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Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta asks Fort Benning soldiers to display character on battlefield

As the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division prepares to return to the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta thanked soldiers for their service but asked them to display the highest degree of character on the battlefield.

“I need your leadership, I need your courage, but I need your strength to make sure we all survive in the highest standards,” Panetta told more than 1,300 soldiers that filled the auditorium at McGinnis-Wickam Hall.

Panetta didn’t describe the incidents in the ranks on the battlefield, but he was referring to misconduct of soldiers urinating on enemy corps, tasteless photos and other disturbing displays of bad behavior that have enraged villagers in Afghanistan.

The secretary of defense said the incidents represent a very small percentage of the brave men and women serving throughout the world. “A very small percentage of the people sometimes make these terrible mistakes,” he said.

It only takes a second for a photo to make headlines and impact the mission.

“It can hurt moral and damage our standing in the world,” Panetta said. “They can cost lives.”

During a visit to the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, Panetta said he was reminded about the Army values such as loyalty, respect, selfless service, integrity and courage.

“Those are standards mark the men and women who serve in our military,”