U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Senator Mark Warner spoke to more than 500 business professionals, community leaders, and elected officials from Hampton Roads at the Chamber’s State of the Military forum on October 19 at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. The forum, which was two years in the making, sought to explore defense strategy, current and future Department of Defense spending, and the economic impact of the Federal presence in Hampton Roads.
A sense of military and community pride ran throughout the forum. Senator Warner and Secretary Panetta both acknowledged that Hampton Roads is a strong community that is strengthened even more by its military presence. “There is no community that is prouder of our military,” said Warner. “There is a level of support for the military that is unprecedented.” Panetta agreed, stating, “Hampton Roads is a powerful test to the unrivaled support of our military. The support offered to our military is what makes this area so important.”
Panetta said, "Simply put, this region houses perhaps the greatest concentration of military might in the world. And support offered by this community to our service members, veterans and their families is an incredibly important part of what makes this area the strategic national asset that it is."
Both speakers maintained a realistic and optimistic tone regarding the upcoming elections. Senator Warner stated that, “Regardless of who is elected, we are going to have to face our issues. We all share responsibility on how we got into the 16 trillion dollar debt.” Secretary Panetta concurred, saying, “The United States is in many ways at a turning point after a decade of war. I know too well the decisions we make in Washington have a real and lasting impact on communities.” Warner also stressed the need for people of good faith to be elected on both sides of the aisle.
Panetta warned of the threat of defense reductions because of automatic budget cuts of $1 trillion over 10 years that are set to start in January. Half the reductions, known as sequestration, would be in defense and half in discretionary domestic programs.
Senator Warner and Secretary Panetta agreed that the Hampton Roads community’s support for the military is critical for national security. “I want to do everything that I can to keep this community strong with the military. It is essential to keep our nation strong,” said Panetta, followed by Warner concluding that, “Hampton Roads is a model for our nation: the perfect example of how community and state work together.”