Secretary Panetta flew down to Fort Benning, Georgia on Friday to thank the soldiers there for their service and sacrifice over the past decade of war.
Oh, and also to tell them to keep their cellphone cameras packed away.
This week's agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan is not so strong that it couldn't be derailed by another rash of bad press for the Americans, which isn't just irksome for the PAOs, but can be no-kidding deadly for troops downrange. If Washington and Kabul are going to stay on the glide slope toward a handover of responsibility next year -- not before and not after -- nobody in authority wants another viral video of American troops beating a goat, or urinating on corpses, or any of that.
You guys got that? Panetta said:
I need every one of you, and all of your fellow service members, to always display the strongest character, the greatest discipline, and the utmost integrity in everything you do ... I know that you are proud to wear the uniform of your country, and that you strive to live up to the highest standards that we expect of you.Panetta was addressing the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, but he was talking to everyone across the force. Still, even if everyone serving in Afghanistan behaves themselves from now until the end of the withdrawal, there's no way to know what kind of photos or videos have already been captured, but just haven't yet been posted online.
But the reality is we are fighting a different kind of war, and living in a different kind of world, than when I was a lieutenant here at Fort Benning. These days, it takes only seconds for one picture, a photo, to suddenly become an international headline. And those headlines can impact the mission we’re engaged in, they can put your fellow service members at risk, they can hurt morale, and they can damage our standing in the world, and they can cost lives.
I know that none of you deliberately acts to hurt your mission, or put your fellow soldiers at risk. You are the best ... I know these incidents represent a very, very, very small percentage of the great work that our men and women do every day across the world. I represent 3 million people, 2 million in uniform. But these incidents concern me, and should concern you and they do concern our service chiefs – because they show a lack of judgment, a lack of professionalism, and a lack of leadership on the part of some of our men and women in uniform who serve this country with distinction. They concern us because our enemies will seek to turn them in their favor, at the very moment when they are losing the war.
I want all of you to always remember who you are, and the great country you serve and that we are all part of. You are part of the best fighting force on the face of the earth. Never forget that ... We can often be better than our word, but we can never be better than our actions. Never forget that, and never forget that you have a responsibility to look after your fellow soldiers, and to represent the American people you have sworn to defend. I know you can meet this challenge, because you have met every challenge we have set for you.