INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- The U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta tends to be a busy man, but despite the global issues on his scope and the busy schedule he follows, taking time to meet with those instrumental to America's defense is important to him.
Panetta demonstrated that Dec. 14 when he visited Incirlik to let Airmen there know just how much he appreciates them and their contribution to the safety and security of the United States.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of all the men and women in uniform that serve our country ... the men and women who put their lives on the line, who are willing to give something back to their country," said Panetta. "This is the holiday season. Some of you have your families with you, and some of you don't. It's a tough time not to be with them and I want you to know that your nation is truly grateful."
In addition to letting attendees know how much their willingness to serve means, he also spoke about how Incirlik Airmen are in a vital area at an important time. He praised Turkey for being a great, long-standing ally and stated that the U.S. will continue to partner with Turkey to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms are upheld in the region and around the world.
"You are at a critical place, doing a critical job, at a critical time in our history."
Four Airmen had the chance during the visit to add to their personal history as they were administered the Oath of Enlistment by the SecDef.
"When I found out I had this opportunity I knew I had to take it," said Staff Sgt. Erica Veras, 39th Force Support Squadron. "As exciting as it is to me, my mom is excited too. She's home at Fort Meade, Md., anxiously awaiting pictures."
Senior Airman Nicole Kilinc, 39th Medical Operations Squadron, said her reenlistment was originally scheduled for Dec. 18, because her parents would be in town. However, once she found out her new option she told her dad something "special" came up so she was going to do it earlier.
"He's retired military, so I know he'll understand," said Kilinc.
Staff Sgt. Blanche Shade and Tech. Sgt. Antonio Bing, 39th Medical Support Squadron, agreed that this was a once in a lifetime event, with Bing adding that this was his last one "so what better way to go out than the SecDef conducting your reenlistment."
Although other attendees weren't there to reenlist, the opportunity to meet the secretary of defense in person was something the Airmen said they appreciated.
Airman 1st Class Dustin Randall, 39th Security Forces Squadron, has been in the military 10-and-a-half months and said he felt honored.
"I received a call from my flight chief this morning letting me know I had been chosen to attend as a reward for my hard work," said Randall. "Originally I thought the SecDef was just going to talk about current events. But then, once here, I found out everyone in the audience actually got to meet him, shake his hand, and receive a coin."
"The fact that my leadership recognized my hard work and chose me for this is awesome. It's my first coin, and now, when others tell stories of great people they have met, I have mine."
Other Airmen in attendance echoed Randall's sentiment of feeling honored, with some of them not even knowing why their leadership told them to be there until they were actually in the hangar waiting for the secretary of defense's arrival.
Whether Airmen knew ahead of time or not, everyone stood a bit taller when the SecDef's words to military members "You are our strength" resonated throughout the hangar.