip will reaffirm the U.S. military’s commitment to strengthening partnerships around the world, Little said.

“In Peru, Secretary Panetta will have the opportunity to meet with President [Ollanta] Humala [Tasso], and he will meet separately with Minister of Defense Pedro Cateriano,” the press secretary said.

Peru is a strong ally in the region. “The U.S. cooperates with the Peruvian military on a range of activities, exercises, and training,” Little said. Panetta will discuss ways to deepen the U.S.-Peruvian bilateral defense relationship in the areas of counternarcotics, counterterrorism, and humanitarian operations.

In Uruguay, he will have the chance to confer with Western Hemisphere counterparts and meet bilaterally with defense leaders from seven nations, including those from the host country, Little said. “The emphasis of those discussions will be on strengthening partnerships and working with other nations to build their capacity to contribute to regional and international security efforts,” he added.

Panetta will look to lay the groundwork for closer security cooperation with Uruguay on areas of common concern. “Given that schedule, it is fitting and timely that today the department is releasing a Western Hemisphere defense policy statement,” Little said.

The statement, Pentagon officials said, will guide the U.S. approach to defense cooperation across the region, recognizing that the Western Hemisphere nations have a growing capability and willingness to contribute to security efforts within and beyond their borders.

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Published: 10/5/2012

Pentagon officials have confirmed the Oct. 21 deadline to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay has not been extended by the recently enacted Continuing Resolution.

Service members, veterans, and beneficiaries of service members whose service was involuntarily extended under stop loss between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009 are eligible for RSLSP, which was established by the The 2009 War Supplemental Appropriations Act, officials said.

The average benefit is $3,600.

Applications can still be mailed, but applicants should, if possible, apply on-line to obtain an instant claims number and expedite communication with service personnel, officials explained.

Since the majority of potential applicants have separated from the military, Defense Department and service officials said they have used multiple methods to contact and remind those eligible to apply.

Outreach efforts include multiple direct mailings to last known addresses, contact with the VA and more than 100 other veteran and military service organizations, social networks, and local and national media.

The president, Congressional members and senior defense officials have also assisted to boost outreach.

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Published: 10/5/2012

The Defense Department wants to clarify a personnel policy -- generally known as the “five-year rule” -- that establishes time limits for civilian overseas assignments, an official said here today.

Sheila Dent, the department’s acting director of human resources for operational programs and advisory services, spoke to the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service about the thinking behind DOD Instruction Number 1400.25, Volume 1230, which took effect in July.

“What we’ve done is taken several different policy documents and consolidated them into one regulation,” she said. “The basic policy remains the same as it was … but now we only have to go to one place.”

Since the new policy was published, she said, her office has offered a lot of advice to “folks wanting to make sure that they understand what the provisions are.”

The five-year rule has been in effect in some form since 1960, Dent noted. The policy establishes time limits for overseas assignments, and sets conditions for re-employment “return rights” when civilian workers return from overseas assignments.

The policy, she said, states that, “If an employee takes an assignment to an overseas post, then they have a job to return to in the states, but that the typical rotation period shouldn’t exceed five years.”

There is a provision for overseas employees to remain after five years, but only in two-year increments, officials said. Dent explained the new instruction offers components -– the Army, Navy, Air Force and DOD agencies – some flexibility in setting approval authority for such extensions.

There is no cap on the number of extensions an employee can receive, she said, but under the policy components can set approval authority at any level within the component.

“Previously, it would stop at the installation commander level, typically,” she added. “But now it might be a level or two above that commander.”

Higher-level approval of extensions can benefit workforce and succession planning, Dent said.

“We see that we have to be more deliberate in determining what our competencies are … [and] what we need to meet the mission,” she said. “Typically, a supervisor above that local level has a wider perspective of what’s going on in that area of operations.”

The instruction also states an employee must spend two years in a stateside job after completing an overseas posting before being eligible for another five-year overseas assignment.

“Basically, when an employee returns to the states, we’re looking to establish a couple of things,” she said. “One is stability in that work environment that they return to … [and second] that the employee has time to get settled and refamiliarized, so that they can get up to speed in the latest changes in technology.”

Civilian jobs exempt from the five-year rule have, in the past, included positions that included frequent contact with host-nation officials or that required a high level of host-nation cultural knowledge, Dent said.

“We eliminated the exemption from the five-year rule,” she explained. “However, the commander still has the authority to approve an extension for individuals in those positions. Again, it goes back to workforce planning and shaping.”

In deciding on repeated extensions for long-term overseas employees, she said, managers should consider how to grow the skillset the next worker in that job will need, and also ensure that policy makers in the states can benefit from the knowledge overseas employees gain about partner nations.

When employees do rotate back to the states, Dent noted, they can benefit from a broad range of return rights guaranteed under the new instruction.

“Previously, each component set the rules about … how they would authorize return rights,” she said. Now, she noted, “if you take an assignment outside of that organization overseas, you are guaranteed return rights back to a position similar to what you had, in the organization that you left.”

Overall, she said, the new instruction doesn’t require any big changes from commanders and managers overseas.

“This document gives the managers clearer emphasis on their responsibility for planning for that strategic workforce,” Dent said.

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Published: 10/4/2012

The U.S. military provided logistics and security support to an FBI team investigating the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

The team visited Benghazi for a number of hours and left there this morning, though the investigation is ongoing, Little told reporters during a Pentagon news conference.

The FBI and DOD coordinated fully with the State Department and the Libyan government on the Benghazi site investigation, he added.

Little said he would not discuss specifics “for obvious reasons,” as the same type of mission may occur in the future, but said military support included airlifting the FBI team during the visit.

“The U.S. government has been aggressively looking into precisely what happened since Sept. 11, when the attack occurred on … our consulate in Benghazi. … We’ve been actively chasing leads in various ways,” Little said. “The intelligence community, the State Department, FBI -- the full range of capabilities of this government -- have been used to try to determine what happened in this tragic incident.”

Little said the department stands ready to support U.S. military members and civilians in the region.

“We have the assets in the region to do just that,” he added.

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