American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is a symbol of American military might, and that makes it a target that must be protected, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today during a 10th anniversary celebration of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.
The organization grew from the ashes of Sept. 11, 2001, when 184 people died in the terror attack on the building.
The agency secures the Pentagon and 116 other properties that make up the Pentagon reservation. “We cannot do what we do without you,” Panetta told the organization’s men and women at today’s observance.
“I see a lot of you every day, and I know that wherever you’re stationed, I always feel a lot better knowing that you are there protecting this building,” he said.
Panetta noted that the observance was taking place a year and a day after 9/11’s architect was killed. “Just yesterday, the nation marked one year since the operation that successfully took down Osama bin Laden,” he said. “It was a day that I hope Americans take the time to thank the very dedicated intelligence and military professionals who planned and executed that raid that delivered justice to al-Qaida’s leader.”
Panetta was CIA director during the operation. “I have to tell you, to this day that it was a remarkable experience and one of the greatest memories in 40 years that I’ve been in Washington,” he said. “Having the opportunity to work with the intelligence professionals, to work with Adm. Bill McRaven (then chief of the Joint Special Operations Command), to work with the SEALs in that operation was incredible. This was because of the professionalism and great dedication involved with that mission. It was the kind of stuff that makes you proud to be an American.”
The men and women of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency play a vital role in ensuring the people who work at the Pentagon can accomplish their mission, Panetta said. “Your mission of protecting those that protect America is critical,” he said. “Frankly, we could not do our jobs without you. It allows the roughly 23,000 employees here at the Pentagon to focus on their jobs, because they all know that there are dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us.”
The agency grew from the Federal Protective Service and the Defense Protective Service, said Agency Director Steven Calvery. Following 9/11, the agency took a different turn, and its ranks now include law enforcement officers, physical security personnel, investigators and technicians trained to handle terrorist attacks, explosives or weapons of mass destruction. The agency provides vital protection across the board for the Pentagon.
And the building needs that protection, “because the Pentagon is much more than just an extremely large, odd-shaped building,” Panetta said. “The Pentagon is a symbol. It is an unmistakable symbol of United States military power.”
In the 10 years since its founding, the agency has faced down many challenges. In 2010, two officers, Jeffrey Amos and Marvin Carraway, were wounded as they shot a lone gunman who tried to break into the building. “Who knows how many casualties would have resulted if he had gained entry?” Panetta said. “Thankfully, he was stopped by the swift reaction of our brave police officers.”
Officer James Feltis was another agency officer who displayed selfless service. In January 2005, he spotted a car coming the wrong way up an exit ramp, and without considering the risks, stepped out of his booth to try to stop the car. The vehicle, which had been carjacked by an armed robber, gained speed and struck Feltis, who died a month later of his injuries. He is the lone agency officer to die in the line of duty. His widow, Mary, attended the 10th anniversary celebration.
“You and your family will always be part of our defense family,” Panetta told her.
Panetta thanked all members of the agency for their support and professionalism. Jonathan H. Cofer, the agency’s deputy director, joined Officer Michael Marker and K-9 Officer Duke in surprising Panetta by making the secretary’s dog Bravo an honorary member of the Pentagon’s K-9 corps.