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Panetta addresses large crowd at UofL

by Mark Hebert, communications and marketing last modified Mar 02, 2012 04:12 PM

More than 1,200 people, including dozens of Fort Knox soldiers, packed the University of Louisville’s Brown and Williamson Club Thursday night to hear U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta talk about budget cutting, cyber warfare and public service.

Panetta addresses large crowd at UofL

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the University of Louisville.

Panetta joked that such a large crowd might be the result of people thinking they were hearing from “Pitino, not Panetta.” Panetta was the latest high profile speaker UofL’s McConnell Center has snared for its campus lecture series.

The defense secretary’s speech centered on the need for principled public service, but the remarks and subsequent question-and-answer session also touched on a number of hot-button issues.

Panetta said:

  • More cuts in defense spending will hurt national security, and Congress must find other ways to balance the federal budget.
  • He worries that the United States “hasn’t taken the necessary steps” to stop the hundreds of thousands of cyber attacks on companies, utilities and government agencies that could “literally paralyze this country.”
  • Climate change could create chaos and security threats as droughts prompt fights over water, Russia or other countries seek to mine the resources uncovered with the melting of the polar ice caps, and rising seas affect key shipping ports.

Before his speech, Panetta met with students from the McConnell Scholars program.

Junior Justin Brandt said it was obvious to him that Secretary Panetta “is very intelligent” and noted that he displayed a long memory, citing specific examples of leadership and dedication to public service that he’d witnessed during his tenure in Washington.

Freshman Samantha Roney said Panetta talked with the students about the “Arab spring” uprisings in Syria, Egypt and Yemen and addressed the nuclear threat from Iran.

Another freshman McConnell Scholar, Danielle Robinette, said she appreciated “what the university has been able to do for us” in terms of providing the opportunity to mingle with leaders like Panetta and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the father of the McConnell Scholars program.

Panetta and his wife have set up a similar public policy institute for students at California State University.

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