BREMERTON — Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke to more than 2,000 sailors on the USS Stennis before their deployment to the Middle East.
Panetta traveled to Bremerton to speak to the sailors Wednesday as part of an “all hands call” aboard the aircraft carrier. Panetta ordered the Stennis strike group to deploy roughly four months earlier than previously planned. The Stennis returned to port in March after a seven-month deployment.
Panetta thanked them for helping “keep America the strongest military power in the world.”
“You are the heart and soul of our national defense,” he said. “You are the heart and soul of what makes America strong.”
The Stennis leaves on Monday.
Talking with reporters after the event, he said that the deployment “deals with a lot of threats in the Middle East right now” including Iran and the continuing turmoil in Syria.
“All of that is the reason we maintain the force we have in the Middle East,” he said.