Military Children Education Coalition

U.S. Department of Defense Speeches, June 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

Military Children Education Coalition


As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Grapevine, Texas, Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It is a distinct privilege for me to be able to come down to Texas and to be among so many who share a dedication to helping our military children have a better future, and that's what it's all about.

I feel a special relationship to this group, not just because I'm Secretary of Defense, but because I spent two years in the Army with my family and with my kids and I had the opportunity to see the great work that was done as just a trooper on the lines seeing exactly the services that were provided. And also, I had a sister-in-law who taught at one of the schools that I was at. So I've got a good sense of the dedication that's involved by all of you to try to make sure that our military kids get the best education possible.

I am pleased to be joined by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs who also will be here, as well as a number of our Service Chiefs and I think that tells you a lot.

Their presence underscores the importance of education to military families and to the ability of our armed forces. And it does relate to this and we shouldn't lose sight of it. What you do relates to our ability to carry out the mission of defending the country.

We are all here--the Chiefs, those involved in military leadership--to say thank you. Thank you on behalf of the Department of Defense. I deeply appreciate all of the work that so many here and around the country are doing to help our military families.

In a democracy, we are dependent on good education. Education is the key to self--government, it's the key to opportunity, it's the key to equality, it's the key to freedom, it's the key to a better life.

As you know, I am the son of Italian immigrants who came to this country like millions of others seeking the opportunity that this country has to offer. They came with little money, few language abilities, few skills.

My son--I've got three sons--my youngest son looked up the manifest for when my parents came through Ellis Island. And my parents are listed and my father's occupation was listed as "peasant". So he had to come to this country to work hard and to be a part of what America has to offer.

I used to ask my father "Why would you do that? Why would you travel all that distance, not knowing where the hell you were going, not having any idea, why would you do that?". And yes, they came from a poor area in Italy. But they also had the comfort of family. Why would you pick up and suddenly leave all of that to travel thousands of miles to come to a strange country? And my father said the reason was that my mother and he thought that they could give their children a better life.

And that's the American dream--that's what all of us want for our children and it's hopefully what they will want for their children because that is the fundamental American dream, giving our kids a better life. It is what we want for our children and for this country.

And helping to give future generations a better quality of life is what goes to the very heart of our military, and what everybody here is doing. That is because giving our children a quality education is essential to giving them a better life.

I've long believed that this country has an obligation to make education a top national priority. I would not be here as Secretary of Defense were it not for the opportunities that were given to me by education. I have a lot to be thankful for thankful to my parents who basically kicked my ass and said "You better get a good education," thankful to the nuns that taught me in Catholic grammar school who also incidentally kicked my ass, thankful to a lot of inspiring teachers at the public high school that I went to in Monterey, thankful to the Jesuits who taught me at the University of Santa Clara and who taught me that one of the fundamental purposes of education is to help our fellow human beings. …

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