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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta speaks to sailors aboard the USS John C. Stennis on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, in Bremerton, Wash. The Stennis is set to deploy to the Middle East on Monday. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta speaks to sailors aboard the USS John C. Stennis on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, in Bremerton, Wash. The Stennis is set to deploy to the Middle East on Monday. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

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US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Visits Bremerton

Lesley McClurg
08/22/2012

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited US Navy troops in Bremerton Wednesday. More than 2,000 sailors lined up on the decks of the USS John C. Stennis to listen to parting words from the defense secretary. The speech was a send–off for men and women who are scheduled to be deployed to the Middle East next Monday. KUOW's Lesley McClurg reports.

TRANSCRIPT

The sailors rocked from foot to foot waiting for Secretary Panetta to arrive. The crowd had mixed emotions about leaving.

Jennifer Stone: "It's pretty comparable to living in jail. I mean you're on a two–inch mattress on a metal slab, the food isn't the greatest."

Tyler Newman: "I'm really excited. This is my first deployment and I can't wait. I'm hoping for a year."

Jerome Walker: "Definitely an adjustment to sleep in a box that's about two–feet tall."

Melissa Ball: "You've got to cry and then you've got to move on."

That was Jennifer Stone, Tyler Newman, Jerome Walker and Melissa Ball.

The sailors call their home a floating city. It's the length of three football fields. They have an runway, a unique zip code and a fully operable hospital. But many sailors say their home starts to feel small once they're at sea for long periods of time.

Panetta's speech thanked the service members for all their work.

Panetta: "I've got a hell of a lot of great weapons in this position. I've got aircraft carriers; I've got great fighter planes. I've got great technology. But none of that is worth a damn without men and women in uniform who serve this country."

The secretary also spoke at length about his military strategy under a looming $487 billion budget cut. He stressed that US is still fighting a war in Afghanistan, global terrorism, countries with nuclear proliferation and a growing number of cyber threats.

But in the final days before heading overseas, sailors are focused on saying their farewells. Melissa Ball says next Monday will be hard.

Ball: "Everybody's crying. You get some laughter, I'm not even going to lie, but it's kind of a depressing day."

The service members are not sure where they're headed, but they know they'll be gone for around eight months.

For KUOW News, I'm Lesley McClurg.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

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