Leon Panetta was sworn in today as the 23rd Secretary of Defense (Don Rumsfeld served twice; as the 13th and 21st secretary).  Panetta took the oath of office in a ceremony held this morning at the Pentagon.

In a message to the Department of Defense establishment, Panetta said that he “will ensure that our nation continues to have the best-trained, best-equipped, and strongest military in the world.”  He pledged to be a strong advocate for the troops and their families telling them that they “will always by foremost on my mind and at the top of my agenda.” 

Speaking of the challenge ahead as DoD prepares for significant budget cuts, Panetta vowed “there will be no hollow force on my watch.”  Reiterating what he said at his confirmation hearing, Panetta said managing declining resources will require a disciplined approach.  He told the Senate committee that his main budget challenge would be to design defense budgets that eliminate wasteful spending, while protecting the core elements needed for the nation’s defense.  But, Panetta warned today about against cutting the defense budget too deeply saying that he does “not believe in the false choice between fiscal discipline and a strong national defense.  We will work together to achieve both.”

Panetta’s swearing in comes one day after Robert Gates left the Pentagon after serving five years as Secretary of Defense.  Yesterday, a farewell parade at the Pentagon honored departing Secretary Robert Gates.  President Obama awarded Gates the Medal of Freedom—the highest award the president can present to a civilian. 

Gates served two presidents—George W. Bush and Barak Obama—and managed two wars during his tenure.  Gates thanked both presidents for their confidence and support.  He also acknowledged the frustration felt by career civilian professional who try every day to overcome obstacles to accomplish their tasks.  He remembered his days working his way “through the GS ladder.”  He said he understands and appreciates “the challenges these public servants face and the sacrifices they make.”  

Finally, he reminded everyone that the top priority for the Pentagon was to “get those fighting at the front what they need to survive ad succeed on the battlefield, and to be properly taken care of when they get home.”  He said he will always think of the “young warriors” who fought, those who died fighting, and their families.